Hello and welcome to In Too Deep, where I over-analyse a certain section of pop culture.
Now more often than not whenever you hear that they’re announcing an American remake of your favourite show… you’re ready for it to be a complete and utter failure. You just know that it’s not going to be as good as the original. Why though? Why do so many of these shows fail? Well lets find out.
First off, lets be honest: It’s not just American adaptations that fail miserably. Other countries often make home-grown versions of popular American or foreign shows. Hell even my country has our own version of Jersey Shore (don’t ask, it’s really not worth getting into at this point). Not to mention the god awful amount of spin-offs we get like New Zealand Idol and New Zealand’s Got Talent. In other words whatever reality TV show gets popular in America we’re bound to have our own version of it. But that’s more reality TV shows. I want to focus on actual scripted TV shows. Which oddly enough does seem to happen moreso in America than anywhere else. Or at least any exported American show tends to go to a non-English speaking country over an English one. So why is it that a majority of the time it seems to be that an English-speaking show tends to go to America more than the other way round? And why do they fail? Well oddly enough the second answer helps explain the first.
The biggest problem facing these adaptations is the simple fact that they don’t translate across cultures that well. Take Outrageous Fortune for example. It is very much a New Zealand show. Everything about it is made to reflect New Zealand culture and embrace it. Even I, who have only seen a little of the show, know this much. But the American remake, Scoundrels, tries and fails to capture that magic. Why? Well simply because they both tried to stick true to the original while putting an American spin on it. And while it’s nice that they tried, ultimately it comes up short. Even though the idea, a family trying to go on the straight and narrow but a husband who is trying to keep them doing it, isn’t an exclusively New Zealand idea the characters and situations are. Some of the stories found in the show would only work in New Zealand. The class structure is something based very much in New Zealand. Everything about the show is fundamentally New Zealand. But that’s one relatively obscure example that I’m including for patriotic reasons. What about British to American examples?
Well one of the biggest things that British comedy tends to revolve around is the class system that makes up so much of Britainâ€™s infrastructure. It’s something America doesn’t really have. Now I know you’ll be quick to point out the ‘1%’ and all that, but let me flip this back onto you: You guys are so optimistic you actually believe one day you’ll be that rich. Even though you know it’s almost impossible you’re still dedicated enough to the American dream that you know you could probably get there. But in England, it’s very clear that you are born into a certain class and you stay in that class. You do not rise above your station or else. So a lot of British comedy is about the attack of the upper class by the lower class. Great comedies like Fawlty Towers, Red Dwarf, The IT Crowd are all about the lower class getting by and taking jabs at those better than them. And it works in Britain because, as I’ve said before, British comedy tends to be a lot more cruel and sadistic than the broad American comedy. Our comedies tend to be rather heartless when you get right down to it, shows that feature horrible characters having horrible things happening to them (compared to the standard ‘funny characters have funny things happen to them’ found in America). So when they try to take those jokes and move them over to an American setting that sort of culture is lost. Without the background the show just isn’t as funny as its own. It has to change its style to reflect the new audience. But what about those that are a shot to shot remake? Surely those must succeed.
But that falls down to the simple problem that why would you watch an almost exact copy of your favourite show rather than, well, your favourite show. You already have your show, it works great, why would you want to see a bunch of different actors reciting the exact same lines? Now one could argue that it’s like a play in that regards, since different people perform different plays and they’re still as good. But the point of plays is that you can only see that particular performance once. More often than not they’re gone, never to be seen again. So when you have a replication of a TV show that is portrayed in almost the exact same way as a TV show… yeah, it’s pretty boring. It’s like a slightly less impressive copy of a work of art. Nobody wants to see the same thing twice, ergo when we do see it we’re understandably apathetic towards it. Ergo making a carbon copy is not the way to go.
But not all transitions have been bad. The Office famously transitioned from England to America but, since I’ve never watched the show and thus can only make an educated guess, I can only presume that they did so by changing much about the shows style and format. Making it something similar to the original while putting its own new spin on it. And at the end of the day that’s the most important part, isn’t it. Taking something and making it your own when it comes to adaptations. Keeping what worked while changing things to make it fit better. So an American adaptation doesn’t necessarily have to be bad… It’s just a shame it often is though.
So there you have it. My look at American adaptations. If you disagree with anything, or have anything to add, feel free to leave a comment. Till next time.