As This Country Gets An American Remake, A Look At History’s Hits And Misses

The Vicar of Dibley. Shameless. Ab Fab. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't...


by grazia |
Updated on

This Country is one of the best British comedies of recent years. Laugh out loud funny and perfectly observed, it follows cousins Kerry and Kurtan as they live their relatively unremarkable lives in the Cotswolds. It has made stars of its leads - siblings Daisy May and Charlie Cooper - with the former winning a hugely deserved BAFTA for Best Female Comedy Performance, and it was only a matter of time before the world took notice. But rather than find success by broadcasting abroad, the show is getting the remake treatment.

Fox has ordered a fourteen-episode version set in the US, and helmed by Bridesmaid director Paul Feig. With a proven comedy great behind it, and undeniably excellent source material, it should be amazing. But it doesn't always work out like that.

In the last few decades, US remakes of established comedies have not had the best hit rate. BBC sitcom Coupling aired on NBC for precisely one month before the network gave up on it, having remade the original on an almost frame-by-frame basis. In 2007, Kirstie Alley donned a dog collar for The Minister of Divine, her version of The Vicar of Dibley. It did not proceed beyond the pilot stage. In 2009, Fox commissioned a remake of Absolutely Fabulous, with Kathryn Hahn and Kristen Johnston stepping into the shoes of Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley. They are talented comedic actors, but it didn't work: renamed Ab Fab, it went the same way as The Vicar: there was not a second episode. Australian classic Kath & Kim fared slightly better: it was reimagined in 2008, with Molly Shannon and Selma Blair. It lasted one season. It was just... nice. Different. Unusual. But nice.

The list of feeble attempts is very, very long. Peep Show. The IT Crowd. Gavin & Stacey. The Young Ones. Men Behaving Badly. Fawlty Towers. Red Dwarf. All American efforts to capture really special British work. All universally panned.

What went wrong? The problem seemed to be that the writers had failed to understand that while laughter is a universal language, comedy is not: different countries have different sensibilities, some things do not translate. A hit in Britain does not make a hit in America. You have to think outside the box.

It's also a matter of the contrasting approach to longevity taken by UK and US channels. A hit British comedy will run for several years, but with short series of four or five episodes as well as Christmas specials. There are only 20 episodes of The Vicar Of Dibley, for example, and only 39 of Absolutely Fabulous. US comedies - aiming for lucrative global syndication deals that require an episode minimum - will usually order runs of around 20 per season. If you're going to stick religiously to your core inspiration, and that inspiration only made a cluster of episodes in a decade, you're going to run out of ideas to borrow very, very quickly.

Naturally, there are successes. The Office US is considered one of the greatest comedies of our time, and many would argue that it is funnier than its British counterpart. America's version of Shameless is similarly acclaimed. Both ran for longer than the shows that inspired them. Their secret? They took the core of the show - the concept, the character set-up, perhaps certain narrative threads - and considered what would be authentic for a new, American landscape. Some things changed. Others stayed the same. As with the survival of any species, American remakes depend on evolution.

We've learned the lesson too. In 1993, ITV aired Brighton Belles, a British version of the phenomenally successful US comedy The Golden Girls. It was dropped from the schedules halfway through its run due to poor ratings, bringing nothing new to the table. But The Upper Hand, the BBC's adaptation of US hit Who's The Boss (which made a star of Alyssa Milano), captured the nation's interest and ran for six, well-received series. Again, it was about adaptation, not repetition.

Remakes will always be a staple of TV and cinema. It is easier to come up with a pitch for a remake or adaptation of something that has already experienced success. But producers, networks and writers would be well advised to look to the past in other ways, seeking a fresh approach that still retains what made the originals so special.

We have every faith in Paul Feig and his team to make This Country a hit. Even in That Country.

READ MORE: The Celebrities Making The Most Money From OnlyFans

READ MORE: Dawson's Creek, Jen Lindley, And The Betrayal Of The Noughties Bad Girl

Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this website, we never allow this to influence product selections - read why you should trust us