As the awful American adaptation of The Inbetweeners continues on E4, rumours of a U.S version of Gavin and Stacey grow and Only Fools And Horses gets rejected for the second time in America, we’re having a look back at the worst adaptations of British shows that America’s tried to do and ask the question why the heck they keep doing it.
Spaced is easily one of the best comedies the UK has ever produced and is incredibly influential on the landscape of comedy on both sides of the Atlantic.
This, of course, invited an American version to come to light years later. While most remakes invite the original creators on to consult, as The Office did to Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, none of Simon Pegg, Jessica Stephenson or Edgar Wright were talked to.
The brilliance of the original show was the brilliantly unconventional writing, the magic chemistry between the characters and the fantastic cast of characters. Now, imagine Spaced, but without all of those aspects set in glamorous San Francisco.
From horribly miss-judged character jumps (making military mad Mike into a donut munching ‘bro’ for one) to stilted dialogue, terribly adapted storylines and the entire show being neutered, the show that would become known as McSpaced amongst fans never made it past the pilot. Thank goodness.
The IT Crowd
We love the IT Crowd, but this husk of the original just makes us sad. Thankfully it never got beyond the pilot stage, but the American remake of the IT Crowd makes for excruciating viewing.
A near exact shot for shot remake of the British show, this is another horrible imitation of the brilliant British original that manages to remove all the fun, all the humour and all the joy out of it.
It’s made all the worse by the involvement of Richard Ayoade and the usually fantastic, but in this case horrifically miscast, Joel McHale. While it never made it to screen, the internet has a way of not letting this horror die.
Men Behaving Badly
The British original made household names of its stars and was a viewer favourite for years. The American version shows that even with such a loose structure as two guys talking rudely can be turned into a sow’s ear.
Exchanging Neil Morrissey for Rob Schneider wasn’t a good move to start with. In the late nineties, he may have been a hit in Adam Sandler’s run of terrible movies, but he was a terrible fit for the show.
The change in personnel and a change in tone changed what was good natured, if ridiculously rude playfulness into something a whole lot more sneering and in much worse taste.
Amazingly, it made it into its second series before the pin was pulled on this train wreck, clearing our TV screens of Rob Schneider for years. So at least some good came from it then.
For many, Coupling was just a raunchier, English version of Friends. But while the American juggernaut found a home over here, it’s clear to see that the same exchange can’t happen the same way.
Mainstream American TV, not just network comedy, has always been a little more prudish when it comes to sex. So how do you take a show solely devoted to sex jokes and smutty humour and transfer that to an audience not wanting that? Instead of clever writing, you just plough on ahead, but somehow make every line fall flatter than a poorly timed bought of flatulence at a funeral.
Not only was the classic British comedy brought over to the States unsuccessfully, an American version of the show failed to get off the ground three times.
While it never made it past the planning stage first time, both later remakes Payne and Amanda’s both got most of their first series out of the gates. Neither were loved by audiences and for good reason, as neither captured the same mad-cap humour and timeless brilliance that the John Cleese fronted original so effortlessly managed.
Why they thought it was good idea the second, let alone the third time is a mystery.
After so many failed attempts, it’s easy to ask why they continue to try and make the solution work. It’s simple, it’s a low risk and easy to test concept.
If it works, then you can claim that it’s a universal humour, or it was your hand in it that made the crucial difference. If it fails horribly, then you can always claim that the audience wasn’t ready or that it’s cultural differences and say “It worked over in Britain, so it’s not my bad idea”.
When the remakes do work, it’s because the only thing that stayed the same was the show’s core concept. When you mimic, all that comes from it is a poor, awkward imitation of the original.
The real issue though is why America simply can’t handle British comedy. The humour is not that different (over the last few years in particular, the most critically revered comedies have been massively influenced by their British counterparts) and for years Brits have enjoyed what America has to offer.
There’s no language barrier either, so what’s the issue? It may seem cruel to say, but it’s because America doesn’t care about what isn’t American. Real football doesn’t work in America because it’s not American. British musicians often don’t catch breaks in America because they don’t sing about American things. They won’t find out what different words mean, or why we giggle at the mere mention of Boris Johnson. It’s why brilliant foreign films get remade and it’s why it’s a trend that’s not going to stop any time soon.