Can an American version of Absolutely Fabulous capture the edgy brilliance of the original? Skeptics think not, but from the The Office to Sanford and Son, a look at other American versions of British sitcoms suggests that despite some misfires, there’s reason for hope.
WHY AB FAB FANS SHOULD BE WORRIED
Bad parenting, drug use, alcoholism, a complete absence of values: American sitcoms occasionally feature one these themes, but never all four in one show. Take a look at Ab Fab’s delicious take on the mother-daughter bond.
THE OFFICE: DIFFERENT BUT NOT DESTROYED
The British version is darker, its plots are less wacky, and even Steve Carell can’t top Ricky Gervais. But give the American version its due: Even with its over-the-top storylines and semi-successful use of slapstick comedy—see clip below—it is still the funniest show in prime-time.
COUPLING: THE SAME BUT DESTROYED
How did America screw this one up? The show had not only the same title and premise as the original, but also the same scripts. The clips below tell part of the story: Note how the British actors get their laughs from playing the scene straight and true to the characters; the Americans push so hard for the laugh, it falls flat.
FAWLTY TOWERS BECOMES AMANDA’S: A NATIONAL HUMILIATION
It’s difficult to imagine the meeting the resulted in Bea Arthur being cast as John Cleese’s equivalent in the 1983 series Amanda’s, the American Fawlty Towers. We offer the classic “Germans” scene from the original, and the promo from the imitation.
STEPTOE AND SON TO SANFORD AND SON: A CLASSIC STAYS A CLASSIC
NBC’s Sanford and Son not only stayed true to what made the BBC’s Steptoe and Son great—the setting was unusual, the characters fully developed, and the dialogue hysterical—but in featuring one of America’s unsung comic geniuses, Red Foxx in the lead role, the US arguably made it better. The same went for All in the Family, which was based on the British comedy, Till Death Do Us Part.
ONE FOOT IN THE GRAVE BECOMES COSBY: A NOBLE FAILURE
It premiered in 1996 to 24 million viewers and lasted four seasons, but not many people remember Cosby, Bill Cosby’s follow-up to The Cosby Show. The show was based on One Foot in the Grave, but never quite captured the dark humor of the original.
BLACKPOOL BECOMES VIVA LAUGHLIN: BEHOLD YOUR SHAME, AMERICA
It’s hard to explain what made Blackpool work. It certainly wasn’t the format—a drama in which the characters spontaneously dance and lip-sync pop songs. Perhaps it was the choice of songs and just the right lack of polish from the actors performing them. The British version was nominated for a BAFTA in 2005; the American version aired twice then was canceled.