Friday, January 21, 2011

Closing My Eyes And Thinking Of England

This week, American audiences were treated to not one but two brand new versions of popular British shows. Since America is the country in which English was invented and Jesus was born, you would think this would be a good and natural thing and that God's favorite country would produce television superior to a nation known mainly for having an aging figurehead on all its money. Oddly, this wasn't the case.

But I kid the British. Yes, I kid because I love. Specifically, I love your television shows. Mind you, I am under no illusions about them. You all on the other side of the Atlantic are just as capable of churning out brain damaged crap and labeling it mass entertainment as we are. The difference is that, when you're television is good, it's really good. Doctor Who is a better science fiction show than anything that's ever been on in the US. Monty Python, even 40 years later, is still a better example of how to do sketch comedy than anything America has ever produced. For a more contemporary example, Peep Show is funnier than anything currently running in America (30 Rock being its only real American rival). And Skins is, with the exception of season 4's final two episodes, one of the best things ever.

And now we have Skins in America thanks to the good folks at MTV. Somehow, the good folks at Music Television found an hour in the week in which they weren't glorifying foul mouthed, promiscuous guidos or teen girls who've never heard of birth control to create and broadcast its own vision of Skins. If you're not familiar with it, it's a very well written show about teens. Unlike your normal show about teens in which the "teens" are actually mature, sophisticated 25 year olds who are ridiculously wealthy and spend most of their time living soap opera plots. Skins, on the other hand, insists on actually having kids under the age of 18 play kids under the age of 18. They're also from families whose income ranges from middle class to much lower (though one of them did come from money, not sure if they'll copy that yet or not). They also do things like take drugs and have sex without experiencing some sort of horrible punishment. In fact, they actually seem to find these experiences pleasurable. The show is also wildly funny in the way it deals with some very realistic situations in a dramatic and entertaining way. So how did it translate to American television? The first episode was, for the most part, a remake of the first episode from four years ago. It was too much to hope for that they would come up with original characters and scripts, I guess. Some of the names are different and the gay boy is now a lesbian girl but, ultimately, they're the same people. The show suffers in comparison. The acting isn't as good and I feel they've removed some of the gutsy spirit that drives the British show. I felt like I was watching a high school drama club trying to do their own production of the original script. Plus, as other people have pointed out, the language wasn't adapted. American kids don't speak in British slang. An even bigger mistake is that American kids don't go to the British school system which is what they're going to here. That's simply lazy and I expected better.

Also suffering in comparison to its original is Being Human, the story of a vampire and a werewolf who become friends and decide to move in together in an apartment haunted by a ghost. The British show isn't perfect but it does have a very real and natural feel to it. It has humor but the humor evolves from the situations and the established characters. The characters in the American show, on the other hand, all behave as if they're characters in the Scream movies. People behave in a post-modern style and seem to be winking at the audience. They don't speak in dialogue as much as they do in patter. The British werewolf, George, behaves like a socially awkward guy whereas the American werewolf, Josh, behaves like a standup comedian whose act revolves around why he can't get laid. I think people who never saw the British version will like it more than I did.

The good news is that both shows are about to start new seasons in the United Kingdom. It's a shame that there's no way for me to see it over here until 6-8 months pass and they finally decide to show it on BBC America. Yep, no way at all.

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