Thirty years later, nobody still puts Baby in a corner. But ABC’S “Dirty Dancing” remake fits snugly in a box, adding just enough appealing wrinkles to its predecessor’s familiar moves to provide, if not the time of your life, for what it is a pretty enjoyable few hours.
The main variation from the 1987 movie, shrewdly, is to have the key players sing songs like “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” while they dance, creating more of a Broadway musical vibe. The central story is also framed by a flash-forward from 1963 to the mid-’70s that, however predictable in its contours, adds additional emotional heft to the proceedings.
Finally, several characters have been expanded in a more socially conscious way, playing up some of the “Mad Men”-esque issues of the era, without sacrificing the main focus on romance straddling the class divide.
Abigail Breslin brings wide-eyed, youthful innocence to the role of Baby, the 18-year-old girl whose annual Catskills trip with mom (Debra Messing), dad (Bruce Greenwood) and her older sister (“Modern Family’s” Sarah Hyland) is thrown for a loop when she begins hanging out with Johnny (Colt Prattes), one of the resort’s dance instructors.
There are other status-related tensions, including the gap between the Ivy League climbers working summers at the camp and the wrong-side-of-the-tracks kids who don’t share their privilege. Adding to the Baby-Johnny impediments, her pop, a buttoned-up doctor, is led to believe that Johnny got his partner (Nicole Scherzinger), as they said back in the day, “in trouble.”
Admittedly, this “Dirty Dancing” can be a bit of a slog between the dance numbers. Yet the new version compensates for that, somewhat, with a more fleshed-out relationship between Baby’s parents and fun casting around the fringes — Tony Roberts as the resort’s proprietor, Billie Dee Williams as the band leader and best of all, Katey Sagal as the “camp cougar.”
Granted, Prattes doesn’t match Swayze’s charisma, but he’s more than up to the task when the music starts. And for those who might say, “Three hours?,” it’s actually not much more than two once you excise all the commercials.
Networks have become enamored with live musicals to present as events to punctuate their lineups, but there’s something to be said for the old-fashioned virtues of a TV movie, however rare they might be. “Dirty Dancing” hardly breaks any ground, but in that respect, it’s a rather pleasant throwback in more ways than one.
“Dirty Dancing” will air May 24 at 8 p.m. on ABC.