Dear CW: Don’t Mess With the Powerpuff Girls

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Dear CW: Listen, I get it. I know it’s not easy to compete in this crazy world of entertainment these days.

Television networks and streaming services rolled out nearly 500 new shows last year alone, and every single one of those shows was screaming, “Hey! Over here! Watch me!” The screen-based competition for viewer eyeballs has never been greater.

And I gotta give you props for knowing who you are and sticking with it. While the History Channel is all about ghosts now and the Travel Channel is all about ghosts and the Learning Channel is all about salacious reality marriage shows (and ghosts), you were all about younger viewers—teens and 20-somethings—from the get-go, and your flag is still planted on that unwrinkled, fashion-conscious hill. Even though most teens and twentysomethings don’t even know what a commercial is, your commercial-based network has still carved out a niche that must be paying the bills. And that’s no mean feat these days.

But here’s the thing: To draw that clientele, you’ve turned the network into a telegenic but hideously amoral mosh pit, smashing innocent relics from the past with what you’d (questionably) deem “modern” sensibilities. And the results are pretty dispiriting.

It began in earnest with Riverdale, which in your hands has become something of a TV-14 version of Sin City. For decades, Archie comics were almost synonymous with bygone innocence. But in your version of Riverdale, Betty pole-dances, Jughead actually skins a woman’s arm and about a third of Riverdale’s residents have been murder victims. Sure, the show is a hit, but so was the dumpster fire that was The Jerry Springer Show. I think Riverdale, at least in part, appeals to the same part of us that slows down as we pass a car crash: It’s horrible, but for some reason we just gotta look.

Nancy Drew was the next beloved property to unwisely wander into your domain. Beginning in 1930, the original book-based teen detective Nancy Drew (penned by a variety of authors under the pseudonym Carolyn Keene) has solved hundreds of mysteries and inspired millions of girls through her smarts, charm and guts. But while the original Nancy gently solved pretty grounded mysteries, your version is all about the sex and the supernatural. When the show launched in 2019, Vulture declared in its headline that your Nancy Drew “Won’t Directly Adapt Any Books, But It Will Be Horny.”

Both of these were deeply problematic for Plugged In, but you got away with both of these and others. Obviously, your young audience may not have had a cat in the fight, given that Archie and Nancy Drew were beloved properties for their parents or even grandparents.

But I’ve been wondering whether you might eventually go too far. And it seems that, with your rumored retrofit of The Powerpuff Girls, you have.

Your core audience might’ve been vaguely familiar with the original incarnations of Archie and Nancy Drew. But many were invested in Cartoon Network’s original Powerpuff Girls—featuring three charmingly roly-poly superhero sisters on a mission to (according to CN) save the world before bedtime. It was a runaway success, both critically (with it being nominated for six Emmys) and commercially (fostering a bevy of toys, games and even top-selling soundtracks). For many, the Powerpuff Girls was a beloved touchstone of their childhoods.

Now you’re developing a live-action continuation of the Powerpuff Girls story—only the girls are now in their 20s and, according to an allegedly leaked script, and they’re pretty disillusioned over their own childhood experiences. Indeed, the script indicates that the girls’ father cynically sold the Powerpuffs’ likeness to the Cartoon Network, which completely “whitewashed” who they actually were. That’s right; viewers’ love for that original cartoon was what interested them in your live-action show in the first place, but the new series tells them that that cartoon was a horrible abomination that the girls themselves hated.

And that’s not all. The girls are now all sexually active, with one (Buttercup) in a relationship with another woman. (According to the script, Blossom walks in on Buttercup and her paramour having sex.) They threaten to leak each others’ nude pictures to the general public. They get drunk and high. Oh, and it’s pretty badly written, too. (Not that that particularly surprises me, given your track record, CW.)

Powerpuff fans were horrified. And now I understand that its creators are reworking the entire show.

So as you crumple up the pilot script and start anew, let me offer a couple quick suggestions.

One, contrary to what you seem to believe, not all teens are sexually active, much less promiscuous. They don’t all drink or do drugs. Surprisingly few of them get involved in nefarious cults. Yes, the world is a different place than the original Archie comics told us, and teens have to make decisions that their parents and grandparents never had to make. But many of them are trying to make those decisions based on what God tells them—not based on what culture does. They want to honor their parents even as they increasingly forge their own way in a difficult, complex world.

That reality might seem quaint to you. But it’s a reality that many teens actually live in, and they rarely see that reality represented anywhere—much less on you, CW.

Two: When a much-beloved property falls into your hands, I’d implore you to consider what made it so beloved in the first place. Creators who are lucky enough to craft a successful franchise are often deeply invested in its characters, themes and vibes, and their creations often become successful based on the original DNA the creator infuses those values therein. Those stories and brands become successful because they resonate with us. And if they’re wildly successful, it’s because they become, in a small way, a part of us.

When you callously and cynically co-opt the name, offer a nod or two to the original characters but utterly change what we loved about the characters and stories themselves, it’s the equivalent of building a gigantic mall in the middle of Yellowstone National Park, naming a fountain “Old Faithful” and maybe throwing some elk horns into the food court.  

Thanks for your time, CW. I know full well that you’ll likely not take any of my advice to heart, but I appreciate your time. I know you love to take treasured moments from childhood and turn them into more “mature,” salacious stories, and given Riverdale’s success, I doubt one open letter will change your mind.

The irony is that, in your hands, these more “grown up” retrofits often feel far more immature than the originals.

Paul Asay

Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

4 Responses

  1. -Oh my gosh, I was hoping you’d post your opinion on this! Perhaps you could also look into/review the new “adult” iCarly reboot?

  2. -I enjoyed this article, Paul. I, too, detest the entertainment industry constantly “destroying” the “innocence” of beloved childhood properties. But it’s important not to lose your cool over this matter. I can tell you were frustrated when writing this article, but I pray that you won’t let your frustrations get the better of you.

  3. -Honestly, most of the CW isn’t that great to begin with. A large majority of their shows (from what I’ve gathered) are good/great the first couple of seasons and then just overstay their welcome after that.

    While I really love Stargirl (which in my opinion is DC’s best live action show in years) and have heard great things about Superman & Lois, I can never fully trust the CW to make a consistently good series that is worth watching in its entirety.

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