Remaking bad

With Love/Hate’s US remake on the horizon, Matthew Hanrahan explores this growing trend in transatlantic programming In November, Love/Hate writer Stuart Carolan announced that a US version of the gritty, Dublin gangland drama is in the works. Love/Hate is on a long list of European television shows with a cult following that have made the transatlantic switch. That said, the majority of these shows herald from Britain and given the fact that so many are in English and could be watched by an American audience, is there any need for these remakes? Even if there is an argument to be made for them, one must ask, are they helping the quality of television as a whole? Successful remakes have been few and far between, but they do exist; The Office is a shining example of how good a remake can be. The American version of the show outlasted the original three seasons with nine. As well as boasting longevity, the American version had some excellent episodes and also offered lighter comedy than its British counterpart. The American counterpart’s decision to distance itself from the dark comedy of the original can be credited to producer, Greg Daniels. There was no attempt to recreate the original, but instead created a show with a similar premise upon which to build a full environment. In terms of drama, Netflix’s House of Cards, a remake of the 1990 British original miniseries, has achieved critical success in its debut season. Shot beautifully, its 13 hour first season can be considered an extended feature film, and while the remake has so far told similar stories, it does so with more complexity, dialogue in the style of Sorkin and with a much darker tone. While The Office and House of Cards are two highly successful adaptations, overall the odds seem to be stacked against remakes. A seemingly high proportion of remakes fail in both a critical and a commercial sense and many don’t make it past the first season. These failures are excellently illustrated by MTV’s attempt to adapt for American audiences two coming of age shows in the shape of The Inbetweeners and Skins. Both shows were unique in their own way of showcasing the many brutal lives of teenagers in the UK. Each remake levelled up the gloss and distanced themselves from the heartfelt and hilarious protagonists, thus losing their edge. The Inbetweeners and Skins remakes are both on the so-awful-it’s-embarrassing spectrum, each fittingly getting the axe after just a season. A more thought out attempt at an adaptation was that of ABC's remake of the BBC drama Life on Mars. The adaptation boasted excellent actors, featuring Harvey Keitel and Michael Imperioli, but this time fault lay with its failure to fully connect with the US audience. As a consequence it was not booked for a second season. So, what separates the good remakes from the bad? The key to a good remake is not to try to emulate plot points or transfer specific elements of the show. There are so few remakes that compare favourably to the original because they instead try to recreate something that has already been done, and the product feels recycled and thus loses the edge that the original had. The best remakes will treat the original as inspiring source material and in this way it can develop a show that is unique and original in its own way. As MTV have illustrated, the things that define a cult show in Britain and Ireland will not necessarily work in America because they are almost a different medium. In particular, British and Irish dialogue tends to be more honest and genuine, beyond the melodrama that often accompanies American prime time fare. Although, this doesn’t really answer the question of the necessity for remakes. Does television really need to imitate itself? With the high rate of failure in the adaptation game, money would perhaps be better spent on funding brilliant originals like Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and The Sopranos. It is not consistent to assert that a particular drama would be incomprehensible to a foreign audience because of its social context. The success of American fare worldwide illustrates this contradiction. For example, The Wire as a show focused on a very particular time in a very particular place, dealing almost exclusively with local issues and dialects. While The Wire may be difficult to understand for non-Baltimore natives at the best of times, it endures as an international success. Ultimately, the appearance of a quality transatlantic remake proves to be the exception to the rule. We are currently in what is widely regarded as a Golden Age for television, and any move towards a culture of remakes is simply a regression to an archaic formula for trying to create a hit that simply doesn’t work.