Kevin Smith’s 1994 debut Clerks did much to define the low-budget, high-profile “Indiewood” boom of that era. But set a trend on America’s cultural fringe, and it never takes long for the mainstream to come calling. In this case, the mainstream wanted to cash in on a Clerks television sitcom, the only produced episode of which spent the past couple decades languishing in the vast graveyard of pilots no network would pick up before its rediscovery just this year. You can watch it in all its sanitized glory just above.
Even though those of us who grew up on the mid-1990s televisual landscape won’t recognize the never-aired Clerks itself, we’ll recognize its sensibility right away. “It gives me bad flashbacks to the pre-web monoculture,” writes one commenter on the Metafilter thread about the show — a monoculture built, at that time, upon one-liners and their corresponding laugh tracks, floppy hair and baggy clothes. Ironically, it was that very same dominant glossy blandness that made Clerks, the movie, feel so fresh when it first made its way from festival to theatrical release.
Still, this failed TV adaptation does retain a few elements of its source material: the convenience-store setting (though here called Rose Market rather than Quick Stop), the main characters named Dante and Randal. But the resemblance more or less stops there. “Gone are the movie’s iconic drug dealers Jay and Silent Bob,” writes the A.V. Club’s Christopher Curley, “replaced by backup characters including an ice cream server and a tanning salon ditz. Some of the beats of the film are still there, like Randal harassing his video store customers, but nothing lands or even remotely coheres.”
Kevin Smith made Clerks with $27,575. Clerks the sitcom pilot, made entirely without Smith’s involvement, certainly cost much more — money that bought zero cultural impact, especially by comparison to the film that inspired it. The Indiewood movement showed us how much untapped vitality American cinema still had; almost everything on television looked like lifeless productions-by-committee by comparison. But now that Clerks has passed its twentieth anniversary, the tables have turned, and we look to television for the raw, real stories Hollywood doesn’t tell. The travails of a couple of young sex- and Star Wars-obsessed dead-enders in grim suburban New Jersey, shot in black-and-white 16-millimeter film — would CBS care to hear more?
Colin Marshall writes on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.