When approaching a TV remake of an iconic film, the first question to dispense with is "Why?" We put "Why" on a pyre of branches, float it out into the middle of a lake and fire a dozen flaming arrows at it, then we turn around and focus on "How." More specifically, "How did a major corporate network update a classic to make it more accessible to contemporary mainstream television audiences?" Because within that answer the anthropology lies.
Cut about eight minutes and you could air the original Rosemary's Baby (1968) in galleries as a feminist art film. Along with playing on primal fears about pregnancy, the film's tension relies on the claustrophobia of being a woman in the 60's. Mia Farrow's Rosemary has to explain her motives to every other adult in frame when she so much as leaves a room, let alone when she (unsuccessfully) begs her husband to let her change obstetricians. When Rosemary finally flees for her life she's immediately turned back over to her husband and paternalistic doctor with as little ado as a runaway dog.
One of my biggest questions going into the contemporary remake was how could it possibly make the character as bound by social niceties and childishly dependent on her husband in 2014, without making her the simpiest simp since Bella Swan.
NBC's surprisingly elegant answer is to move Rosemary and her husband to Paris, where Mr. Rosemary is going to teach as a professor. Yes! It just feels thematically right to set this story in the most beautiful city ever built on top of a 200-mile-long mass grave, and there are few more intensely alienating experiences than starting off in a country where you don't speak the language. In one stroke Rosemary is cut off from her family and friends and reliant on her hubs, yet still completely plausible.
The other brilliant element is Zoe Saldana, who is always a joy to watch. She brings the same aching vulnerability and fragility to Rosemary as her predecessor, while still pulling off the requisite fits of derring-do that heroines are prone to in 2014 (she pursues a purse snatcher! She moves the armoire herself! She gets some answers from a Coptic Priest!)
And hell, they lined up a Mother's Day premiere date? You edgy little minxes over at NBC scheduling!
Unfortunately, onto this promising raw material NBC tacked two extra hours, and half a million puzzling, baffling, awkward decisions. All the slow-burn atmospheric horror has been chucked in favor of a ratcheted-up body count and "creepy" visual elements that pop up as regularly as plastic skeletons in a haunted house, lest the audience forget to be scared.
Rosemary finds old baby shoes in the closet! There's repeated zoom-in-face on a black cat! There's a dude with Kool Aid-blue peepers and a goatee, who insists on bringing a Baphomet cane in the bedroom! 2nd-degree burnt hands! If NBC doesn't trust our attention spans enough for the plot to gradually unfurl, making us reflect with mounting horror on the subsuming of one woman's will and body, then why'd they draw this thing out to two nights and four hours?
The cold open is a pregnant girl belly-flopping three stories out a window after tearfully accusing her husband of selling her and scrawling in a book about Satanists. Yo! I get you don't want to bury the lede in these days of the Youtube generation, but already this was doing a bit too much for me.
Another TV-friendly misstep is the transformation of the ghoulish senior citizen couple, the Castevets, into a pair of glamorous, 40-something millionaires who throw a fabulous French apartment and brand new wardrobe at Rosemary within hours of meeting her. I generally don't complain about television's dedication to non-stop hotties, but the advanced age of the original Castevets was a huge part of the story's psychological terror. The decrepit couple's gradual control over the young couple's life takes a common anxiety–that parenthood means leaving youth and care-free fun in favor of a more staid, house-bound maturity–and ramps it up to a grotesque extreme.
NBC's MILF-y Ms. Castevet, with her frequent casual references to her (LOL) time in Tibet and flowy BCBG blouses is nowhere near repulsive enough. Well, her character gets genuinely disturbing in a meta sense when she becomes a gay panic device, giving Rosemary long lingering on-the-lips kisses to which Rosemary reacts like a deer in headlights. The queasy diabolical rape scene begins with their lady-on-lady kiss and that's a red flag. That's a color guard's worth of red flags, actually. NBC, the letters you've been getting about more gay representation are not referring to the revival of the "Evil Bisexual Lady" trope–that kind of shit should not make it through the notes process anymore. Don't even try to tell me you're just trying to freak out the Catholics, when even the Pope is down with LGBT (yeah you know me! ). There's just no excuse for aligning gay PDA with Satanism on primetime TV.
The two clunkiest and most unnecessary additions to the story are Baphomet Cane guy and the husband of the cold open suicide lady, aka Plucky Widower. (There's also the fact Rosemary is taking cooking classes at the Cordon Bleu, hahahaha, in a chef's hat, HAHAHAHA but that doesn't cut the tension in Part I the way these two dudes do.)
After Rosemary gets her handbag back from a purse-snatcher (derring-do fit), she finds Mrs. Castevet's clutch inside and returns it, so Mrs. Castevet insists Rosemary and husband come to her formal dinner party. Rosemary, all awkward and American-tongued, wanders down a hall and opens a door to see Baphomet Cane guy chilling on a bed while two naked ladies bob all over his bare chest. Instead of reacting normally ("WHOA, SORRY!" & reflexive door slam) Rosemary swoons around just outside the doorjamb in a fit of vicarious ecstasy for what feels like half an hour. Zero sexual chemistry fills the air; it's mortifyingly awkward direction.
Later, during a conversation with a Coptic Priest (the magnificent Frédéric Pierrot from Les Revanents), she comes face-to-face with a picture of Caney on an iPad as the Priest tells her the Devil has many faces. For his trouble the Coptic Priest will be found hung in his own church, which, uh, that's a pretty direct way to telegraph shit if I do say so myself.
Rosemary's husband Guy is frequently warned by Plucky Widower that all he's been rapidly accruing since meeting the Castevets (his two-for-one Faustian bargain includes becoming head of the Sorbonne's English lit department AND signing a book deal) just isn't worth it. Plucky Widower goes so far as to shoot Mr. Castevet, in the tussle Mr. Castevet manages to plug him right back. When both of them end up in the hospital, Mrs. Castevet says a little Satanist prayer and Plucky Widower wakes up on the operating table with his insides fanned out like raw meat on a Korean tabletop BBQ, and dies horribly.
Both characters serve to signal again and again that supernatural forces are at work, the Castevets are bad news, the Devil is amuck, RUN! Which is sort of redundant? NBC's audience members are either already well aware of the plot, in which case these elements are non-creepy overkill, or they're newbies who could really benefit from a little dramatic tension.
The real horror of Rosemary's Baby is coming to believe the unbelievable, the question of if these people are a deranged cult or something even worst, watching Rosemary painfully in denial as she's gaslit by everyone she loves, and then the catharsis of her fleeing for her life at the last possible moment. In NBC's version, Rosemary has been fully warned of exactly awful her circumstances are before the baby even happens, and I'm not sure what kind of an omen that is for Part Two.
[Image via NBC]
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