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Friday, May 12, 2017

Judge Dredd Show Coming to TV

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It’s an odd time for British nerd exports.  America and the UK have always had an awkward relationship in terms of our nerdy cultural exchange, with a lot of Britain’s genre creations never making it to our shores.  This is mainly the result of “nerdy media” existing on the fringes of popular consumption for 50 years or so.  Certainly, things opened up a bit more thanks to the Internet, but even then, America has long held the premium on exporting nerd culture. 

As such, it’s taken a long time for British genre creations to ever make inroads to American audiences, but all that changed in the early 2010s.  I mainly point to 2012 and 2013, when James Bond and Doctor Who both enjoyed significant anniversaries and found mass popularity here in the states.  Since then, even as the popularity around those two has died down we’ve continued to import UK creations like Taboo or Sherlock. 

However, the one UK staple that has never truly found his way into American hearts is Judge Dredd.  Despite a Stallone film and a movie of his own in the 2012-2013 boom Judge Dredd just can’t find that sweet spot for American audiences like Bond, Sherlock, or The Doctor.  However, it looks like everyone’s favorite Justice will get a third chance to arrest our hearts with an upcoming TV show: Judge Dredd: Mega City One. 

For those unfamiliar with the UK’s answer to Robocop, Judge Dredd is a British comic book character from their major publisher 2000 A.D.  He originally appeared as a series of short stories in an anthology book, like all 2000 AD properties.  The pitch was that Judge Dredd was from a dystopian future imagined through a blend of late ‘70s urban blight, ‘80s neon synth, and the British punk scene.  

In the world of Judge Dredd’s future, the Earth is cover in a handful of Mega-Cities: massive expanses of high-density urban squalor.  Amid these vast, continent-wide cities of the future, the only law is the Judges, an elite agency that act as police, judge, jury, and executioner.  The best of the judges is Judge Dredd, a hardboiled mega-cop who always plays by the rules. 

If that description sounds a bit comical that’s because it was meant to be: Judge Dredd was originally conceived as a satirical character.  His gravelly and gritty nature were supposed to skewer the growing styles of American action films as we entered the beefcake era of the ‘80s, while his dedication to the law was part of a satire about authoritarianism during the Reagan/Thatcher years.  

That’s part of the why the creator was so on board with the 1995 Sylvester Stallone movie as more of a campy comedy.  It still had some cool sci-fi stuff, but the over the top tone slid nicely into the zone of self-parody that informed a lot of the original material. 

However, like a lot of parodies, the line between joking and serious got steadily blurred as the character went on and became a flagship of the 2000 AD line.  As such, modern Judge Dredd is an odd blend of genuinely celebrating the kick-ass competence of Dredd while occasionally slipping into silly parody territory.  

For instance, despite being able to beat Death in a fistfight more recent stories have had Dredd take on voting rights and infiltrate the gay club scene of Mega City One, that kind of thing.  Obviously, the more playful aspects of the modern comics didn’t make it into the 2012 movie, which recast Dredd as a more straightforward action hero but was definitely enjoyable in its own way. 

In case you were wondering why I rambled on about exports and such earlier, it’s because this new show has a lot of weird strings attached in terms of production.  Rather than coming to us from the BBC or the like it’s being produced by the entertainment company IM Global alongside UK game publisher Rebellion.  I’m not exactly sure how the show will end up distributed in the long run or if it will ever make to American broadcasting, but given the prevalence of streaming in the new media, I suspect it’ll show up online in one form or another. 

Nothing is currently known about the casting other than that the show won’t have any connection to the Karl Urban film from 2012 that became such a cult classic.  It’s said that the new show will be an ensemble drama revolving around a team of judges working to police the titular Mega City One.  This at least seems inspired by the 2012 film, which focused on pairing Dredd up with long time supporting character Judge Anderson.  As far as ideas go, it’s probably the best way to adapt Dredd to the small screen. 

As for the tone that’s currently up in the air, though I do like the tagline about how everyone in Mega City One is a potential criminal.  I doubt we’ll see anything returning to the satirical tone of the original comics but, by the same token, a straightforward celebration of authoritarianism probably wouldn’t be the most popular take on Dredd these days.  I’d expect something that drew inspiration from the 2012 film in terms of action but was also willing to be subversive about the nature of the law and Dredd’s place within it, if not necessarily in a comedy way.

Action comedy is still a tough genre to get right and even more so on TV, just look at the Lethal Weapon TV show, so I wouldn’t begrudge this new adaptation taking a more serious tact.  I also wouldn’t be surprised if some of the more high concept aspects of the comic were absent at first like the Dark Judge, supernatural embodiments of esoteric concepts that take the form of Judge Death, Judge Fire, Judge Mortis, and Judge Fear.  As far as past performance, the only member of the executive producers with previous credits is Mark Stern who worked on Syfy’s Battlestar Galactica but also Helix and Defiance, so a bit of a mixed bag. 

Overall I’d say I’m cautiously optimistic about this new Dredd adaptation.  As much as I liked Dredd and even have a soft spot in my heart for the 1995 movie I certainly acknowledge that Judge Dredd himself works best with a well-conceived supporting cast.  What’s more, I’m a lot less wedded to the satirical origins than other critics so if they wanted a more procedural approach to the character informed with gritty action and the occasional commentary on Dredd’s fascism I’d be on board for that.  

Plus, these days turning comic book characters into TV gold is pretty old hat.  We’ve had colorful and faithful adaptations like Supergirl, inventive evolutions of the material like The Flash, reworking a problematic original to deal with a truly dark subject matter like Jessica Jones, and a willingness to push the visual envelope in stuff like Legion- I think Judge Dredd will fit right into this new world. 

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