Thursday, 10 January 2013

British vs American TV: Which Is Better?

by Alex Quarrie-Jones

Thanks to the wonders of the ever-glorious internet and modern technology, my Christmas holiday was dominated by watching the vast array of television available to the viewer from far beyond the current week. Sites like iPlayer, 4od, Youtube, LoveFilm and Netflix allow someone to unlock a treasure trove of old and new TV for no cost. So, due to this, my sampling of both local and foreign emissions had me thinking about a very arguable issue: who makes better TV, the Brits or the Yanks?

Firstly I want to state how I am going to sharply veer away from all “un-scripted” TV for two very valid reasons; firstly it allows me to focus my argument and reach a more precise conclusion, and, secondly, I don’t have to venture into the realm of “reality” TV which is, frankly, depressing and horrible, regardless of its country of origin. With that out the way we can continue smoothly and accurately. In Blighty, it’s much easier to classify our shows into the three predominant channels; BBC, ITV and Channel 4. However, America has lots of channels that sound quite a lot like each other: for example, ABC, NBC and CBS. Also I have very little knowledge about the specialities of each channel because I don’t live in America.

Anyway let’s get on with some TV shows, primarily ones that originated in one country and are then adapted in the other, a process which sometimes goes brilliantly but is mostly cringeworthy to watch. Obviously, there is a large amount of transatlantic sharing but I’m going to be all patriotic and say that Britain never really adapts American TV for our screens, generally because we can’t be bothered to spend money on it. Meanwhile America and its vast wealth can adapt a show at ease and then thrive of this, as per the example “The Office”. Originally aired in Britain and written by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, it only did three series because it acted as a springboard for the entire cast, so it technically ended in 2005. But the Americans quickly resurrected it, with Gervais and Merchant still writing but an entirely American cast. Truthfully, most British to US adaptations are horribly converted, like a kidney transplant done by a drunken surgeon, but I found the US "Office" to be much more humorous and witty than its British counterpart. Technically, because it was by the same people, it sounds as if I am saying that it is the British actors who were not as good but that's not the reason the American version is better. "The Office" works much better in America because of the ideals that surround the country itself, like determination, perseverance and total liberty. Therefore, the irony of every character being trapped within a dead-end job with their superior being an idiot is massively enhanced by this social context, leading to a show that did 9 seasons (not series because the Americans can afford to have about 30 episodes rather than 6) and is one of the US’s best shows.
Now, however, we must consult the darker side of the trans-Atlantic adaptation.

Personally, out of all the bad adaptations I have witnessed (because it is like watching a murder), the worst is a show that works because it is back-dropped in exactly the right place. I am of course talking about the "Inbetweeners" and its deformed, monstrous brother "The Inbetweeners USA". The British "Inbetweeners" is definitely not designed for family viewing and instead caters directly to the entertainment of teenagers. The puerile, derogatory and explicit humour is not normally praised but it works so well to mirror and complement reality that it works beautifully in our generation, evident in the fact that it’s won 2 BAFTAs and been rated one of Britain’s outstanding comedies. Unfortunately, instead of merely being shown in the US, it was adapted because the new writers believed that some of the humour wouldn’t be understood by an American audience. Why this warranted them thinking that re-creating it would be better than finding another show or being original is totally confusing to any sane person. While watching an episode of the "Inbetweeners USA", anyone familiar with how the four characters usually interact can detect where the censors have swooped in and numbed all of the explicit imagery and puerile humour, making it much more artificial while the lack of freedom to say whatever is properly ironic, compared to intentionally ironic, so the show just degrades itself.
Overall, both British and American TV possess some absolutely fantastic, gripping, wonderful and witty shows but it is very clear that some shows are definitely designated to the country they are conceived in. Imagine a British version of “Dallas”; it would be a train wreck. But, equally, imagine “Downton Abbey” in America; you can’t, it’s just not possible. Basically some shows are great when “American-ised” but some just need to be put down to save everyone from watching it, now and forever.             


1 comment:

  1. The Inbetweeners USA is literally one of the worst things I've ever watched!


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