Attack of the Clones

Despite what the title my imply, I’m not referring to the Star Wars film by George Lucas. In fact, I’m not referring to the movie industry at all, but to some of the television networks many Americans turn to for daily entertainment. What I am referring to is the reimplementation of popular British television series here in the United States for no good reason. It started off innocently enough: versions of various reality shows produced with people from the United States instead of the United Kingdom. You know their names: American Idol, America’s Got Talent, and so on. As much as I detest them, especially because they’re “reality shows,” at least it made sense to do localized versions of them.

Now, a few years later, it’s taking a turn for the worst.  Tired of not knowing anything about it, I started watching Doctor Who last year via both Netflix and BBC America. I quickly fell in love with the series, David Tennant, Freema Agyeman, Billie Piper, and more recently Karen Gillan. (Matt Smith is still growing on me.) Watching BBCA for so many hours on a regular basis got me to be familiar, in concept at least, with some of their other shows, especially Top Gear, Being Human, and Skins. Aside from Top Gear, I decided that these other shows simply weren’t for me, and chose not to watch them. Being from Detroit, Top Gear tickles my automotive funny bone, and the three hosts — Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May — are hilarious. So, I started tuning in to Top Gear whenever I got the chance.

Then I saw a commercial on the History Channel that I simply couldn’t believe: Top Gear was coming to the U.S.. Well, it was sort of coming to the U.S.; Clarkson, Hammond, and May weren’t coming with it. Instead, it was going to be filled with homegrown motorheads, that don’t seem to have any working chemistry with one another at all. While TG is indeed a television show about fast cars and silly challenges, I’d like to point out that it is driven strongly by the personalities, chemistry, and relationships of its hosts; so much so that if it lost any two of them, the show would fall flat on its face. Having watched the American version of Top Gear, I have to conclude that I was entirely correct.

I don’t blame the hosts on the American show, it’s not their fault. They were tasked to do the impossible: start filming from scratch with a known formula but with their individual and different personalities substituted for those in the U.K. version and make it work right from the start. The problem is their relationships or at least the roles they’re trying to fulfill may be similar to those of the original show, but they are not the same. The three hosts, Adam Ferrara, Tanner Foust, and Rutledge Wood try and fail to bring the same excitement and entertainment of the original to their version. What the producers have done, at best, is to create a mockery of the original Top Gear by trying to use the same formula down to some of the smallest details. It’s a shame that the producers and the History Channel think that the U.S. version is acceptable to anyone that has watched even a single episode of the U.K. original.

Last night was the premiere of Being Human on Siffie. (Yes, I know that they spell their channel name SyFy and pronounce it “sci-fi” but I refuse to call them by that title since they decided to abandon the audience, the hardcore and not so hardcore science fiction junkies that kept them in business all these years.) As I stated above, I had previously decided that the U.K. version of the show wasn’t for me, but at the urging of a close friend that just moved to England, I watched it last night to report to him. For those of you that aren’t familiar with Being Human, the show’s premise is that a werewolf, vampire, and a ghost end up living together in a townhouse and try to take care of one another as they each try to overcome their monstrous nature. In truth, the show wasn’t too bad; in fact it was almost enjoyable. But it did somethings that I simply didn’t like. Given the nature of the show, the first rule is that YOU DON’T TALK ABOUT TWILIGHT! The second rule is quite simply, YOU DON’T TALK ABOUT TWILIGHT! Go do your own thing, don’t even acknowledge the existence of another franchise in another medium that uses some similar formula, especially not one that is as both loved and hated as the Twilight saga. What did Being Human USA do in the very first hour? Make Twilight references. A good television series like the original Being Human can stand alone without depending on silly and stupid references to other pop culture curiosities; the premiere episode irritated me as a result of that reference because I now fully expect other silly crap like that to appear throughout the rest of the season.

Putting that aside, my other irritation with the show is really and truly insignificant: they changed the names of the main characters. I’m assuming that Mitchell, Annie, and George, the names of the main characters in the U.K. version, were just a little too European for the producers’ tastes, so they instead changed them to Aidan, Sally, and Josh. With the exception of Aidan, and with no offense intended to anyone, they successfully dumbed down the names. I’m not trying to say that Sally and Josh are dumb names, but they’re simpler and I guess more common than Annie and George, but in truth, it really doesn’t make any sense to me why they changed the names at all. It may be a stretch, but I’d bet that just about every American has known a Mitchell, Annie, and/or George at some point in their lives, so why change the names? I’d have to say that the producers looked at statistics of popular names among their target audiences and picked the most popular ones. With the exception of Aidan that is.

I’ve never met anyone by that name, and while I do recall it being one of the more popular baby names in recent years, I suspect I know why the producers chose that name for the vampire character in the U.S. version. In the U.K. version, the vampire Mitchell is played by actor Aidan Turner, so what the U.S. producers have done is create a bridge between the two versions by naming the vampire character after the actor that originally portrayed him. Call it an Easter Egg. Call it homage. Call it whatever you like. The simple fact is that they wouldn’t have needed to do that if they had just kept the original character names. But, seeing as I one day would like to work in film or television as a screenwriter, I’ll just write this irritation off to contractual obligations that necessitated the change in character names.

All that said, I’ve heard tale that the U.S. version will being using the original scripts from the U.K. version, touched up here and there for the States. If that’s true, then this could be a pretty good series as long as they steer clear of pointless pop culture references that weren’t in the original. I still haven’t seen any of the original series, but I just added the first DVD of the series to my Netflix queue so I can compare the first episodes. Over all, though, it’s still not my cup of tea. Oh, and one more thing. “F” you Siffie.

This brings me around to the last clone I definitely want to mention today: Skins. This also debuted last night, on MTV, and is the only show that I think could possibly work in the U.S. as a rip off reimagining of the original. I’ve only watched a few episodes of the original series thus far, but intend to watch it from the beginning at some point in the future because of the gratuitous panty shots. I’m a pervert, deal with it. What I have seen, however, would fit naturally in MTV’s line up of television shows assuming that MTV decides to label it as a work of fiction, rather than the endless lineup of crappy reality shows they usually air. Since I didn’t watch the U.S. version last night, and I really don’t know a whole lot about the U.K. series,  this is going to be brief: Skins might fit in perfectly among the network’s lineup, but wouldn’t it have been a hell of a lot cheaper to just license and syndicate the original series rather than recreate it from scratch? Face it, MTV, you got us used to foreign accents by doing The Real World all over the world, so don’t you think we could have dealt with the British version of Skins? Think about how much more you’re spending to shoot each episode versus the licensing fee to just use the already available episodes… Is this about future DVD sales? Come on…!

Now, I’ve heard rumor that there’s been some casting efforts for the Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood, but I’m not sure if it’s to create a U.S. version of the show, or to just revive the original. I like Torchwood, but I’m not a regular watcher. But if I even hear through whispers of rumored conversations overheard in a crowded restaurant of Doctor Who being cloned for a U.S. version, there will be hell to pay… Doctor and Amy, I look forward to your visit to the States, but I want you to know that this is the one official warning that my domestic television producers will get regarding you: DON’T CLONE THE DOCTOR!

Sunday January 23, 2011 11:30 pm EST: Just a quick follow-up, I can summarize Being Human UK vs US like this: UK > US.