In the countdown to the Oscars, the question that consumed me most was: Who will be cast in the reportedly go movie version of Gilligan’s Island? This is what matters, folks. Word is Michael Cera is the favorite for Gilligan, and I can see it — but I think it’s a mistake. Bob Denver, fresh from playing one of TV’s first beatniks, Maynard G. Krebs, always had a whiff of the stoner about him (in real life, too, apparently). His Gilligan was well meaning and somewhat oblivious to his own ineptitude, which helped him recover quickly when the Skipper took off his cap and bopped him hard. Cera is the opposite. He’s twitchy and anxious, still a cauldron of adolescent hormones; he feels things too much. That would make the Skipper more of a sadist. I’m not sure who my ideal Gilligan would be. James Franco was a great pothead in Pineapple Express, and while quite handsome, can put on a nerdy affect. Or do we want someone a little older and hence, sadder — a Matthew Broderick type? I’m sure I’m forgetting someone. (Help?) As for the rest:
No question for Ginger and Mary Ann: Christina Hendricks, Mila Kunis. Bang and bang.
The Skipper. We want someone overbearing, but who looks like an old (or middle-aged) salt, which rules out James Gandolfini or Alec Baldwin. No Seth Rogen! No Vince Vaughan hipsters! My dream Skipper is Marlon Brando circa The Missouri Breaks. Don’t laugh, he loved to be silly and would have loved the job, especially given his predilection for lying on hammocks in South Sea Islands, only climbing off to eat a coconut-cream pie and mount another native girl. If only Nick Nolte were a decade younger! Alan Hale Jr. had a fat boy’s pathos. I could believe it when I read that toward the end of his life he was always the first person to arrive for an autograph party and the last to leave. Do you go fat and dumb and lovable, or try for something edgier, something unexpected? Russell Crowe — he’s certainly violent. Liam Neeson has size and gravitas: He would blame himself for the castaways’ predicament and bop Gilligan more in sorrow than anger. I like it, but I don’t expect anyone else to.
Mr. and Mrs. Howell. Should they be Mr. and Mrs. Bernie Madoff, on the lam? That would explain why a millionaire couple is on a three-hour commercial tour. Rip Torn would make Mr. Howell scary as well as blinkered. Imagine him and Debra Winger as his (younger) wife, both neurotic as hell and with secrets to keep. Maybe they sabotaged the Minnow to get themselves stranded!
Which reminds me: Should this be a post-Lost Gilligan’s Island, with flashbacks to, say, Mary Ann shooting her rapist six times and getting to the Minnow just ahead of the cops? And what is Ginger running from? We can surely find out now why a movie star is onboard with a good part of her wardrobe in tow. I bet Gilligan is an orphan and this is the first real family he has had.
There is another big issue. Back in the day, Gilligan’s Island was white-bread, but now we must consider the bigger picture. Should Gilligan be African-American? If so, when the Skipper bops him, wouldn’t there be a Simon Legree vibe? Maybe it could go the other way, with the Skipper played by Ving Rhames or someone dark and beefy— it’s okay for black people to knock skinny whites around. Should the Howells be African-American? Can we laugh at the black nouveau riche the way we can at WASP old money?
The Professor is the obvious black guy, because he’s Obama as Mr. Spock, like that Afro-Vulcan on one of the Star Trek spinoffs. Courtney Vance? Don Cheadle, or is that too obvious? An Asian-American actor would be good — but is that another borderline racist choice? Alternately, Colin Firth would be a most impressive sexless academic, especially when Mary Ann in her shorty-shorts bats her eyes at him and he keeps on talking advanced physics.
Bottom line: We don’t want humdrum. We don't want sitcom hacks. We don’t want the original deconstructed, the way The Brady Bunch movie satirized the TV show. (I liked The Brady Bunch movie, but what was being satirized there was an era, and the tension between its hermetically sealed network sitcom world and the world outside.) We want the best actors. We do want a hint of Lost, our other great TV island saga. We want a Gilligan’s Island movie not as stupid as the show, but as real and alive and magnificently absurd as our memories of it.