If you had told 13-year-old Natalie that her beloved CGI animated series ReBoot would be returning to television screens for its 20th anniversary, her squees would have been heard out in space. Now, that revival seems to be a reality: After several false starts, Rainmaker Entertainment has released the logo and some information for ReBoot: The Guardian Code, a modern continuation of the series after the last new episodes were released in 2001.
But as an adult who will always cherish my memories of the series, and who owes most of my attitudes about fandom to my time spent online with fellow Bootnicks, I wish people would just leave ReBoot alone.
For one, this is not the first rumor that ReBoot would be returning to airwaves. As a fan of the show, you grew used to these stops and starts—The Powers That Be constantly vacillate between “this show has cult status appeal!” and “ehh, no one actually remembers it.” So even though Rainmaker clearly has a specific timing in mind and has pointed us toward something resembling a plot, I’ve been burned enough times that I’ll believe it when I see it.
ReBoot was my first fandom (starting in the late ’90s) and therefore imprinted on me many of my current attitudes about TV, fandom, and my own creative impulses. I stumbled upon the series around 1997, at the start of its third season: Darker and more mature than the prior two seasons, the show was hitting its stride as a dramatic animated series about the high-stakes lives of the beings inside our computers. It had good vs. evil, betrayals, eyes torn out, childhoods lost, systems destroyed… plus, a bunch of sly parodies and pop culture jokes.
Then it got cancelled after a hell of a cliffhanger, and I experienced my first heartbreak. I was 11 and couldn’t understand why such a brilliant, funny, riveting show couldn’t hack it on TV—why the rich online following didn’t translate to high enough ratings.
In the fifteen years since the show’s first cancellation, I’ve gained a lot of perspective about the kinds of properties I would go on to become obsessed with, especially the ones that would inevitably get cancelled or (worse) rebooted awfully. Imagine what it was like following up the loss of ReBoot (and the brief, disappointing arc of its fourth season in 2001) with the short but wonderful lifespan of Firefly and the utter letdown of the Star Wars prequels.
With that perspective in mind, here’s why rebooting ReBoot is the opposite of alphanumeric.
What would it even be about?
It’s not surprising that the producers are focusing on the Guardians for their spinoff. (Though with Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy doing so well, there might be some serious brand confusion.) It’s a way to carry on the ideals of the original series—including the Guardians’ mandate to “mend and defend”—while ushering in a hip new generation of characters.
And therein lies your first problem: The show’s best characters won’t be front-and-center anymore. Last year, Rainmaker Entertainment president Michael Hefferon told the fansite ReBoot Revival that the classic characters would have a presence (albeit limited) in the new series, but it’s clear that Bob, Dot, Enzo, Megabyte, and others won’t be the stars.
That means no continuation of “The Hunt,” season 4’s juggernaut of a cliffhanger. No emotional engagement with the characters that the creators spent four seasons developing. It would be one thing if their plotlines had already been tied up and this was a “next generation” deal, but fans got left hanging where we literally didn’t know if our favorite characters would live or be deleted. To just jump to some Guardian-centric adventures would cheapen the return for the loyal fans.
But that brings me to the next issue with a complete overhaul…
The demographic has changed
Hefferon seemed firm on the notion that the new ReBoot would hew more closely to seasons 1 and 2 rather than 3—that is, that it would return to being explicitly a kids’ show. The same fan interview suggests that Rainmaker is looking to court broadcasters with a show aimed at young audiences, with the potential for adults to watch with their kids, rather than the more adult series that ReBoot gradually morphed into.
That’s a real shame, because we’re living in the time where excellent animated series embrace their older fanbases: Bob’s Burgers, Adventure Time, Archer, etc. And sure, ReBoot seasons 1 and 2 slipped in some sly humor here and there—remember the “BS’n’P” song?—but that kind of commentary barely scratched the surface.
The ReBoot fandom was my first reason for going online; I was dying to discuss the episodes with other fans and to take my first stab at writing fanfiction. (It was a really bad, self-insertion-heavy take on season 4. Probably the worst thing I’ve written, to date.) The first dirty fanfic I read was ReBoot, and was actually written by one of my fandom friends, funnily enough. I had online friends! Not that I didn’t have several close friends my own age in real life, but these were adults who took me seriously enough to compliment and nurture my writing, and who treated me as an adult.
I truly believe that the age range of the fans enriched the experience of watching the show. As the show tested its own boundaries and told more adult stories, we grew with it. If you make the new ReBoot a kids’ show, you limit not only the kinds of stories it can tell, but also its reach.
They have to get with the times
One of Hefferon’s big arguments was the need to update ReBoot’s structure, plot, and pop culture/technology references for a 21st-century, post-social media, cloud-inhabiting audience. Not only do these kids not know what the original ReBoot was like, but they didn’t grow up playing the kinds of single-player computer games that marked you as a User, the sprites’ eternal, existential enemy. Or, if you want to delve into the jokes behind various characters’ names: “I don’t think too many people would remember what a Dot Matrix [printer] is anymore,” Hefferon said by way of example.
Hell, by the time I was watching the show, I hardly knew what a dot matrix printer was! I used the Ray Tracer search engine for a hot second before Google monopolized that corner of the Internet, and I never even laid eyes on a capacitor, but nonetheless I appreciated the characters named for those. You didn’t have to know all of a computer’s guts by heart to appreciate ReBoot’s technological references.
Same goes for the pop culture jokes. Even as a precocious kid who “read up” and stole my parents’ copies of Entertainment Weekly, there were plenty of movies and TV shows I hadn’t yet seen. ReBoot put Aliens (they stole “stay frosty” as a catchphrase) and Evil Dead on my radar long before I ever saw them. It’s OK for kids not to get every reference thrown their way!
I will admit that I’m intrigued by a narrative that depicts “the cloud” as an actual physical space. When seasons 3 and 4 aired (circa 1999-2001), “the Web” and “the Net” were unexplored lands in the ReBoot universe. (Also, I never got why they were two separate dimensions.) That arc definitely wouldn’t hold up today; it’d be much cooler to see the characters explore one show’s idea of the cloud.
But with the cloud comes another caveat.
It will be less of a show and more of a cross-platform merchandising opportunity
Part of capturing (and keeping) the interest of tech-savvy kids will be to extend the ReBoot experience beyond just watching new episodes. Hefferon said that they’re planning a cross-platform experience in the form of social media interactions and rewards, plus an app. So, going into the actual cloud to keep kids engaged.
Hefferon also hinted that Rainmaker was setting up a strategic partnership with a “major computer entity” to revive the show. Ugh. Part of ReBoot’s appeal was that it didn’t have an allegiance to any brand; you didn’t have to be a Mac or a PC—or a Samsung or a Droid—to access and enjoy the story.
It’s not for the fans anymore
In its time, the ReBoot fandom was cohesive in a way you don’t see today. And this was before people were so easily connected on social media! After the show got cancelled in 1999, we lobbied for Mainframe Entertainment to resurrect it. We dealt with bullshit like one fan creating a whole death hoax (that’s a whole other story) trying to get the show back, but ultimately we were successful. I still remember watching Cartoon Network a year or so later and seeing the first teasers for season 4—having had no prior warning that it had been greenlit—screaming with joy, then sitting on the couch and forcibly calming myself down, I was so excited.
To be fair, the fandom is certainly excited about this news. In writing this article, I discovered the ReBoot Revival group on Facebook, where fans from my era interact with the creators themselves, reminiscing on the good times. But any looking forward is cautious at best.
ReBoot was perfect in the seven or so years it was on the airwaves. It was some magic combination of the mid-to-late-’90s pop culture references, the novel idea of exploring what it’s like to live in the computer and on the Internet, and the whipsmart, super-creative folks who loved the same show I did. We can’t recapture that time, and that’s OK.
If a ReBoot reboot means a drastic change to structure and story, I’d rather not see it. Instead, watch Robot Chicken’s too-brief parody. This throwback joke would be both confusing and inappropriate to today’s kids, and yet it’s great for both of those reasons:
Natalie Zutter writes plays about superheroes and sex robots, articles about celebrity conspiracy theories, and Tumblr rants about fandom. You can find her commenting on pop culture and giggling over Internet memes on Twitter.