It's the British spy-fi series that premiered in 1961, starring Patrick Macnee as urbane agent John Steed (in iconic bowler hat and umbrella), partnered by various assertive women—most famously Honor Blackman's shrewd Dr Cathy Gale, Diana Rigg's catsuit-wearing Emma Peel (so-named because she was added to give the show "man appeal"), and Linda Thorson's inscrutable Tara King. I'm talking about British cult classic The Avengers, of course, which at its mid-'60s peak was shown in over 90 countries (including ABC in the US). Even after its cancellation in 1969, the show stayed popular enough through repeats, a stage show, and radio plays, for a 1976 revival as The New Avengers, with Macnee now joined by Joanna Lumley and Gareth Hunt.
Maybe the residual stench of 1997's feature film flop, starring Ralph Fiennes and Uma Thurman, has something to do with it. That movie's become a gold-standard for bad adaptations of old TV shows, and has undoubtedly tarnished perceptions of the '60s show for anyone under-35. It also doesn't help that The Avengers has now become best-known as the collective noun for a bunch of Marvel superheroes, either. But it's still a shame nobody's working on a small-screen comeback for Steed and Peel, inspired by the success of Doctor Who's revival.
A new version The Avengers could be approached in a variety of ways, each one having different appeal:
- You can go back to the original concept, before the show got increasingly eccentric and fantastical after Emma Peel's introduction (cyborg killers, a virus that makes people sneeze themselves to death), although it's hard to imagine anyone wanting to lose the fun out of the show, because that was its most popular and recognisable era.
- You could decide to keep it a '60s period show; essentially remaking the Steed/Peel era with all the technical proficiency of modern filmmaking. I can't think of a time that's been done before for TV, so it would be very exciting to see.
- Or you could update the concept to modern times, with winks and nods to the show's old-fashioned origins, which is very much the direction the BBC took with Sherlock. It worked brilliantly in that instance, but the same approach didn't fare well in the case of miniseries The Prisoner.
- You could use the show's wackiness to excuse an Austin Powers approach, by having Steed and Peel arrive in the 21st-century with their old-fashioned attitudes and awareness. I just don't think it would work if everything and everyone besides Steed and Peel were "normal", so it would probably have to create a crazy alternate world. Which brings me to....
- The most interesting option, which is actually what the 1997 movie went for: create a quasi-'60s alternate universe of the present day. This allows for all the fun and absurdity of the classic show (including a retro feel), but doesn't mean you can't involve mobile phones, the internet, and other modern accoutrement's. I guess it's just the more expensive option to craft a period/modern hybrid drama for TV.
Assuming a remake would keep the show's most popular duo; I've always imagined Spooks' Rupert Penry Jones would look good in the bowler hat, partnered with Ashes to Ashes' Keeley Hawes. But maybe 37-year-old Keeley is too old to be squeezing herself into "Emmapeelers" for a living. (Rigg was a nimble 27 when she took the part.) So how about 28-year-old Michelle Ryan? She practically auditioned for the part as a cat-suited jewel thief in Doctor Who's "Planet of the Dead" and is no stranger to classic TV updates, having taken the lead in Bionic Woman.
Who should remake it?
How about author/actor Charlie Higson, co-creator of The Fast Show? He has a grounding in comedy, which The Avengers works best with; he's written a series of best-selling books about a teenage James Bond, so he can work in the spy/adventure genre and bring in a younger audience; and he also wrote/produced the majority of Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased)—the 2000 remake of that other '60s telefantasy. That show even contained stories that felt inspired by The Avengers' comical and bizarre tone. I distinctly remember one involving a secret base under a golf course that was extremely Avengers-esque, which proved the show's qualities can be updated.
The Avengers inspired countless TV shows/movies, particularly with its signature pairing of an erudite man and a tough, sexy woman. You can see John Steed and Emma Peel echoed in many things down the years, intentionally or not. It wouldn't be an easy thing to bring it back, given the unusual tone and "sixties-ness" of the idea, but I don't think it's impossible or a bad idea. The '97 movie got a few things right in its conception, and other updates/remakes of idiosyncratic British TV shows have worked nicely.
I can't be alone in thinking ITV would have a big Saturday night hit if they produced a witty, inventive, fun, dramatic, cheeky, and visionary new Avengers. Can I? I can see why nobody's taken the risk, but the show strikes me as perfect escapist family-friendly drama that could follow in Doctor Who's footsteps as a renaissance that, in hindsight, feels like a no-brainer.
Who's with me? Trust me, it'll be worth it for an update of these iconic opening titles: