Reel Direct

Remaking Britain

They say imitation is the highest form of flattery - if that is the case, then the British must be creative geniuses!

American networks have premiered their midseason shows and among the bunch are three new programs that struck me as interesting - Skins, which premiered on MTV, Being Human, which debuted on SyFy, and Showtimes' Shameless.

To many, these shows are just a new crop of programs that American audiences will feel out, test and ultimately tune in, or tune out.

But to me, these shows represent something I stumbled upon about a year ago - British television rocks and Hollywood knows it.

I had this epiphany about a year ago, but it did not start with television. Rather, I saw a trailer for the 2010 film called Death at a Funeral. American audiences turned out to support this film, which starred Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence and Danny Glover, and it grossed $42 million domestically.

But what I saw when I watched this movie was an almost word-for-word remake of a British film by the same title released in 2007.

And so what did this British original gross in America? How about $8.5 million.

Now, I am not criticizing the remake itself. I found it funny, but then, why wouldn't I? I had liked the original and the remake was virtually identical to it. But honestly, Chris Rock was not as entertaining in the role originally performed by British actor Matthew Macfadyen.

But really, I probably should not have been surprised by this remake since Hollywood had created a nearly identical remake before - but with a very different result.

This remake hit American television in 2003. Coupling was being heralded as the new Friends, but audiences didn't buy into this story about love and sex among six friends and it was canceled before 2004.

I don't regret it, but I do regret that the American version may have tainted the British original. This show, which ran four successful seasons in Britain, is quite simply hilarious. I discovered it last year on Netflix (yes, it's available through instant play, so check it out) and all four seasons, even the last one where a key cast member left and was replaced, are incredibly funny...but for adults, so please remember that if you decide to catch it on Netflix.

I can't help but wonder what fans of Skins, Being Human and Shameless think about these new American shows. The British versions have aired on BBC America and have their American fans, but there must be a concern that these shows might also fall victim to remake success, like The Office.

The Office was a successful British television show that aired two seasons to rave reviews and great success. When it's creator Ricky Gervais transplanted the idea overseas, the result was a critical and ratings success, and a rejuvenation of Thursday night sitcoms on NBC (which, let's face it, went down after Friends ended in 2003).

But now, the British version is quite often overshadowed and many American audiences believed that, because the show ran only two seasons in Britain, it was a failure there - an assumption that is utterly wrong as many British shows run just a handful of seasons, with only a few episodes each, before concluding and moving on.

It is too early to tell whether the new crop of British remakes will fall victim to either Coupling's failure or The Office's success, but I'll be watching carefully because one of my favorite British television shows will soon be making an American move.

Torchwood is about as unique a show as one can imagine. It stars an American actor, John Barrowman, as Captain Jack Harkness, an immortal human from the future who runs an underground organization that defends earth from extraterrestrial dangers.

The show itself will not be a remake in America, but a new season for fans of the original; however, it must still function as a new show for its American audience.

The American version will add actors Mekhi Phifer and Bill Pullman to the cast, which will be interesting, I think. A casting change was necessary, especially since only two characters from the original show survived the last season.

Barrowman will return for the American show, which is expected to air on Starz this summer, but many fans of the original are curious to see how his character will be handled because he is very unique - you see, Harkness is bisexual.

Back when Fox was considering taking on the show, rumors ran rampant that they would change this aspect of the character but Barrowman, who is in fact homosexual, said he would not return if they tampered with the character.

But now that the show will air on Starz, it seems the main traits of the character are safe - he is a good fighter, intelligent and charming...all good qualities in the strongly heterosexual James Bond, but I am still not sure if American audiences will buy them in Harkness because of his orientation.

Another thing that has me worried is that Torchwood is actually a spinoff from the British sci-fi program Doctor Who, a show that has not made a jump to American production, and the show is deeply rooted in "Who-niverse" lure.

Since I am a fan of both shows, I understand how closely the two programs are tied, but how will the new show handle this connection? Will it be ignored?

The danger in doing this is that it could alienate the show's original fans and doom it to failure.

That fact is, only time will tell. American television, and cinema, are full of remakes - some are successful, some are not.

But the question is will Skins, Being Human, Shameless and Torchwood end like Coupling or find lasting success like many of its predecessors such as The Office, Sanford and Sons, American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, Three's Company or All in the Family?`


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