Syfy is back, now with "Y"s, vying even harder for your attention. But the network's name isn't the only thing that has been re-purposed; its new staple shows seem oddly familiar. Why is Syfy so unapologetically recycling old television?
Syfy is trying to impress us with its new look and new shows, like a small-town girl who moves to the big city to be an "actress", bleaches her hair platinum blonde and changes her name. And while we remain skeptical of clichéd reinvention, we have to admit – it worked for Norma Jeane.
Warehouse 13 premiered this week on Syfy, and many viewers were filled with a strong sense of Déjà vu. A pair of odd-couple government agents are sent to investigate paranormal activity, blatantly setting the characters up as replicas of Mulder and Scully. Couldn't Syfy at least have mixed things up a bit by making Pete being the by-the-book skeptic and Myka being the intuitive true-believer? But it's not just the agents themselves that are borrowed directly from the archives:
The name of show, and its very concept, evokes another direct influence: the quirky Canadian series Friday the 13th that aired in 1987, about a pair of cousins who inherit an antique shop that turns out to be filled with supernatural artifacts. They too are aided by an eccentric middle-aged man with a vast knowledge of the supernatural. In Friday, the female lead is named Micki, and Warehouse's tight-laced female agent is Myka – here again, Syfy strives to make things new and shiny by swapping "y"s for "i"s.
This isn't a new approach by any means. When Syfy's old staple show, Eureka, first premiered in 2006, its premise was equally familiar; government official gets sent to a small town in the Pacific Northwest to investigate a strange occurrence, teams up with local law enforcement and becomes deeply embroiled in the wacky little town and all its colorful characters. Sheriff Carter is no Agent Cooper, but the sense of odd familiarity about the show was undeniable. Eureka appeared to be a candy-coated kid's coloring-book version of Twin Peaks.
The question remains, why isn't Syfy trying harder to hide its repackaging of television we already know and love? Do they hope that by transparently recycling these well-worn television tropes they can take a direct route to high ratings and fan admiration? Certainly the ever-increasing number of movie sequels indicates "more of the same" is a safe bet. Syfy already seems to be engaged in rebooting even more 80's television, including Quantum Leap and Alien Nation. It is remarkable how much attention all these "new" shows have gotten on blogs, message boards and by word of mouth. Perhaps the network executives at Syfy know the game better than we imagine, and are inviting us to play along as we watch them pressing our buttons. But don't they also know that "familiarity breeds contempt"?
You have our attention, Syfy – now can you show us something new?