By Conor Murray
A year and a half ago The Inbetweeners movie became the highest grossing comedy film of all time in Britain, raking in just over £50 million. Both the movie and the television series have become cult classics and one of the most recent British success stories.
Sadly this is where it ends. The film was released in America in 2012 and over its entire theatrical period it only managed to gross $36,000, a pitiful return for a movie that cost £3 million to make, even if the British revenue more than eclipsed that figure.
So is this a case of Americans being unable grasp the British sense of humour? Everyone, whether they’ll admit it or not, wants to break the US. Even if you’re popular in your home country, having success in this dominating global market sends out the statement that you’ve made it, in a sense. But our favourite homegrown shows like The Inbetweeners, Skins and The IT Crowd have not been successful across the pond for various reasons.
In America it seems like networks choose to ignore the saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” when it comes
to importing concepts from abroad. Often they want to force their ideas into a show that has been already defined in its respective country. These are the ones that usually fail, and the recent adaptation of The Inbetweeners television show is a prime example of this sad truth.
The show was picked up by MTV and was produced with the blessing of creators Damon Beesley and Iain Morris, who also wrote and directed some of the episodes for the American adaptation. However, watching the first episode, it was clear that the awkward charm that had made the British version such a success had disappeared on its flight across the Atlantic.
The poor casting choices didn’t represent the characters that were established the British version and this, amongst other things, caused the show to bomb and be cancelled after just one season. Oddly enough, the material was near enough the same as the original, but it just felt lasted and unfunny.
Mo Ryan, a blogger for the Huffington Post in the US, has also addressed the matter. He writes, “Just copying a show isn’t a good way to go (that’s what happened with the US version of Coupling years ago – they just copied the jokes and took out all the aspects of the show that made it a bit edgy or interesting).
“There has to be a new reason for the new version to exist – the writers have to have something to say and a cast that can get that across. Once all that is in place, the translation is usually much more successful.”
Skins is a prime example of this “copying”. It has managed to run for six series in the UK, with a seventh commissioned for later this year. The original series garnered rave reviews for its insight into the modern day teenager’s life. Granted, the show was most notorious for its displays of drugs, sex and fighting, but nevertheless audiences were tuning in.
When adapted for American television the writers tried to keep most of the storylines and scenes the same. However, with its graphic sex scenes and drug usage, the American public were outraged. This wasn’t helped by the fact that the actors cast in the roles were under the legal age of consent in the States, provoking more controversy, and suggestions that the sex scenes were basically child pornography. Advertisers such as Subway and Foot Locker pulled their ads from the program, taking Skins’ funding with them, and after just one season it was cancelled.
“A lot of the appeal of the UK ‘Skins’ was that the characters looked and talked in very real, frank, honest ways – they seemed like real, complex, interesting people,” writes Ryan. “For the US version, they hired a bunch of bland actors who did not really have much presence or charisma, and the US show just felt less lived-in and true to life.”
Despite these failures, British shows will continue to be adapted for the American market, most likely having their once proud reputation tarnished by the fact that they just weren’t designed for a US audience. Sure, there may be a few shows that manage to survive the journey, The Office USA being a prime example, but perhaps original show creators should think twice before jumping on the star spangled bandwagon.