American Remakes of British TV Shows


Written by Jack Sharp
05 Sunday 05th February 2012

Now, believe it or not, there are plans for one of our most beloved sitcoms, Only Fools and Horses, to be made into a US series. And, why not? There’s already a Portuguese remake, O Fura-Vidas (a local expression for someone who lives outside the law), which follows the pursuits of wheeler-dealer Quim (yes, Delboy has been demoted to a vagina) and his dopey younger brother Joca (Rodney). And who could forget Trigger? Who, naturally, becomes Pirilampo (loosely translated to mean "Glow-Worm").

Keep watching for the bit where Quim falls through the bar, which is often hailed as one of the finest moments in Portuguese comedy.

Only Fools and Horses will be just one in a long line of UK TV shows that are in the pipeline to be remade for America’s audiences. Armando Iannucci’s Veep, which was born out of a failed US pilot of The Thick of It, will air soon in the US and star Seinfeld actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus. It sounds like it could be a winner, especially given Iannucci’s proven track record for producing mostly great comedy. However, many US remakes aren’t recreated with quite as much care and participation from the creators of the original British series. This was largely the case with the notoriously awful pilot for the US remake of Spaced.



Everything is shit and depressing in Brit TV land, just like our real lives. The characters are all reprehensibly awful, their location is despairingly grim, their prospects are non-existent, and because of this, we’re encouraged to laugh at their misfortune. Escapism is for yanks. No, what we like is grottiness and misery, isn’t it? Which is seemingly why Shameless is so successful. In fact, it’s so successful that Americans have decided that they want a piece of the hugely depressing action.

The council estate culture that Shameless both mockingly lampoons and celebrates in equal measure, doesn’t really exist in the US, so they’ve had to make a few changes to accommodate the American audience. The brilliant William H. Macy plays Frank Gallagher, who, on the surface, is somewhat less unlikable than his British equivalent. Overall, the programme comes across like a more extreme update of Malcolm in the Middle, but with elements that are sure to resonate with fans of the original series.



Skins, in many ways, follows the “so-depressing-it’s-funny” mantra laid out by Shameless. It revolves around the teenage pursuits of a group of avaricious little shits, a group that manages to somehow epitomise the very worst elements of youth culture. The programme’s first trailer didn’t do much for the adult perception of young people. It featured the aforementioned little shits having a “super wicked party”, like the ones that I’ve only ever seen in scaremongering early ‘90s news reports on rave culture.

This party was so catastrophically wicked that it even featured one of the hipster cockbags riding a bike through the house, where bikes, traditionally, are not supposed to be ridden. As it turned out, the first series failed to expand on any of the profound ideas raised by its appropriately stupid trailer. Despite this, a second series soon followed, and then an embarrassingly poor third, fourth, fifth and sixth series—almost as if the middle-aged commissioners at Channel 4 were issuing anti-young person propaganda.

Finally, an American version of Skins was commissioned, covering exactly the same themes, in a similarly ham-fisted way. I’m not sure which is worse. I mean, obviously the later British series of Skins are worse. They’re absolutely terrible. Still, several advertisers did withdraw their funding from the US series due to accusations of child pornography. So there is that, I suppose.


Not the Nine O'Clock News

A good US remake comes in the form of Not Necessarily the News, a satirical sketch comedy series that aired on HBO from 1983 to 1990. Based on the popular British sketch show Not the Nine O’Clock News, the programme featured sketches, faux-news and overdubbing of actual news footage. The show, quite possibly, could have acted as the blueprint for The Daily Show, specifically in its early incarnation.

Not Necessarily the News was responsible for launching the career of comedian Rich Hall, and acted as both Conan O’Brien and Greg Daniels’ first professional writing gig. O’Brien went on to write for The Simpsons before becoming a major talk show host; Daniels found success as a comedy writer. He wrote for The Simpsons and Seinfeld before co-creating King of the Hill and developing the US remake of The Office.


The Office

There was much outrage when news that our beloved The Office was being remade for the Americans was announced. To fans of the original it was outright sacrilege. Were they going to keep the same characters, the same style? It was difficult not to think of all those awful American sitcom clichés, which, in all honesty, were only ever apparent in very broad 1970s US comedy. Perhaps, it was easy to think they’d have David Brent yelling his now trademarked catchphrase, “KEENAN!” while shacking his fist to a hyperventilating studio audience.

It was a surprise when the show was finally released, developed by the aforementioned Gregg Daniels. It took quite a few years to gain momentum over here, but I genuinely think it’s a great comedy. The characters certainly start off with their reference points based heavily in the UK version, but as the series progresses into its second season, it really comes into it’s own, thanks in large to great performances from Rainn Wilson and Steve Carell.

The problem with the US version, which the British one was able to avoid, is the longevity of the series. It’s simply gone on a bit too long, having run out of momentum shortly after season four. But still, there are still plenty of great episodes before then.


The Jeremy Kyle Show

The human butter bean returns, this time stateside, presenting largely the same show as the one that he presents here, except this time his psychologically damaging freak show contains blatant undertones of animosity towards Americans.

Kyle’s UK guests are far more reserved than their US counterparts, having seemingly only grasped the concept of communication fairly recently. It would be easy to believe that these people have existed in secrecy for decades, living off of wet timber, which they gleefully gnaw at with their decaying teeth. The American guests, on the other hand, almost resemble actual people, with their adequate dentistry and vaguely functioning faces. They’re generally less likely to bite Jeremy’s face off, but they are also altogether more extraverted and argumentative.

Kyle may have lost the intense neon blue lighting that made his programme seem like it was being presented from within an ultraviolet fly killer, but essentially it’s exactly the same programme, with a really small washed-out picture of the New York skyline in the background.

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