What It Takes to Successfully Reimagine a UK Show for US Audiences

There’s always been a debate over whether or not the US should be allowed to remake TV Series. While most original programming comes from the United States, Britain has been known to produce some shows that have transcended their country of origin. In more recent years, UK programming has managed to reach other countries due to Netflix and other streaming services, but that still hasn’t stopped the US from attempting to remake successful British series.

There has been an uncountable number of US remakes, but opinion is divided on whether or not they should have happened. There have been numerous failures, but at the same time there have been numerous successes, so there is definitely an argument for both. Using several of these examples, both the successes and failures, it can be argued that the main reason for the successful remakes lie in the adaptability of the source material. Take Shameless for example – the original series focused on a poor dysfunctional family who accepted their surroundings. The same storyline was used for the US remake but there were notable differences included for an American audience. Using this ideology of adaptability, lets take a look at some British shows that were reimagined for Stateside audiences.

The Success Stories

1. Shameless

The original Shameless focused on the dysfunctional Gallagher family, all of who have their own issues, specifically the father Frank Gallagher. Daughter Fiona takes on the task of raising the children in her father’s alcohol-soaked absence. They live in a rough council estate in Manchester. When the show was adapted for US audiences, a lot of the source material was used – thus the pilot episode was almost identical. However, there are notable differences between the two series’. As with a lot of UK series’, the original Shameless characters were content with their surroundings, and nobody really showed much effort in trying to better themselves. In the US remake, the characters show a clear interest in their future. The US interpretation of Fiona Gallagher shows clear attempts to better her self and not end up like her father. Furthermore, she shows an interest in her siblings future. They all attend school and one of the Gallagher children even end up at College. Hence the hopelessness of ones situation was eliminated from the remake. Furthermore, the cast of the US Shameless are considered attractive, something which is commonly associated with US TV shows. The success of the remake – still currently running, about to enter its seventh season – lies in it’s adaptability. Furthermore, it was made more relatable not just for US audiences, but for worldwide audiences. It’s obvious that Shameless US can be deemed a successful remake and I myself find the US remake far superior.

2. Queer as Folk

What made Queer as Folk so revolutionary was that it was the first time that gay men and women were seen on TV in a realistic way. It wasn’t the stereotypical gay characters that we were used to, but characters that felt like real people living in a real part of the world. Whether viewers were LGBT or not, the show was eye opening for many people. The original UK series (that included Game of Thrones‘ Aiden Gillen and Sons of Anarchy‘s Charlie Hunnam) became so popular that it was pirated all over the world. In a world before online streaming, VHS recording of the show were circulated in countries that refused to broadcast the show. A year after it’s broadcast, producers Ron Cowan and Daniel Lipman wanted to remake the show for US audiences. Rumour has it that HBO was willing to make the series if it were a mini-series, similar to the UK show, but Cowan and Lipman wanted a regular series. Showtime agreed and thus the remake of Queer as Folk was born. The show proved to be one of the most successful US remakes ever, with the general consensus being that the remake is superior. Again, the source material was adaptable, but arguably the main reason that Queer as Folk worked is because the material is relatable to countries all over the world. Both series are considered to be equally revolutionary and that’s because they dared to go to places that other series’ and other networks refused. The idea of a series focusing on a group of gay men and women will always be relevant, and for that reason alone people tuned in week after week, out of both curiosity about things that weren’t often discussed at the time, and for others it was a safe haven to be with characters that were often relatable.

The Failures

1. The Inbetweeners

The Inbetweeners is often listed among the UK’s best comedies. It’s approach to dark adult British humour is what made it run for so long and spawn several films. When the series was reimagined for US audiences, the remake barely made it past it’s first season before it’s inevitable cancellation. Why didn’t The Inbetweeners USA have the success of Shameless or Queer as Folk? Let me tell you why – The Inbetweeners success lies in it’s British adult humour. In the US’ attempt to adapt it for their audience, they had to remove the British humour. Thats not all, however – The Inbetweeners USA was broadcast on a basic cable channel, which automatically limits the lengths of humour that the show is allowed to include. Thus we ended up with an almost PG-13 American remake – all the things that made the original a success were removed and left us with an unrecognisable concept.

2. Skins

Skins is one of the most well known UK shows. It managed to keep itself alive by re-poluating with a new batch of kids every couple of years. While fans always loved the first batch the most, the series managed to maintain strong viewership through the entire run. The themes were relatable to everyone, but for some reason Skins USA just didn’t click with American audiences. On top of that, the US remake was slammed as inappropriate and some viewers even accused it of verging on child pornography due to some of the cast being under eighteen years old. Skins USA was cancelled after one season. It’s a tough one – a lot of the same themes were kept from the original but it just didn’t click.

The recurring theme in all successful remakes is adaptability. In order to make a remake successful, you need to keep the elements that made the original so popular, but attempt to adapt it for a new audience. This logic applies to all remakes – even some of our favourite film remakes, e.g King Kong. There seems to be a general consensus that the original is always the best and while this is often true, every now and then a remake can come along and prove that even the best material can be improved upon!