This is 2023 – not the 80s or 90s. Today’s John Cleese is tediously obsessed with cancel culture and most of the sitcom’s original cast aren’t involved. It’s destined to be terrible
Have you spent the last day or so with an unexplainable stomach ache? A sort of drifting queasiness that rolls in out of nowhere and destabilises you? Me too. And I think I know why. I think it’s because John Cleese is rebooting Fawlty Towers.
It has been reported that Cleese, along with his daughter, Camilla, will write a new version of Fawlty Towers in which Basil Fawlty runs a boutique hotel while attempting to “navigate the modern world”. Rob Reiner is also involved and, oh God, there goes my stomach again.
The problem lies in just how complicated this reboot makes me feel. Because this is Fawlty Towers. It’s a classic sitcom. It’s arguably the classic sitcom; a work of frantic, gnawing, mounting slapstick anxiety. It is a high-frequency comedy of class and social climbing that lurches between impotent anger and gut-dropping ineptitude. Without Fawlty Towers, the entire sitcom form would be misaligned. Obviously it is very much of its age, with moments of deliberate insensitivity that modern audiences quite rightly find unappealing, but it is almost 50 years old. The point is this: if you have even a passing interest in comedy, Fawlty Towers is a foundational text.
So there is that. But there is also the fact that the world needs a Fawlty Towers reboot as much as it needs to be kicked down a well by a horse. Almost nothing about this news is a good idea. Where to start? There is the fact that, by Cleese’s own admission when the subject last came up in 2009, the original is held in such high regard that any attempt to follow it is almost guaranteed to be a disappointment. There is also the fact that reboots of almost everything, barring perhaps the first return of Frasier, are almost always inferior to the originals.
Then there are all the details of the new Fawlty Towers iteration, none of which sound good. For a start, Cleese won’t have the same support staff around him. Andrew Sachs is dead. Prunella Scales has long since retired on health grounds. Connie Booth – who, let’s not forget, co-created and co-wrote the whole thing – doesn’t appear to have anything to do with this new project.
Whatever this new thing will be, the only piece of connective tissue to the original will be Cleese himself. That would have been wonderful if this were the 1980s or 90s, because he would have made it at the height of his powers. But it’s 2023, and we’ll be getting a very different version.
This Cleese spends his life on Twitter, huffing about the world. This Cleese goes on the BBC to tell everyone that he has been banned by the BBC. This Cleese won’t stop complaining that his old shows aren’t on television any more, even though most of them are. This is the Cleese whose last big role was in Clifford the Big Red Dog, whose most recent sitcom was airless and stuffy – who is about to have his own GB News show, for crying out loud.
Imagine this Cleese as Basil Fawlty. Imagine him “navigating the modern world” and all that involves. Imagine how every episode will end with him complaining about cancel culture until he runs out of breath. Imagine how the series will finish with a 45-minute sequence in which he curls up into a ball and babbles about how everything is far too woke these days.
Listen, I choose to remain optimistic about this. If the revived Fawlty Towers can regain even a spark of the old show – of the manic ricocheting momentum, the clockwork precision – there is every chance that it will be fantastic and I will publicly apologise for doubting it. But given the circumstances, it is an almost impossible task.
source: the guardian