Opinion, Uncategorized

WHY US REMAKES OF UK SITCOMS RARELY WORK:

tumblr_nsw3vlYSvj1rfwfq9o1_1280Remember back in 2012 when MTV came out with an American version of The Intbetweeners? There is a good chance that you have made significant efforts to repress that dark time. The remake, which was thankfully cancelled after one unsuccessful season, stripped the concept of anything that made the beloved UK show so funny in the first place.

But why is it that US networks have such a problem in remaking UK sitcoms? It’s certainly not for lack of trying – pretty much any sitcom that was well liked in Britain has had American remake attempts, though the vast majority of them make it past the pilot stage. Peep Show, Fawlty Towers, Gavin and Stacey, Spaced, nothing is safe from the US treatment it would seem. The common answer for this is that Americans don’t understand sarcasm, and whilst the British/American humour is very different the reason for the failure of these shows is not so straightforward.

gavin-staceyThere are exceptions to the rule which go a long way in explaining things – look at the US Office for example. Based on Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s BBC mockumentary series, the US version starring Steve Carrell went on to have 9 successful seasons at NBC, even surviving Carrell’s departure in season 7. The reason for this? After a shaky first season which relied on copying much of the content of the UK version, the show firmly established its own identity. Whilst characters were initially based on UK counterparts, writers soon also established totally new creations and took the ensemble in a distinctly different direction. This is the key to the shows success, taking the basic concept, applying an American view to it, and establishing its own identity entirely.

It is this that is the stumbling block for so many of these remakes – Us and Them (the US version of Gavin and Stacey), The IT Crowd and The Inbetweeners being perfect examples of this. If you look at the failed pilot of the US version of The IT Crowd (which also starred Richard Ayoade as Moss) it is an almost frame for frame remake. Similarly, The Inbetweeners copied the majority of the plot of the original whilst sanitising the language – the iconic “bus wankers” becomes “bus turds”, and there lies a problem straight away.

19071What makes the likes of The Inbetweeners so funny and relatable is very distinctive to British culture. The vulgarity, swearing and painful awkwardness is explored in a no-holds-barred method in the UK – the central four look and act like teenage boys really do. American high school culture is a whole genre in itself, and there are plenty of US comedies which chart its pitfalls (MTV’s Awkward, for example), but teenagers are generally much portrayed in a very different light –  the ‘nerds’ and ‘outcasts’ still have good looks, nice clothes and only an endearing level of awkwardness.

Shows such as Peep Show and Only Fools and Horses are representations of British culture at the time they were produced. Only Fools and Horses touched upon the struggles of the working class in Thatcher’s Britain, whilst Peep Show contains critique of the recession among countless other nods to UK culture. It is this sort of observational comedy that is very difficult to translate into another culture, and it is this, rather than the concept of sarcasm as a whole, that American audiences fail to warm to.

Another reason so many remakes fail boils down simply to the massive differences in the way television is produced in the UK and US. Television is a big commercial business in the US, dominated by profit hungry networks. This means that a lot more money is thrown at projects than in the UK, which still often relies on traditional shoestring budgets. This leads to US remakes often having a much more polished look that don’t always suit the show – the ‘low-quality’ look of most British sitcoms actually enhances the message final product, such as with The Royle Family.

the-it-crowd-remakeUS networks are also much keener to sell advertising slots, which is the main reason US shows have much longer seasons than UK series. This can allow for much more character development and multiple story arcs per season, but does not suit direct remakes of UK stories, which tend to be much tighter and more compact. Even the structure within episodes are different, with US shows tending to end each section on mini cliff hangers to keep viewers interested over frequent advertisement breaks, whilst many UK sitcoms do not have breaks if broadcast on the BBC, and usually only have one if on another network.

Ultimately it is not down to one system being better than the other, rather just a significant difference in culture, which causes difficulty in translating UK sitcoms into something that is appealing to a US audience. Check out some examples of UK sitcoms that were remade in the US below and let me know what you think in the comments box!

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List, Television

5 SHOWS TO BINGE-WATCH THIS WINTER:

rs_500x335-140204131302-tumblr_m72lvk47vw1ql06buo1_500Collins dictionary has named ‘binge-watch’ the word of the year, beating out a number of worthy contenders including ‘dadbod’ and ‘clean eating’ to come top of the 2015 list. Online streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon mean that instead of having to wait week by week for your favourite show to air on television you can watch an embarrassing amount of episodes in one sitting (yay?). Shows like Breaking Bad have contributed to an over 200% rise in the use of the term over the past year.

This is a phenomenal rise, a reflection of the revolution that has occurred in viewing habits over the last few years. Netflix is a formidable giant and this point, with a slew of it’s own shows and even its own movie just being released. Other streaming sites are also on the rise such as Amazon Prime Instant Video and Hulu, and more and more people are watching shows on the likes of BBC iPlayer than ever before.

How should we celebrate the rise of the binge-watch? With excellent shows of course! From sitcoms to dramas, here are the shows you should be watching as the dark nights close in.

5 – GAVIN AND STACEY (2007-10)

line-dancing-590x350Available from: Series 1-2 on Amazon Prime, Series 2-3 on Netflix UK

Starring: Ruth Jones, James Corden, Matthew Wolfe, Joanna Page, Rob Brydon

Written by Ruth Jones and James Corden, who also star as the hilarious Nessa and Smithy. Gavin and Stacey is a smash hit comedy that was originally broadcast on the BBC. Whilst there is a huge chance you’ve already watched this sitcom, which lasted for three series, a million times before, who will ever get bored of the antics of the Shipman and West families? The lighthearted sitcom follows the relationship of English Gavin (Wolfe) and Welsh Stacey (Page) who, after talking on the phone for months, decide to meet in the first episode. Cue hilarity as their best friends and families get involved. Every character is hilarious in their own right, with Rob Brydon’s Uncle Bryn standing out as a particular favourite, but what makes this series really special is the way it finds the humor in aspects of everyday life (getting a takeaway, going to the beach etc). With laughs from Bacillary to Barry Island, Gavin and Stacey is the perfect feel-good comedy to fill your winter Sundays with – and make sure you don’t forget that classic Christmas special.

4 – THE GOOD WIFE (2009-Present)

finales4goodwife900x506Available from: Series 1-5 on Netflix UK

Starring: Julianna Margulies, Chris North, Alan Cumming, Archie Panjabi

Sometimes all you want is a good drama to sink your teeth into, and The Good Wife has it all. With a fantastic central performance from Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife follows the story of Alicia Florrick who in the first episode is shown to be standing by her husband, disgraced states attorney Peter, despite him having cheated on her with prostitutes. Whilst this premise could have lent itself to an overly soapy show, The Good Wife deftly handles the storyline in a way that is both relatable and engaging. More low key than the likes of Breaking Bad/Boardwalk Empire, The Good Wife is more along the lines of Mad Men –  full to the brim with complex characters – and is also a great pick for fans of legal procedural shows (think Law and Order etc) due to Alicia’s work as a lawyer. It also isn’t afraid to shy away from controversial subjects, with racism, gun control and religion being just some of the topics covered in early seasons. The Good Wife is a perfect winter watch with over a hundred episodes to sink your teeth into.

3 – IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA (2005-Present)

alwaysunny-04Available from: Series 1-10 on Netflix UK

Starring: Charlie Day, Kaitlin Olson, Glenn Howerton, Danny DeVito, Rob McElhenny

Basically the anti-sitcom, It’s Always Sunny takes the ‘friends hanging out’ trope and turns it entirely on its head. These characters are terrible people who do some truly dark things – trying to scam the welfare system, turn a ‘dumpster’ baby Mexican and setting each other on fire (yes, really) are just some that come to mind. But that is what makes this show so great, through the characters complete an utter depravity the show often achieves a level of satire whilst still creating laughs for the audience. These are characters that, rather than rooting for each other are actively trying to hurt each other, which makes for some pretty great comedy. No topic is off limits, and the addition of Danny DeVito to the cast in the second season is when the show really comes into its own, bringing the gang to its dysfunctional peak. It’s not for the easily offended, but It’s Always Sunny offers a totally different perspective and is well worth a watch if you’re getting tired of Friends and How I Met Your Mother re-runs.

2 – GOTHAM (2014-Present)

Gotham_pilot_Fish_sOffice_5048r_73e9d583Available from: Series 1 on Netflix UK

Starring: Ben McKenzie, Donal Logue, Jada Pinkett Smith, Robin Lord Taylor

Gotham was always going to be a hard sell. A show set in Batman’s famous city, but without Batman? Fans were dubious of how Fox’s series would pan out. Set in the immediate aftermath of the Wayne’s murder, Gotham features Bruce Wayne as a child and shifts the focus to a young Detective James Gordon (Ben McKenzie) who is on a one man mission to clean up the corrupt city. To say the show plays fast and loose with the source material is an understatement, but you can’t fault their intentions. Season one was a mixed bag, plagued by an uneven tone, but to write it off totally would be a mistake. We see the early days of a whole slew of famous Batman villains – Penguin, Catwoman, the Riddler, Poison Ivy and perhaps even the Joker. It’s interesting to see younger incarnations of famous characters  – in particular James Gordon and Alfred the butler. Far from perfect, Gotham is still a fun ride, introducing a gritty tone but maintaining elements of its comic book source, with inventive criminals and plenty of strong performances. With the second season beginning last month, that is the perfect excuse to get up to speed and decide for yourself what you think.

1 – STILL GAME (2002-2007)

Still-Game-still-game-163286_1024_768Available from: Series 1-5 on Netflix UK

Starring: Greg Hemphill, Ford Kiernan, Paul Riley.

Taking the number one spot with ease is Still Game, the hilarious sitcom from Greg Hemphill and Ford Kiernan. Originating from sketches in their other excellent show Chewin’ The Fat, Still Game tells the story of Jack (Kiernan) and Victor (Hemphill), two pensioners living in rundown Craiglang. Their adventures with best pal Winston (Riley) and other friends and acquaintances form the basis of the shows narrative. Much like Gavin and Stacey, the show find hilarity in the normality of retirement, and whilst it is perhaps a select brand of humor, anyone who has lived in Scotland for an extended period of time is sure to find it funny. Finally available on Netflix as of August this year, Still Game is the perfect tonic for the cold winter nights.

Here is a compilation of clips/trailers from the 5 shows listed here, enjoy!

What are your favourite shows to binge-watch? Let me know in the comments section below!

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