8 classic British shows America couldn't do
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The Brits may not have the budgets, but they're bringing other things to the table...
US TV may have more money to spend on TV and big budget shows – think Lost (the pilot alone is said to have cost $12 million) and Spielberg’s latest show Terra Nova (reportedly it cost $50 million to make) - but there are just some British shows that American TV could never do as well as British TV, regardless of the budget. The reason? Because they are quintessentially British. The fact they are based in Britain is as vital to their watchability as the actors who bring the characters to life. Read on and please feel free to leave comments.
1. Doctor Who
It’s not only the iconic blue telephone box that makes this time travel treat a very British show; it’s the gentlemanly behavior of the Doctor. The Doctor abhors guns and violence. If the Time Lord were an American he’d be brash and all shock and awe, win at all cost. And, he’d probably be carrying a gun too. No matter his incarnation, the Doctor is an eccentric too. He has to be, to have that otherworldly aura about him. Only in Fringe does Dr. Walter Bishop come close to matching it.
Then there’s the way the Doctor’s dressed, which reflects his character – always in classic British attire, usually with a long coat or jacket. Matt Smith has his Harris Tweed jacket (do any Americans under 50 wear such a thing?) and bowtie. David Tennant had his long overcoat and tie and looked every inch the London commuter. Christopher Eccleston wore a leather jacket and black t-shirt (if he’d been American he’d surely have worn a white t-shirt, James Dean style). Sylvester McCoy was dressed for a day of boating down the Thames; Peter Davidson wore a cricket shirt. Tom Baker had that iconic long scarf. The first three Doctors William Hartnell (mad professor look), Patrick Troughton (bank manager who’d slept in his suit look), Jon Pertwee (purple velvet smoking jacket) wore typical British attire of the time.
The Doctor has an ageless quality about him that wouldn’t come across if he spoke in an American accent. This is a man with two hearts who has seen things no mere mortal has ever seen. As Christopher Eccleston’s incarnation said, ‘I saw the Fall of Troy, World War Five; I was pushing boxes at the Boston Tea Party…’ Note - I’ve missed Peter Cushing out because although he starred in two movies (Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965) and Daleks’ Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D (1966)), the official Doctor Who site doesn’t consider him to be a Doctor. Go figure.
2. The Office
I love the US version, I really do - but it’s not even the same show as the British version and it could never be. When in the first series they tried to copy the scripts of the British original and even had Michael Scott doing a David Brent thing with his hair (it looked like he’d greased it back with cooking oil to get the Brent-going-bald effect), the show wasn’t even funny. The same (ish) scripts that had us howling with laughter one minute and hiding behind the couch the next in the UK Office, left us cold in the US one. How could that be?
Maybe because there’s an air of total desperation about the UK show that’s as much a social commentary on how rubbish your life can be working a 9-to-5 under an obnoxious boss, as it is a situation comedy. American shows tend to have a more positive outlook: a feeling that you can achieve the American dream. No one wants to work at Wernham Hogg. This is the place where all dreams you ever have are crushed by the drudgery and grinding reality of real life working in an office for a company no one’s ever heard of, with a moron of a boss. You get the feeling Brent only got the job because he was the longest-serving employee (a very British thing). Tim wishes he was at university, studying psychology, but we know he’ll never do it because nice guy as he is, he’s a loser. Over in the US Office, Jim is where he is because he’s lazy and doesn’t apply himself and despite that he still progresses in the company. Dawn wants to be an artist, but unlike Pam she does little about it because in Britain not many people chase their dreams – we don’t have our 'American dream.' Reality crushes dreams.
Downtrodden Dawn’s going to marry surly lad Lee, who makes a caveman look modern, but despite him treating her like garbage she doesn’t seem to realize she can do better until they end up in America where she ends up a general dogsbody as Lee loafs around. Would any young American woman put up with someone like Lee? Pam certainly didn’t and kicked her Lee (Roy) to the kerb.
In my opinion, when Benedict Cumberbatch blazed onto the screen with his portrayal of the most famous of all detectives, he eclipsed Doctor Who. When the show was made the BBC knew it would be open to criticism that Sherlock and Doctor Watson could never be brought into the modern era. Brilliant Cumberbatch has proven them wrong and Martin Freeman makes a more than able sidekick (although there are the occasional traces of Tim, his Office personae). But, would the show have worked if it’d carried a ‘Made in the US’ stamp? I think not. For one thing, London is more than just a location in the Arthur Conan Doyle novels. It’s a character. It’s alive: it lives and breathes and you can feel its history wafting through the screen and into your living room. The diverse characters that populate the city make Sherlock what it is: unmissable TV. You only have to see what the Americans made of Sherlock when they made the movie version, featuring Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law. Entertaining enough as the movies were, they didn’t even come close to capturing the brooding mercurial genius that is Sherlock Holmes. A US TV series would probably feature a hunky, the ladies all love me star instead of a Sherlock who comes across as being completely detached from the rest of the world and the people in it. And, Baker Street would probably be replaced with a loft apartment.
There are plenty more shows that would be ruined if they were made in America with the same scripts. Shows like -
4. Being Human
The magic of the show featuring a werewolf, a ghost and a vampire is that it’s set in an ordinary British street. Set it stateside and it’s not even the same show and is more like Twilight.
The British spy drama would turn into a cross between 24 and The Bourne Identity if a US version was made. Whilst life in the British secret services seems to be about diplomacy and not stepping on anyone’s toes, life in the US version would be more all guns blazing and lack the subtlety.
6. Peep Show
If the Americans did this, it would be more like Friends: too glossy, too bright and the flat Jeremy and Mark share would be switched to a city centre penthouse with an assortment of glamorous people pretending to be ordinary parading in and out with their perfect hair and make up (and that’s just the men).
7. Drop The Dead Donkey
I love my American friends, I truly do, but one thing I’ve noticed about Americans is that they don’t do sarcasm. They simply don’t understand it. The reason this sitcom had us roaring with laughter is because we got the sarcasm. Heck, we’d say thing like that ourselves about politicians and their not-so-private lives. Americans genuinely don’t have the same level of distrust towards their politicians – if George W. Bush had been running Britain he’d have been a laughing stock in the media.
8. Only Fools and Horses
Does America have its own David Jason? We doubt it.
One of the most loved British shows of all time, the beauty of OFH is the simplicity of it all. Two brothers and granddad/uncle live in a flat in Peckham (hardly the most salubrious of places in London) and try to make a living ducking and driving, selling stuff no one wants to buy on a market. The comedy comes from the scrapes they get into. The majority of the show is based around just three characters. If this show was made in the US there’d be a bigger ensemble. More sets would be needed. They’d struggle to base the show just in two locations – Nelson Mandela Place where the Trotters live and their local pub. As for the market, would they even set it there? It’s doubtful. No one does markets like Londoners.
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