Television’s Titanic Journey

When I heard Gavin and Stacey was being remade in America, I groaned a groan worthy of the worst joke imaginable. And I would not be surprised if this happens to be that joke.

Take a second to recall the remakes of The InbetweenersSkins, and The IT Crowd. What do all of these have in common? They are all horrific. Whether it’s a change in tone and content, as was the case with the first two, or an attempted carbon copy that was miscast (seeing Community’s brilliant Joel McHale stumble through Chris O’Dowd’s lines made my whole brain cry), remakes simply tend to be atrocious.

But let’s not kid ourselves. It’s not because American television is somehow inferior to its transatlantic counterpart. Take, for example, That 70s Show, a guilty pleasure of mine, which was remade in the UK as a series called Days Like These. It was butchered in the same way The IT Crowd was: they took specific episodes from the original and reshot them, almost word-for-word, for a new audience. Needless to say, it was painful.

So why doesn’t it work if both countries have quality programming? There seem to be two reasons. First, the culture and humour don’t translate well. We can’t imagine the cast of  The Inbetweeners as Americans. Their lives and their interaction tap into something very British. Likewise, seeing someone like That 70s Show’s Red Forman – who is supposed to be a patriotic American and a Korean War veteran – as a slightly overweight middle-aged British man takes away from the comedy of his character and the lines he delivers.

More significantly, though, it’s because as fans of a TV show, we naturally love what makes it unique: its style, its characters, and so on. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that fans were outraged by a toned down version of Skins or an IT Crowd without Chris O’Dowd. They were sub-par shows with uniquely shaped shoes to fill- a near-impossible task from the outset.

On the other hand, there is the miniscule possibility that it could be a success. Just look at The Office. Regardless of any opinion of the US remake, it’s impossible to deny its success. Having spanned nine seasons, a remarkable feat in itself, it helped revive the single-camera sitcom in America. It’s an icon of US comedy.

The difference here was the universality of the source material. Anyone can relate to working in an office, and by adapting the overall style and creating new characters, the writers took advantage of it and made a very successful series. The question, therefore, is whether Gavin and Stacey has that same widespread potential.

Experience and my cynicism say no.