Dirty Dancing, on ABC
ABC; A.V. Club; IMDb; Made for TV Movie Wiki; Soundtrack; TV.com; TV Tango; Wikipedia
streaming sites: Amazon; CW; Google Play; Vudu; YouTube
Caution: spoilers! ...Even if you've seen the original.
This 2017 TV movie is a remake of the 1987 theatrical film of the same name. For the most part, the plot is the same in the new version as in the old, although some of the events don't happen in quite the same way. Also, there are some totally new elements to the plot, which I was mostly glad of, because otherwise the remake would have been totally pointless. (And I would have rated it lower than I did, because the things that were the same in both versions were not done remotely as well in the new version as in the old.) And... there seems to be a half-assed attempt to turn this version into a musical. I mean, in some scenes, the characters were clearly singing (or at least possibly lip-syncing to recordings of themselves singing). In other scenes there was no possible way they were singing, and in still other scenes it seemed like they were singing part of the song, but the song still went on even when there was no pretense of the characters singing. So... whatever. That just seemed pointless and annoying. (With maybe a few exceptions.) Though I should also mention that, while there are a lot of the songs that were in the original (albeit cover versions), there are also some songs that weren't in the original. And I enjoyed the new ones more, in this context, than I did the familiar songs.
Anyway, it starts out in 1975, with Frances 'Baby' Houseman (Abigail Breslin) going to see a Broadway play. As she does, we hear her voiceover reminiscence about the summer of 1963, when she was 18. She and her parents, Dr. Jake Houseman (Bruce Greenwood) and Marjorie (Debra Messing), and her older sister, Lisa (Sarah Hyland), all go to Kellerman's resort in the Catskills. I don't want to repeat the whole plot here, at least not the familiar parts. So I'll just try to tell you how the remake diverges from the original. Um... for one thing, there's no mention of the Peace Corps, but Baby is still depicted as a very smart young woman. (Mainly this is because she reads a lot, and wants to become a surgeon, like her father.) She's also getting interested in feminism, having just read The Feminine Mystique, which came out earlier that year. (Thanks, Wikipedia!) Lisa, on the other hand, is mostly interested in finding a nice guy and getting married. And we learn via Baby's voiceover that their mother is a sort of textbook example of "the happy housewife." Which I think turns out to be a nice bit of ironic foreshadowing, because over the course of their three-week vacation at Kellerman's, it becomes increasingly obvious that Marjorie is actually quite unhappy in her marriage, since Jake seems to have no interest in her anymore, romantically or sexually. So that whole subplot is the biggest divergence from the original. And I thought it worked fairly well. (Besides, I always thought Marjorie was a woefully underused character in the original, so it was nice for her to have a bigger role in this version.) And at one point, Marjorie does a good cover of "They Can't Take That Away From Me."
Well, there are other characters with bigger roles in the remake, too. There's Vivian Pressman (Katey Sagal), whom I never even mentioned in my review of the original movie. Here she's a more sympathetic character than in the original, and she even befriends Marjorie. Also, Vivian sings "Fever" at one point, which I thought was not only a really decent cover, but also an important indicator of the growing divide between Marjorie and Jake. We also see a bit more of Robbie's budding relationship with Lisa, but he turns out to be even worse than he was in the original, because in this version he very nearly rapes Lisa. And when she breaks away and threatens to tell Max Kellerman, Robbie basically gaslights her into staying silent about the incident. But later, Lisa befriends a member of the band named Marco (a totally new character), who begins teaching her to play the ukulele. Another role that's somewhat more important here is the bandleader, Tito Suarez (Billy Dee Williams, whom I'm ashamed to admit I didn't recognize). But mostly his increased role consists of trying to convince Marco (who is Black) not to get involved with a white girl. (Though he does sort of come around, in the end.) Also, I guess I'd say Max's grandson, Neil Kellerman, has a slightly bigger role here. He seemed to be interested in feminism, which made Baby like him slightly more than she did in the original. But of course that never went anywhere, because this movie is about Baby and Johnny Castle.
But like I said, I really don't want to get too much into that part of the plot. I'll just say that the dancing isn't nearly as good here as in the original, and the characters had like zero chemistry. And I thought the guy playing Johnny was really not a good actor. I will say that one scene where Penny was temporarily taking Johnny's place as Baby's dancing instructor was better than any of the scenes between Johnny and Baby (dancing or otherwise). And the problems I had with the whole Johnny and Baby plot wasn't just the familiar stuff, it was some of the dialogue that diverged from the original, too. In fact, that's almost the only type of divergence that I thought was a point against the remake, instead of being a point for the remake, as most of the other divergences were. But there are probably some exceptions (that is, things involving other characters that I didn't really like, not things involving Johnny that I did like). Beyond just Johnny's poor acting and his lack of chemistry with Baby, I'd say that there's just some writing (with any of the characters) that I found inferior to the writing in the original. But... there's also some writing that liked better here (for being more fleshed out and/or more on point), I guess. Just not any of Johnny's lines.
So, what else can I say? Toward the end of the movie, Lisa and Marco do a cover duet of "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright," which I thought was quite lovely. And after the eventual reconciliation between Jake and Marjorie, I liked their joining in at the end of the closing song, "(I've Had) The Time of My Life." It's best that that's still mostly about Johnny and Baby, but I did find it kind of sweet that the elder Housemans shared their own moment, there. And... oh, I also wanted to say that for most of the movie, I was unsure whether or not Robbie was the one who had impregnated Penny, in this version. That was made explicit much earlier in the original, but here, the revelation of the father (and I use the term loosely) isn't made until the (sort of) final scene. That's just one plot point I found myself wondering whether it would be changed in the remake. Anyway... I also need to mention that after the happy ending for all the major characters, we flash back to 1975, for a bookend (real) final scene of the movie. But that... was probably the very, very worst thing about the movie. Sigh. But whatevs. The movie had both good and bad points, throughout. And... I hope I'm not forgetting anything I wanted to say.
Well, I did want to mention that during one commercial break, a UnitedHealthcare ad from 2015 aired, and it was very appropriate. Like, seriously, it could not have been better timed if it had been made this year, specifically to air during this movie. So kudos to whoever arranged that.