Can Zorro Escape the Modernization Bug?

I’ve always been more of a movie viewer than a television one.

I’m not entirely sure why. I flatter myself with the suggestion that I’d rather focus on story arcs than character ones, and that the stories in most hour (or half-hour) TV shows are disconcertingly short. I have a sneaking suspicion that’s more of a case of “speaking disrespectfully of Society only because I can’t get into it,” but self-recrimination has never been a strength.

There are exceptions, of course. I have consumed a good bit of telly over the years — my wife is a devoted sci-fi fan, and watching together is one of our favorite activities — yet when I do watch, I find myself drawn to mostly modern fare rather than the classics. Current shows are head-and-shoulders above their ancestors in the technical categories, and I find the acting and writing significantly more palatable, as well. (The stories? They’re often less palatable, but that’s usually a point of interest for me rather than a sticking point.)

However, if someone were to banish me to a desert island accompanied by a single show with which to sustain my TV-watching existence, my choice would be both “old school,” and incredibly easy:

“Zorro.” And it’s not even close.

Shamelessly stealing my friend Steven Greydanus’ words, the show “sets a standard for family entertainment unmatched by any other television series I can think of.” Guy Williams is as magnetic and likable a star as ever was; the acting is unexpectedly excellent (with particular mention made of the guest stars that littered the show); the action edge-of-your-seat (despite the ubiquitous use of “day for night”); the story-arcs, gripping (Monasterio to The Eagle to the Monterey Sojourn are unforgettable parts of my youth); and the music, wonderful. So much do I love the show that I consider my boys’ regular watching (and quoting) of it one of my proudest parenting accomplishments.

So you can just imagine how conflicted this news leaves me:

A present-day reimagining of the legend of Zorro is swashbuckling its way to USA Network.

Titled “Z,” project is in development at the NBCUniversal cabler and hails from exec producers Naren Shankar and Louis Leterrier, and writers Whit Brayton and Zack Rice.

Set in modern-day Los Angeles, “Z” will chronicle the rise of Diego Moreno from an orphaned teen and raising his sister with little supervision, to an infamous hero fighting to save the city.

Wait a second. “Modern-day LA?” “Infamous hero fighting to save the city?” That’s sounding a lot more like Batman than my beloved Zorro.

I’m not categorically opposed to “show modernization.” “Sherlock,” for example, explores some interesting new ground in large part because of its modern-day setting. But I’m having a hard time imagining a rapier-less Zorro. In fact, the story’s lede contains two terms I consider incompatible: “swashbuckling” and “present-day.” Is there a single true “swashbuckler” on TV at the moment?

It’s not entirely television’s fault, but I’m pretty much vigilanted out. And this story’s “modern day” eliminates the nimble sword-and-word play and the pueblo/ranchero setting that helped make the original series so memorable.  Without that classic “swash,” how will this modernization avoid the ubiquitous Rich Vigilante Playboy territory? Might it work out? Of course. But I’m not holding my breath.

Instead, I’m going home to watch as much of my “Walt Disney Treasures: Zorro Collection” as I can squeeze in between now and bedtime.

About Joseph Susanka

Joseph has been doing development work for institutions of Catholic higher education since graduating from Thomas Aquinas College in 1999. A grateful resident of Wyoming, he spends his free time exploring the beautiful Wind River Mountains, keeping track of his (currently) seven sons, being amazed by his (currently) lone daughter, and thanking his lucky stars for Netflix.

  • CMA

    Wow, that sounds awful. The BEST scenario I can come up with for Z is that the kid discovers the old Zorro series and decides to take on his hero’s mantle, making it more of an homage than a remake. But I seriously doubt they’ll take that route.