Modern-Day Updates Should Have Modern-Day Ideas

No sooner do I ask whether narrative horror’s viable on television than NBC greenlights an updated Frankenstein show by Russel Friend and Garrett Lerner, the producers behind House.

I always get anxious when I hear about this kind of project because I worry that “modern-day take” on Frankenstein means grave-robbing in Los Angeles rather than London, and in a sleek lab rather than a dank basement, rather than any actual engagement with our contemporary anxieties about science. It’s pretty easy to forget that the dude with the scalpel is the monster, not his creation. I feel the same way about the news that Bradley Cooper of all people is starring in a Paradise Lost movie (incidentally one of the works Frankenstein’s monster finds most compelling), though whether it’ll be completely cosmic and fantastical or set in some version of the real world. Whether you think Paradise Lost is a statement of repentance for rebellion against the Crown or the work of a former censor who knew how to get the official approval he needed to publish the first edition of the work, it’s a monumentally compelling examination of what it feels like to find yourself on the wrong side of what appears to be God’s will that has no particular modern analogue. I actually think Torchwood: Miracle Day has the closest thing to a contemporary Satan I’ve seen in Lauren Ambrose’s impeccably-dressed-in-red PR hack, Jilly, who has absolutely no values except buzz and worships at the altar of the news cycle.

I do think there’s a chance that Fried and Lerner will do a good job with their Frankenstein, though. House, when the show was good as opposed to completely insane, was very good at exploring how someone like Sherlock Holmes would fare in an age where scientific knowledge was vastly more widespread and extreme anti-sociality was considered less charming and more diagnosable. House may usually be right about what’s ailing his patients, but the show is a useful modern rebuke to the idea that we’d be better off in a world where the rest of us are scientifically blind and a one-eyed man is king, or that there’s anything charming about misanthropes who use their genius to bludgeon other people. I only hope they come up with as useful a framework for their Frankenstein project. I’m glad to think about the interaction between scientific expertise and compassion, and about scientific ethics, but I do worry that it’s hard for pop culture to critique specific scientific practices without casting a skeptical eye on scientific endeavor as a whole.