Look at this Instagram.
Look at it. This man, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, has composed a Level 10 Thirst Trap in this photo. He is, to put it mildly, quite attractive. Want to know what he does for a living? He plays the Scarecrow on Emerald City, NBC’s modern version of The Wizard of Oz. But that does not mean he puts on some sort of Scarecrow suit and covers up his beauty when he goes to work. No, he puts on like one tiny prosthetic scar on his bare torso, says, “I’m a Scarecrow,” and calls it a day.
This foxy slice of beef is indicative of a 2017 television season trend, wherein a show takes a concept that has already existed in the world, and makes it “hot.” From Emerald City to Riverdale to Bates Motel, TV is awash in reboots and retellings that allow us to look at things from a whole new perspective — specifically “what if this traditionally unsexy character was in fact, super-sexy?”
It’s just human instinct, I suppose, to take something that is not hot and make it hotter. If it ain’t broke, make it hot. If given the chance, make it sexy. Historically, that simple conceit has provided the basis of several romantic comedies (Love Potion No. 9, My Fair Lady, Never Been Kissed) and teen movies (Jawbreaker, Encino Man, She’s All That). It’s the foundation of all the best home-improvement and house-flipper series on HGTV.
But does everything really need to be sexed up? Should something be turned into a sensual masterpiece just because it can be? Should I ignore the slightly uncomfortable feelings I get when I realize I’m lusting after the depiction of a cartoon ginger? Let’s figure it out in this discussion: Did that character need to be hot?
Lucas the Scarecrow, ‘Emerald City’
The makeover: The source material for this “gritty reboot” is the beloved children’s story The Wizard of Oz, in which the Scarecrow is made of straw and rags and sings plaintively, repeatedly, about needing a brain. None of that seems attractive. On Emerald City, he’s given organs — already a vast improvement — and is the aforementioned hot slice of beef, Jackson-Cohen.
Does he need to be hot? My first instinct says no. I know the Scarecrow becomes a man eventually, but you expect the Tin Man to be the smoking-hot one. But I suppose the “If I only had a brain” thing indicated we were in the presence of someone who was beautiful and dumb, so OK, yes: He needs to be hot.
Archie Andrews, ‘Riverdale’
The makeover: Classically, Comic-Book Archie is a total goofball dweeb: red hair, freckles, high water pants. He can’t handle two strong women, because he’s so gosh-darn wide-eyed and optimistic, and he is way too proud of his jalopy. In 2017, however, Archie is a fox. He’s got a bod, he lies and has affairs with older women and is involved in a murder mystery and is generally someone you want to see shirtless and make bad decisions with, even if you are a decade or so older than him (referring here to Ms. Grundy, not to myself).
Does he need to be hot? While Cartoon Jughead was actually attractive, even as a comic-book character, Comic Archie was definitely not. But television audiences are far less forgiving than comic-book readers — we’re not really going to buy the show’s semi-antifeminist love triangle unless there are some abs involved. So yes, Archie needed to be hot.
Ms. Grundy, ‘Riverdale’
The makeover: Comic-Book Ms. Grundy was a one-dimensional matriarch figure who nagged everyone about their homework and malts or whatever. On Riverdale, they’ve given her the Dawson’s Creek treatment. Now she’s a sexy music teacher who has inappropriate relationships with her students.
Does she need to be hot? Yes, it would be really weird for Archie to have an affair with her if she was at all similar to her comic-book namesake.
Jimmy Olsen, ‘Supergirl’
The makeover: I owe my first born to whoever in the casting office considered the character of Jimmy Olsen — poor Jimmy Olsen, the geeky, bow tie–wearing cub reporter/photographer at the Daily Planet who was the ultimate Superman fanboy — and thought “I’m going to make him Mehcad Brooks.”
Does he need to be hot? The one obstacle in fully embracing Jimmy Olsen’s hotness is that the character has to be friend-zoned so hard, hard enough that he decides to become a superhero, Guardian, just to be worthy of Supergirl. Who is ever going to friend-zone Mehcad Brooks? Nobody. That almost makes me say he doesn’t need to be hot, but then I wouldn’t get to look at Mehcad Brooks. So yes, he needs to be hot.
Norman Bates, ‘Bates Motel’
The makeover: In Psycho, Norman Bates is attractive and charming, but maximum creepy. You — OK, I? — don’t believe he’s ever had sex before, therefore you understand why he keeps his mother’s corpse in his apartment. Bates Motel doubled down on the charming with Freddie Highmore, who has this sweet, dreamy, tortured quality about him. And in 2017, Teen Norman Bates has a way with the ladies; women keep falling for him even though he openly discusses taxidermy and his mother with disturbing frequency (and also murders people).
Does he need to be hot? Not really, except that this season he needs to convincingly seduce Rihanna (who plays Marion Crane in a future episode). So yes, he needs to be hot.
H.G. Wells, ‘Time After Time’
The makeover: The real H.G. Wells was a prolific writer who loved the idea of time travel. On the new ABC show, he loves time travel so much that he comes to the present day to hunt down Jack the Ripper, who also happens to be hot. (Did I mention that H.G. Wells is hot in this modern-day scenario?)
Does he need to be hot? Within the confines of the show, there’s no other choice. They’ve made Jack the Ripper hot, and the only way for H.G. Wells to stop him is to also be hot. (That’s a rule of the universe.) Also, I understand that the real H.G. Wells wrote science fiction in the early 19th century, which is not exactly the sort of lifestyle that screams “Damn Daddy,” but I looked at a photo and you know what? He had a mustache, and he wore nice jackets. Making him attractive is also historically accurate. That is two reasons that he needs to be hot.
Young Albert Einstein, ‘Genius’
The makeover: The key word here is “young.” In the upcoming National Geographic series, Albert Einstein seems wild and dangerous instead of boring and covered in chalk dust. Also he definitely has sex in the trailer.
Does he need to be hot? American children are falling behind in math and science; we need positive role models to make science sexy again. Yes, Young Albert Einstein needs to be hot.
Lenny Belardo/Pope Pius XIII, ‘The Young Pope’
The makeover: Traditionally popes are old and white. They do not make you think of sex. But The Young Pope made Jude Law into the pope, so now all you or I can do is think of sex.
Does he need to be hot? I’m uncomfortable thinking about the pope’s butt, even if it is a fictional pope. But no one would be interested in a Young Pope who was not a Hot Pope, so yes, he needs to be hot.
Frederick Douglas, ‘Underground’
The makeover: In Season 2 of Underground, which airs this month, the 19th-century abolitionist, social reformer, and historical icon is played by John Legend in one episode.
Does he need to be hot? Are you going to dishonor this man’s achievements by not making him as hot as possible? What side of history do you want to be on? Yes, he needs to be hot.
After careful consideration: Yes, it appears every character on television does in fact need to be sexy. So if anybody wants to cast Doug Funnie as a Supreme fuccboi, I think we’d all be better for it.