Cancel culture’s impact on Hollywood can’t be over-stated.
The woke revolution made fun, frothy awards shows into grim lectures on inequality, racism, and the dastardly GOP politician du jour.
The mainstream movie comedy is on the endangered species list, degraded by rules that don’t allow for ribald, R-rated shenanigans.
TV has partially escaped the cancel culture impact, witness wonderful TV shows like “Better Call Saul,” “The White Lotus,” and “Game of Thrones.” Yet some classic TV show characters wouldn’t cut it in today’s woke world.
They’re too problematic, too flawed to pass muster in the modern realm, at least according to social justice scolds. It’s a good thing they arrived prior to 2015, since modern platforms and TV studios alike might nix them before they ever entered our living rooms.
Archie Bunker may be the most obvious example of this pattern. Carroll O’Connor’s patriarch in “All in the Family” was loud, rude, and a man from another era.
In short, he was a bigot.
Yet O’Connor played him with such depth that audiences couldn’t help sympathizing with him despite that crusty exterior. That’s to show creator Norman Lear’s credit. The famously liberal Lear knew that making Archie a weekly punching bag for Meathead (Rob Reiner), his character’s progressive son-in-law, would crush the sitcom.
Just imagine pitching an Archie-like character today and not making him the show’s villain. It’s darn near impossible, but in the free-wheeling 1970s, those creative risks made for legendary shows.
It also delivered magical TV moments, like when Sammy Davis, Jr. planted a kiss on Archie’s cheek.
Steve Carell’s Michael Scott proved the ultimate workplace villain via “The Office.” The U.S. version of the beloved British smash found Carell playing the boss of Dunder Mifflin, a Pa.-based paper company.
He meant well, or at least he tried to be a good person, but the results were often clumsy or downright insulting. And, of course, hilarious.
Carell explained to Esquire in 2018 why a new show wouldn’t include a character like Scott.
“I mean, he’s certainly not a model boss. A lot of what is depicted on that show is completely wrong-minded. That’s the point, you know? But I just don’t know how that would fly now. There’s a very high awareness of offensive things today — which is good, for sure. But at the same time, when you take a character like that too literally, it doesn’t really work.”
He’s right, and it’s a cowardly response from an artist who should be defending both the show and an iconic character.
Henry Winkler has worked consistently for more than four decades, including memorable stints in Adam Sandler comedies and “Arrested Development.” His signature role remains Arthur Fonzarelli, the cooler-than-cool biker from “Happy Days.”
The production originally considered ex-Monkee Micky Dolenz for the role, but Winkler nabbed the part that would change his career.
The Fonz, as he was affectionately known, knew his way around a garage and boasted a high moral character despite his thuggish exterior. Yet the women in his orbit couldn’t resist his greaser charms, and he made no secret of his womanizing ways.
That part of his persona would be very difficult to pull off today. In fact, a modern Fonz would be routinely dressed down and emasculated in order to empower the women in the cast.
Alex P. Keaton
The minds behind “Family Ties” pictured the show’s hippie parents, played by Meredith Baxter and Michael Gross, being the center of attention.
Co-star Michael J. Fox had other ideas.
His Alex P. Keaton, conservative to the core, went from a supporting player to the sitcom’s breakout star. Sometimes that happens, and there’s little a show can do about it but lean into the zeitgeist. That’s what the team behind “Family Ties” did, making it one of the ’80s best sitcoms.
What makes Alex such a memorable character, though, would likely be extinguished today. He was unabashedly conservative, a Reagan devotee and, at the same time, a decent human being.
He could be the butt of a joke, no doubt, but the show cast him as ultimately lovable and good. Now, imagine a 21st century sitcom creating a Keaton-like conservative and resisting the urge to dress him down on a weekly basis. A new Alex would find his arguments shredded each week, with his liberal parents getting the best of him over and over again.
Neil Patrick Harris’ time on “How I Met Your Mother” proved his “Doogie Howser, M.D.” days were no fluke. Harris wasn’t the main character in the clever sitcom, but his womanizing Barney Stinson rocked pop culture.
Barney gave us fun catch phrases, like “suit up!” and “legendary!” and let Harris wallow in chauvinistic impulses. They even produced books allegedly penned by the character (“Bro on the Go”). The fact that a gay man played such a charismatic lady killer made the performance all the richer.
Except now Harris’ Barney is wildly “problematic.”
His Barney repeatedly lied to women in order to seduce them. He even videotaped some of his romantic conquests sans consent.
So much white male privilege!
Christian Toto is an award-winning journalist, movie critic and editor of HollywoodInToto.com. He previously served as associate editor with Breitbart News’ Big Hollywood. Follow him at @HollywoodInToto.
The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.