Thursday, August 23, 2012

Less Than Rare Exports

Yes, I know I usually try to stick to just discussing film and film related material here.

Every so often though, something happens that just prompts a train of thought.  Admittedly, this one also DOES tie in to film to a degree, but as it is now, the problem is really more focused around television than film.

That said, this week saw a rather curious debut.  With much bemused skepticism about it on the internet, MTV aired the first episode of their American remake of the British comedy The Inbetweeners.  On having recently watched it, I can honestly say the naysayers had the right idea here.  Even when not comparing this to the original, this was just painful to watch.  The kind of show that feels like it's trying too hard for the laugh and never really gives itself time to breath and just let the jokes flow naturally.

For  the sake of comparison:
For the record, the car door isn't a recurring thing.  From the looks and sounds of things, this is quite literally a remake of the British show.

Though to me, the saddest part of this is that, in this day and age, there was really no need for this.  Not just that it was bad, but the entire idea of remaking it.

I mean, I can accept the fact that there was once a time when I could see the case for trying to pick up a British show for more American tastes.  They've tried to do this off and on for years now, and the internet is littered with the discarded shells of pilot episodes for aborted American runs of popular British titles (such as Red Dwarf or The IT Crowd) or failing that, at least publically disclosed tales of attempts that failed (such as Roseanne's attempt to bring over Absolutely Fabulous, or the Fox network's attempt to bring over the Edgard Wright series Spaced, a reboot that star Simon Pegg looks back on as an utter mess.)

Back in the day, I could dislike it but at least see the logic - for the longest time, British television had almost no airwave play over here, shy of whatever your local PBS took it on themselves to air.  For my part, this was what introduced me to things like Monty Python's Flying Circus, Red Dwarf, Are You Being Served? and 'Allo, 'Allo, but that's a story for another day.  Point was, these shows were always kind of in a niche back then.  They had pretty strong followings, but always on the smaller side.

Then that all changed within the last decade thanks to two things - the increase in prominence of the channel BBC America and the ushering in of internet streaming as a means of television broadcast.

With these two elements in play, British television became quite popular, almost mainstream, in the US.  This is probably best embodied in the major boom of the sci-fi cult hit Dr. Who (a show that was also once tapped for an American reboot that never made it beyond pilot movie)-A series that had formerly been a niche within the nerd culture became a regular part of the modern parlance and has even gone on to achieve major attention here in its more recent forms.  Additionally, its spinoff series Torchwood has gone on to achieve similar levels of praise, even leading to the Starz network funding a new sequel season to the show, with the surviving (Seriously, emphasis on surviving) cast returning.

Likewise, the drama Downtown Abbey enjoys a strong following here stateside, and despite what some would argue in defense of many remakes, the distinctly British nature of the show has not hampered Americans from taking to it and allowing it to gain a considerable fanbase here as well.  Alongside just the fans, this is also worth noting for the fact it has gone on to achieve both critical acclaim as well as landing attention from the Emmy Awards committee.  Not bad, all things considered.

Additionally, as mentioned, the advent of technological developments like Hulu and Netflix have broadened the horizons for titles people have access to and see.  Alongside the above mentioned successes, shows like Spaced, Black Books, Sherlock, Misfits, and The Inbetweeners (to bring this all around again) have all gained interest and followings here.

So we now have the means and we've proven cultural barriers are not as daunting as network executives seem to believe them to be.  Despite this, there remains an assumption that these shows need to be rewritten, recast, and made more 'American' to be enjoyed. 

Now, this isn't to say an adaptation will automatically be bad.  One of the most prominent exceptions I'm sure I would be reminded of if I didn't mention it would be the successful American run of The Office. This show didn't simply recast the same characters and film the same UK scripts- it developed new characters, a new environment, gained a following in its own right. Currently, it has held out for many seasons and made its share of award wins.  Given the timing, I'd actually argue that may have been one of the last shows to still make a decent case for full re-adaptation at that point.

For many of these shows, however, for the reasons listed above, just don't interest people.  Especially not those who are already familiar with the original.  In the case of The Inbetweeners, this proves particularly interesting, as this makes MTV's second attempt to try and Americanize a well-known and well-liked British title, only to have it backfire on them.  Especially strange that they'd try again after the debacle that ensued with their attempted version of Skins.  Despite its apparent failure, they still felt determined enough to try and adapt a series that has gained a following strong enough to see the post-series movie lined up for a run in some US theaters next month.  On top of which, the humor in the original is pretty accessible.  About the worst newcomers would have to worry about is learning some new bits of British slang, and even that's pretty easy to pick up on. In fact, my girlfriend uses "gash" and we both use "wanker" on a consistent basis.

The saddest part is, they should have seen this coming.  Much of the response on the web was the same as people had when Skins US was announced.  Rather than excitement, people simply asked "Why bother?"

Now, and as I understand it, the reception to the Inbetweeners US has been...let's just say I'm apparently not alone on this one and leave it at that.  So will MTV learn this time? More to the point, will the industry in general learn now?  Especially given there's still talk of trying to make an American version of the series Misfits, a show whose popularity on streaming sites has even been noted by the people in charge of the remake.  That's right.  They're acknowledging people love this and they're still gonna try and remake it.

It's like we forgot what happened the last time they had this sort of a set up and how well THAT sold:

See?  I told you I'd bring it around!

Really, I've tried to wrap my mind around why there's such a fixation on doing this.  About the only theory I have left is that, in a system that is now fast being reworked by the new technological breakthroughs, remakes and Americanizations are one of the few ways the 'old guard' (as it were) still has to try and maintain a degree of control over media that, more and more people are being able to see without going through them or their check points.  A theory that I will admit sounds slightly like a  conspiracy theory, but given just how much of the 'entertainment vs technology' battle comes down to the question of control and who has it, this is one that DOES have some grounding.

But, for now, this will only remain speculation.  I will keep an eye out to see how long this new remake lasts, but based on what I saw, I am NOT hopeful.  Much of what made the original appealing is gone, and what's in its place feels much more...let's just go with disposable for a word.

In the meantime, what else can I say?  It's a new age of entertainment distribution, and if you haven't looked into these originals yet, by all means, see what you can find.  we have a lot more to see than we used to be able to, and it'd be a damned shame not to take advantage of it.

Till next time, when I promise we'll be back onto film a bit more and I may be (slightly) less ranting.

Until then, a reminder that all hands and arms stay inside the car cause we can NOT afford another lawsuit this year.

Thank you
--The Management

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