Ever since US execs sought to remake seminal British sitcom Fawlty Towers without Basil Fawlty, there’s an overriding suspicion and cynicism that growls up whenever a UK series is put up for reimagining. This season saw more than most, even if the Only Fools and Horses reboot was rejected by networks, and includes a timely Sherlock remake, Elementary. But, first up, it’s The Inbetweeners, which last summer spawned one of the biggest British hits of all time at the cinema, and now it’s getting an MTV-style makeover.
The practice has a chequered history, with the last few years seeing successes like The Office and Being Human successfully translated into an American accent, counteracted by Skins and Free Agents, which didn’t last a full season. The former was a misguided reboot that MTV were responsible for, so you can understand fears over what they’ll do to Will, Simon, Jay and Neil. The network has a bad reputation to start with, given the tireless stream of reality television it farts out daily, but something strange has been happening lately, and original, scripted, programming seems to be taking centre stage.
Now, I say original scripted programming, but the only original thing they’ve got is quirky teen drama Awkward, which returned for a second season last week. It’s a corker, combining My So-Called Life introspection with Freaks and Geeks’ angry teen routine, and a splash of Veronica Mars sass thrown in. It’s the ultimate concoction of teen dramas, and probably the most entertaining and inventive thing to emerge from the genre for a while. Who expected something this good to come out of a network known best for Jersey Shore and 16 and Pregnant?
And it’s not the only success they’ve seen, as the much-derided remake of Teen Wolf now even surpasses cousin series Vampire Diaries in the style, action, romance and entertainment departments. The music, courtesy of the network’s excessive library, is spot on, the script is sharp, and it remembers to bring some humour to the party. It’s a strange experience, watching Teen Wolf, giving the weird concoction of genres it contains but, deservedly, the series has been a big success, and has lent some much needed credibility to MTV’s new mission statement.
But what about The Inbetweeners, which starts in the US next month? There’s a worrying tendency for remakes, like with Fawlty Towers, to miss the point of the original series, and defensive reverence to the original can hinder rather than help the process. Inbetweeners is so British, and if the new version can’t adapt the ideas and subtext of middle-class tedium and failure to a new viewership, then all could be lost. Those spot-on class issues portrayed in the show are a distinctly personal thing, and it remains to be seen whether we’ll get the surface crudeness and ‘clunge’ jokes, or the Inbetweeners we really fell in love with.
Skins was too close to the original, and the changes swapped the rough edges for a mutated, wrong, amalgamation of what the show was and what the writers apparently thought it would be. It’s no coincidence that the few good moments of the US version were overseen or written by the show’s original creator, and it’s a good sign that The Inbetweeners is carrying over Iain Morris and Damon Beesley. After Episodes, a co-creation hailing from the BBC and Showtime, parodied the practice of remaking British series for an American audience so brilliantly, is it something people will still tolerate?
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