Netflix’s animated ‘Good Times’ flunks the TV reboot test

April 16, 2024 12:50 pm

[Source: CNN Entertainment]

After the social-media blowback that greeted the “Good Times” trailer, Netflix opted to premiere the show without making it available to critics.

But the animated series that dropped April 12 merely underscores the pitfalls of leveraging a familiar title without a clear reason for doing so, yielding an edgy comedy that likely would have come and gone with scant notice without the weight of that name.

In addition to the late Norman Lear – who fared considerably better with a “One Day at a Time” reboot – the roster of producers here includes Seth MacFarlane (“Ted,” “Family Guy”) and NBA superstar Stephen Curry. The series was created by Ranada Shepard and Carl Jones, with the latter having worked on “The Boondocks.”

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“Good Times” is hardly the first show to try capitalizing on a recognizable title, but the connection has seldom felt more tenuous. And the shift to animation, with the wilder flourishes that allows, not only invites but encourages excess, from talking roaches to gory violence, making the name play more like a cynical grab for attention.

Other than occasional strains of the original music, any similarities pretty much end there, with the most outlandish wrinkle involving the central couple’s drug-dealing baby Dalvin (Gerald “Slink” Johnson), an attempt to mock stereotypes that owes a debt to the infant Stewie in MacFarlane’s “Family Guy.”

The earlier series focused on a Black family living in the projects, and that’s again the basic template here. Reggie Evans (voiced by “Curb Your Enthusiasm’s” JB Smoove), a cab driver, is identified as the grandson of the original’s John Evans, married to Beverly (Yvette Nicole Brown), and – like his grandfather – raising a trio of kids.

Obviously, there’s a fertile market out there for adult animation and the outlandish exaggerations that go with it. Yet by the time the show gets to an episode featuring an animated Elon Musk taking an unexpected interest in the Evans family, or its tired superhero spoof, “Good Times” has left the original far in the rear-view mirror and boarded the train to zany town, raising the obvious question, “Why call this ‘Good Times?’”

The original show broke ground in 1974 by depicting a two-parent Black family, reflecting the clout Lear possessed as a producer at the time. He spun the show off from “Maude,” which itself was a spinoff of “All in the Family.”

To say the TV world has changed since then would be the height of understatement. Yet the bottom line for reboots is whether the new show brings anything fresh or distinctive to the material, while providing enough of a relationship to the source, beyond mere nostalgia, to justify the process.

“Good Times” ultimately flunks that test on both levels. With apologies to the original theme, the result doesn’t keep its head above water, much less make a wave.

“Good Times” is streaming now on Netflix.