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U.S. rapper Cardi B arrives at the 2018 American Music Awards on Oct. 9, 2018, in Los Angeles.VALERIE MACON/AFP/Getty Images

There’s a rumour going round that rapper Cardi B wants to star in a reboot of The Nanny. Reliable sources say Cardi B is “in talks” to play Fran Drescher’s daughter in a revival of the early-nineties CBS sitcom. She would be the nanny character and Drescher would play her mother.

It sounds like a terrible idea. Can Cardi B act, or would she essentially play herself? On the other hand, in this tumultuous TV landscape, CBS might be happy to have a six-episode revival that got huge ratings from Cardi B’s throng of followers and groans from both critics and a discerning audience of non-Cardi B fans.

It is time to step back and assess this reboot fandango.

There is a subtle political element to it. As I write this, there are widespread reports that, in the United States, the Trump administration is considering a rollback of transgender protections. According to The New York Times, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is looking at defining the sex of a person as solely male or female at birth, with no room for change.

While this might be a trial balloon, a mere suggestion to excite the transphobic elements in Donald Trump’s base, it essentially asserts that it’s possible to go back in time. And that is what much of the reboot-TV phenomenon is about: Pretending it’s the 1990s or 80s again. There is a Trumpian quality to the urge to cherish perceived old-school values over the present-day ambience and outlook.

Nostalgia of this type tends to be self-obsessed, group-obsessed, isolating and it is also, in essence, aggrieved. Things were better then, when my favourite show from an earlier decade aired. Everything is connected in the contemporary culture and it is not an improbable thesis that an explanation for the TV-revival trend mirrors exactly an explanation for Trump’s appeal to his core voters.

What’s interesting in the context of mass-appeal network TV is that some revivals work and others flop. Look up a list of the worst new shows of this year and you’ll find CBS’s reboot of Magnum P.I. is heavily featured. It’s not as terrible as some reviews suggest. It’s just a bland, boring, private-eye show. What nostalgic viewers might remember is Tom Selleck as the charming, winking tough-guy in a fast car who got to take off his shirt often and be admired by the ladies. The original thrived during a specific period, and that period can be viewed now as the last bastion of white-male privilege.

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From left to right: Jay Hernandez, Zachary Knighton and Stephen Hill in Magnum P.I. (2018).CBS Broadcasting

What CBS delivered in the revival is not a carbon copy. And with Jay Hernandez in place of Tom Selleck, the show features a guy whose real name is Javier Manuel Hernandez, and is third-generation Mexican-American. One can only imagine the bewilderment of Magnum P.I. fans who wanted the past, not the present reality, on the show. The series is a ratings disappointment because, well, there are some things about the past that are unsustainable in the present. Extrapolate what political lessons you want.

Another ratings and critical disappointment is the revived Murphy Brown. Those eager to see it, and have Candice Bergen as a contemporary Murphy speaking truth to powerful Trump supporters and Trump-supporting media, were victims of misplaced nostalgia. There was a time when Murphy Brown mattered as a political discourse by proxy. That is no longer the case. The voices of Samantha Bee and others have long since taken on that role with greater energy and force. In this instance, the nostalgic impulses of progressives overlap with the impulses of core Trump supporters. You could say that those progressives, like the Democratic Party and American network TV, are in dire need of original ideas.

Network TV is in the business of selling eyeballs to advertisers. It would be a stretch to see “alt-right” bias behind the reboot-TV trend. What’s more plausible is that the inclination for TV revivals echoes the loose dogma of those who are disturbed by the present and misinterpret the past as a comfort zone to which they can return.

As for The Nanny – bring it on, with Cardi B. It might be a debacle, more about a self-aggrandizing, sloganeering rapper – recently obliged to deny that she’s transphobic – than the original, cute sitcom. But, in truth, the kind of debacle that is the political-cultural circumstance of the United States these days.

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