The Networks Were So Preoccupied With Whether Or Not They Could, They Didn’t Stop To Think If They Should…REDUX!

So, last time I wittered on briefly about the UK remakes of US shows… this time, I thought I’d have a look at US remakes of UK shows! Obviously, there are loads more of these, so this is by no means an exhaustive list, but it should make for somewhat interesting reading. Especially the failed ones.

Payne

Or Fawlty Towers as we know it. Yep, the US had a crack at what is arguably Britain’s greatest ever sitcom. In fact, they had several cracks at it – but Payne was the version that bore the most resemblance to its source material.

Night Court & Boston Legal star John Larroquette was cast as Royal Payne (Basil’s wittily named counterpart) in what’s actually a pretty damned good bit of casting. He’s exceedingly tall for one thing, and the Basil/Royal character demands that sort of presence.

Poltergiest’s JoBeth Williams played the US version of Sybil, Constance Payne (do y’see what they did there?) The dynamic between her and Royal pretty much mirrored that of Sybil and Basil, with the main difference being that Constance and Royal actually HAD a pretty vigorous sex life (which she would bring up to embarrass Royal, as he preferred to keep his sex life discreet).

Polly and Manuel were present as Breeze and Mo respectively, largely unchanged (although Breeze was a virgin, and Mo was Indian, not Spanish), and the show ran for 9 episodes (with the 9th never aired) before being cancelled.

It was never going to compare that favourably to the original (what could?) but John Larroquette was entertaining to watch at least. The whole thing felt a bit forced… it’s also weird seeing the layout of the old UK set with new dressing, and mirrored, but that’s just nitpicking.

Fawlty Towers had previously been remade for the US in 1978 as Chateau Snavely starring Harvey Korman and Betty White, which is pretty impressive casting, and would have been interesting to see. Also, this remake occurred before the British show completed its 2nd series, so it’s interesting to speculate on what sort of influence this would have had on the remake. Ultimately, it was never picked up. A second attempt at remaking the show happened in 1983, called Amanda’s. Starring Golden Girls alumni Bea Arthur, this version made the Fawlty female, but never struck a chord with audiences, getting cancelled after 10 episodes (leaving a few unaired). Here’s a brief clip (it’s the second show advertised in the video) showing Bea Arthur reeling off re-written dialogue from the classic episode ‘Communication Problems’, and it’s bloody odd to watch….

Cosby

You wouldn’t really know this was a remake, as it deviated from its source material fairly quickly, but it lasted for four years until 2000 and aired 95 episodes, so it at least had some measure of success… but I present to you dear reader, the US version of One Foot In The Grave.

No, honestly.

Original writer David Renwick is listed as a consultant for the US version, and although there are some shared scraps of dialogue and scenes early on, it’s pretty different. The Victor character, Hilton Lucas, is grumpy, but more upbeat, and has a daughter.

I don’t believe it…

Sanford and Son

The clue’s in the title. Yes, this is Steptoe and Son, remade for the US. It was extremely successful, relocating the Shepard’s Bush scrapyard to a salvage yard in Los Angeles. Steptoe and his offspring were portrayed by African-American actors Redd Foxx and Demond Wilson, and the show helped redefine black situation comedy in America (something that Fresh Prince of Bel Air would capitalise on years later). It ran for six seasons until 1977.

Cracker

The US remake of Jimmy McGovern’s epic psychological crime drama ran for 16 episodes in 1997. Hard-drinking, hard-gambling, chain-smoking police psychologist Eddie ‘Fitz’ Fitzgerald (so memorably played by Robbie Coltrane in the original) was insanely watered down in the US version, making it all a bit pointless.

Robert Pastorelli as Fitz

Robert Pastorelli as Fitz

Robert Pastorelli played Fitz, and did a good job with the material he had, but the US version of Fitz simply held his cigarettes, and never smoked them… just weird oddities like that. The show used rewrites of the original UK stories, but changed names and locales, before eventually originating its own stories. Slickly produced and well acted, it lacked the dark overtones of the original (but earned an airing on UK television, under the altered title of Fitz). Notably, Robbie Coltrane guest starred as a bad guy in one episode, facing off against his American counterpart… quite good fun actually!

Red Dwarf
 
Remade as an unaired pilot and promo in 1992, the US version of BBC 2’s brilliant sci-fi comedy never quite took off, which is a shame, as the US pilot episode is funnier than the UK original. The plot suffers however, by being several minutes shorter and trying to shoe-horn the Kryten character into the pilot (he only became a series regular from the third series in the UK).  
 
Slobby lay-about Dave Lister was recast as a less disgusting, more handsome lead in the form of Craig Bierko. Bierko himself has gone on record as saying he was miscast and wrong for the role, but he delivers a solid performance with good comic timing, and this reinterpretation of Lister would have worked if given a few more episodes for audiences to get familiar with him.
 
Kryten is a direct transfer from the UK series (quite literally – UK Dwarf star Robert Llewellyn reprises the role here), but with a face mask that is decidedly unimpressive compared to the UK show. The US Kryten costume would however have a big influence on the Kryten costumes created for the UK series from the sixth series onwards, as they became sleeker and more mobile.
 
Sadly Rimmer and The Cat are pale imitations, and given little screentime – the Rimmer/Lister dynamic is extremely weak compared to the parent show. Both would be recast for the promo version (with DS9’s Terry Farrell becoming The Cat, an interesting choice, and she does make the role her own in a very unique way). Holly was also female in the US version, memorably played by Frasier’s Jane Leeves.
It’s got a bad rap, but seriously – Red Dwarf USA is bad, but is not as bad as it’s reputation suggests. As Rimmer once said “It could have worked… it really could.”
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