As you may or may not have noticed from our blog and our twitter rampages, your faithful blog hostess’ are more than slightly addicted to British television shows. In light of the recent influx of American remakes of British hits, we felt a little compare and contrast might be in order as well as a few musings on why we can’t just watch the original.
“Britain and America are two nations divided by the same language.” ~ attributed to Oscar Wilde
In the past decade, there have been more than a handful of American remakes of British hits that have taken off in America – the most successful of which is American Idol. We took the solid smash Pop Idol and beefed it up America style to be a television black hole that has kept people glued to their television sets for months every spring for nearly a decade. We had our fair share of reality competitions pre-Idol, but the unprecedented popularity of Simon Fuller’s creation set forth a snowballing chain of reality competition shows that might otherwise never have been born. Not sure whether to so say ‘thanks’ or get pitchforks and torches for that contribution…
The next recent smash, rumored to be headed for a possible series finale at the end of its current season, is The Office. Ricky Gervais created and starred in the version aired in Britain in 2001. The show ran for just two 6 episode seasons, though it made an impression big enough to spawn not only the American version, but half of a dozen other international versions as well. Currently in its eighth season (possibly final) season, the American version of The Office did what Americans do best: take a good thing and beat every ounce of profitability by making it even more obnoxious than the original. I say this from a place of love because I am a HUGE fan of this show, but really, no Steve Carrell = no show. Let’s send it off into that great green room in the sky with the exit of Michael Scott and move on to something else.
One of my favorite British guilty pleasure shows, and arguably the one that really hooked me on Brit TV in the first place, is the quirky, ironic, crazy comedy Shameless. Ok, truth: I started watching the British version right after I discovered James McAvoy and promptly stopped watching once he left the show halfway through season two. It doesn’t impugn the quality or character of the show; I’m just keepin’ it real. The American version of Shameless just started a few weeks ago on Showtime (Sunday, 10pm) starring William H. Macy (I’ll save my epic love for ever did that casting job at another time because KUDOS) as the drunk, lazy father to a blended bunch of maladjusted children headed by the lovely and talented (and surprisingly edgy) Emmy Rossseum. Comparing these two versions of the show actually illustrates a fundamental cultural difference between our two worlds: irony is completely lost on Americans. If the producers of the Showtime version had tried to directly translate this show for an American audience, it would barely have lasted one night because the sheer absurdity of the British version would turn even the most cultured viewer off. So they added a little Chicago grit, sprinkled in a considerable helping of gratuitous sex (which is saying something because people get laid A LOT in the original), and slowed the story down to a speed even the most hung over late night TV watcher can handle. Detrimental to the essence of the show? Nah, but if I had to pick between them, I’d go with the Showtime version if only to watch the idiotic son-in-law from Reba smoke pot and hit people.
The two most recent additions to this influx of remakes (other than Shameless), MTV’s Skins and SyFy’s Being Human, translated into this world with a bite and bang (pun intended). I can’t speak to the quality or lack there of or anything in between of either version of Skins. What I will say is this: our remarkable innately American ability to demand sex in our programming while maintaining a prudish moral stance has gotten to an exhausting and useless point. This is just a step up from my generation’s naughty late night MTV show Undressed. Here’s a little food for thought: if you don’t want your kids watching teenagers having sex start by not letting them watch MTV in the first place. Moving along…
Part of me wishes I would have let sleeping wolves lie and not watched the British version of Being Human – because I like it better than the American version and I was not prepared for that. I mean, we have Buffy, Angel, Vampire Diaries, True Blood and a whole other slew of fangtastic television shows; how could theirs possibly be better? Oh, but it is. Not so much better that I don’t still follow the American version, but enough so that I can say if I had to choose it would be no contest. One thing American supernatural shows tend to do across the board is drown in their own mythology. The point of Being Human is that these characters have moved beyond lore and are trying to be, well, human. I have to give the new show props for trying to not be so much a copy of the original show, but another parallel situation involving different characters and a different culture. My only worry in the few episodes that have aired thus far is that it may be headed down the JJ Abrams rabbit hole of overly complicated and soul-sucking mythological detail. Pray to the Buffy gods that they get wise up before we end up with a Halloween version of Lost.
Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better…
So what else are we in the process of importing? I’ll hit the highlights.
Being Erica: Ok, so technically this isn’t a British show – this is a Canadian show. Yet we still feel the need to have our own version. Being Erica is the endearing, unique tale of Erica Strange and her exploits in a method of mystical therapy where she gets to relive pivotal moments of her life. Currently set in Toronto, the show airs on SoapNET in the US. However, with SoapNET’s imminent demise, ABC (sister channel to SoapNET) announced they are working on a US version of the show, written by Once & Again scribe Maggie Friedman. While I appreciate the sensibility she will bring to the project, should we start down this slippery slope with Canadians too? After all, they’re just like us, but with health care and better breeding. I’ll watch under protest, but I just don’t see anyone being as perfect at being Erica as Erin Karpluk.
Torchwood: If you want to hear all about this one, check out Sarah’s previous blog here. I don’t watch and couldn’t even begin to do this debate justice.
You Talk Funny, but I Love You Anyway…
Two shows in my British repertoire have endured without crossing the Atlantic: Primeval and Merlin. I write this section both as a love letter and as a warning to any American producers who might be thinking about taking over either of these shows. There are a thousand versions of the Arthur legend on TV, in movies, in novels, etc, which is probably why there isn’t a need for this to have a US version. For one thing, it takes place in Britain, so what’s the point of remaking a show for an American audience with British actors (or American actors with bad accents)? Plus, BBC and Showtime are already working on another version of the myth to be broadcast on Showtime later this year. The other accented love of my life is Primeval, which is basically Land of the Lost meets Fringe. Partially because it has a HUGE budget due to the large amounts of CGI in each episode and partly because of the massive suspension of disbelief required to follow along (no one else outside of the UK knows about the anomalies and they only ever appear in and around London…right), I think it’s pretty safe to assume it will stay a British morsel for good. Not to mention there does not exist an American version of Andrew-Lee Potts. Yum.
Anything anyone wants to add to my tirade? What are your favorite shows from the land of crumpets? Any you’d love to see brought over?
- Shameless: Another U.S. remake that doesnt ring true (theglobeandmail.com)
- Nothing Shameless About Shameless! Premieres As Showtime’s Biggest Drama in Seven Years! (perezhilton.com)