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The British Are Coming!

 article about George Bernard Shaw
Two years ago I conducted a little experiment. To test George Bernard
Shaws theory that England and America are two countries separated by
the same language I had a few of my transatlantic friends watch the
then cult British sit-com The Office. It went down very well, and
George Bernard was exposed as the liar we all knew him to be. Two years
later The Office is a double Golden Globe winning success, the show on
the lips of every sit-com savvy American.

Unfortunately, The
Office is a miserly twelve-episodes-plus-one-Christmas special long. So
in the name of transatlantic charity I decided to repeat my experiment
with some other cult British favourites in an attempt to find the next
The Office, this time using the highly scientific show of hands method.
I rounded up five American passport holders, plugged in the DVD player,
and did me some science...

Show: I'm Alan Partridge (BBC)
The sit:
Steve Coogan plays inept former chat show host Alan Partridge, whose
show was cancelled after he accidentally shot a guest live on-air.
After this bombshell, his wife divorced him, forcing Alan to become the
only permanent resident of the Linton Travel Tavern. From here he plots
his return to television in this brilliant spoof of the tragedy that is
minor celebrity.

A Bit Like: Imagine a Larry Sanders spin-off revolving around sidekick Hank Kingsley and youre halfway there.

Panel Reaction:
Some of Alans awkward social interaction pleased the panel, his
delusions of grandeur reminding them of The Offices David Brent.
However, they were left underwhelmed by the look of the show and the
constant references to D-list British celebrities left our panel
confused.

Quote From The Panel: If I was channel surfing and saw this I'd go right past it. Maybe they should brighten up the set.

The Next The Office?
Not likely. Despite being arguably the most similar in tone, it
requires a first-hand knowledge of mediocre British celebrities. If
this show was aired, the networks would also have to run The Terry
Wogan Show, Tonight With Des OConnor, and so many other horrors that
the bad would far outweigh the good. Two votes out of five.

Show: Men Behaving Badly (BBC)
The sit:
Martin Clunes and Neil Morrissey play Gary and Tony, two
thirty-something men whove never quite grown up. Despite his
immaturity, Gary is in a long-term relationship while Tony lusts after
the girl upstairs. The result is many a late night drunken
conversation, mostly about boobs. Bizarrely, this is the most
mainstream of all the contenders.

A Bit Like: Seinfeld without the intelligence or Married With Children with added intelligence, depending on which way you look at it.

Panel Reaction:
Provided constant chuckles without ever progressing into
gasping-for-breath laughter or rewind that bit hilarity. The panel
eventually warmed to the cast of characters, despite initial hostility
to their lack of good looks.

Quote From The Panel: Both of these guys need a haircut, and they need to straighten up their apartment.

The Next The Office?
Not original or different in the way The Office was, and American
audiences could be forgiven for switching over when confronted with
Martin Clunes big ears. Incredibly, the show was remade by NBC with Rob
Schneider taking one of the lead roles. Not so incredibly, it bombed.
One vote out of five.

Show: Red Dwarf (BBC)
The sit:
Stranded aboard a spaceship three million light years from earth, Craig
Charles plays the last remaining human Dave Lister. His only company is
his holographic ex-roommate, a fashion obsessed life-form evolved from
a cat, the ships senile computer and a soap opera loving service robot.
Wackiness ensues in the worlds first ever and only sci-fi sitcom. Barmy
but brilliant, the early years featured comically low budget sets but
priceless writing.

A Bit Like: The film Galaxy Quest with Tim Allen, but on a fraction of the budget and with a much sharper edge.


Panel Reaction: Listers Beatles-esque Liverpudlian accent made a
good impression, but the panel found the concept of a sci-fi sitcom
difficult to take to. As with Alan Partridge there were a few jokes at
the expense of British celebrities that were met with a confused
silence, and the sets provided a source of unintended amusement.

Quote From The Panel: It looks like a childrens show that someone made in their garage.

The Next The Office?
Probably not. As with all things sci-fi Red Dwarf has attracted a small
cult fan-base in America, but its unlikely to earn a wider audience.
Was mentioned on Buffy: The Vampire Slayer.' A US pilot was made
(penned by Malcolm In The Middle creator Linwood Boomer) but was
reported to be so bad it was never screened. A lowly one vote out of
five.

Show: Spaced (Channel 4)
The sit:
Bizarre flatshare comedy starring Simon Pegg and Jessica Stevenson as
underachievers in their late twenties. Tim is a comic book store
(assistant) manager with ambitions to be a graphic designer and a
morbid fear of dogs. Daisy is a would-be journalist who is yet to have
an article printed. Their friends and neighbours are a scary mix of
middle-aged alcoholics, army rejects and conceptual artists.

A Bit Like:
Originally pitched to British networks as a cross between The Simpsons,
The X-Files and Northern Exposure, Pegg admits it doesnt resemble any
of these. Now labelled a show about everything it does resemble the
famous show about nothing, but in a studenty kind of way.

Panel Reaction:
The panel weren't sure what to make of this. Many of the jokes hit the
mark and the numerous movie references (from Star Wars to Dont Look
Now) are clever but the characters that belong in institutions made our
panel a little uneasy.

Quote From The Panel: They look like people you would avoid in Rite Aid.

The Next The Office?
A real original, the surreal humour could earn Spaced a dedicated fan
base but the genuine creepiness means it is unlikely to hit the
mainstream. Bravo actually aired 4 episodes in April 2002 but cancelled
it, and for some reason John Woo owns a copy of Season 2 Episode 5. A
cautiously optimistic three votes out of five.

Show: The Royle Family (BBC)
The sit:
The Royles (get it?) are a working class family from a housing estate
in Manchester. The entire show takes place in their living room where
they sit, watch TV and (occasionally) talk. Ricky Tomlinson plays pater
familias Jim Royle (pictured in his favourite chair) whose catchphrase
My arse! took Britain by storm around the turn of the millennium.
Cultural commentators who noted the post-modernity of audiences
watching the Royles watching TV were not as insightful as they imagined
themselves to be.

A Bit Like: If Samuel Beckett wrote an episode of Roseanne while drinking tequila.

Panel Reaction:
Our panel had their illusions of tea with the Queen Britain shattered
by Englands favourite unemployed family and were not too taken with
this previously undisclosed side of British life. The jokes were
appreciated but didnt come thick and fast enough for the panel.

Quote From The Panel: They just sit there.

The Next The Office?
Doesnt look like it. However, in 2001 plans were announced to adapt The
Royle Family into an American show called The Kennedys (about a blue
collar family living in Boston). The idea was so lazy they didnt even
think up a pun for the title and unsurprisingly The Kennedys never made
it to air. An unhappy one on the Brentometer.

Show: Black Books (Channel 4)
The sit:
Dylan Moran (pictured) plays Bernard Black, the alcoholic misanthropic
proprietor of Black Books. This is a man so grumpy he forbids the use
of the word 'party' as a verb. Undaunted, relentlessly optimistic
assistant Manny (Bill Bailey) and needy shop-next-door owner Fran
(Tamsin Greig) attempt to persuade Black to socialise, which more often
than not ends badly.

A Bit Like: If Ted Dansons Becker started going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

Panel Reaction:
Very popular with the panel. The surreal humour presented in a simple
way was appreciated by all. Worryingly, they found Bernards alcoholism
and gloomy disposition hilarious.

Quote From The Panel: Genius! was one panel members very enthusiastic response.

The Next The Office?
Possibly. The shows popularity came as a real surprise given its odd
tone, but it really packs a lot of jokes in there because of the
rapport between Dylan Moran and Bill Bailey. A Friends-threatening four
out of five votes.

Show: Phoenix Nights (Channel 4)
The sit:
Peter Kay plays Brian Potter, wheelchair-bound owner of the worst
nightclub in Northern England. At the fire-prone Phoenix nightclub he
books acts that Broadway Danny Rose would steer clear of, while
engaging himself in a battle of wits with Den Perry, owner of a rival
nightclub.

A Bit Like: Ironside meets The Office in a nightclub, plus a Cheers like battle with a rival establishment.

Panel Reaction:
Quite positive, although they found the broad Northern accents tough to
understand and the less-than-photogenic cast a bit of a turn-off.

Quote From The Panel: What did he say? Is this in English?

The Next The Office?
The humour is there and Peter Kay is a Ricky Gervais type genius but
the accent could be a big problem. Remember when Oasis had to be
subtitled on The Letterman Show? A promising three votes (would have
been more if not for the accents).

So, what have we learned from this little experiment?


First, the look of most British shows is not that to which American
audiences have grown accustomed; some of the sets look like theyre made
from cardboard (and some of them are). The Office had a cheap set but
it was just an office, not a spaceship as with Red Dwarf. Similarly,
the panel were taken aback by the hideous appearance of British
comedians. Good looks may be crucial in grabbing the attention of
channel-surfers, or the results may be indicative of our panel members
shallow souls. Either way, you cant hold up the cast of Men Behaving
Badly (see picture) next to the cast of Friends without feeling theres
something wrong. If Matthew Perry joined the Men Behaving Badly cast
hed be the good looking one.

The Royle Family proved
American audiences prefer a high ratio of jokes per minute, not people
sitting around eating Kit-Kats in-between saying My arse! Although The
Office didnt pack in joke after joke, the laughs were big and always
worth waiting for. Im Alan Partridge suggests that a show based on the
trivial aspects of a foreign culture can never be too popular abroad.
The beauty of The Office is that almost everyone can relate it to their
own experience.

Finally, the unexpected popularity of Black
Books suggests that you never can tell. Maybe George Bernard Shaw was
right, after all there was an awfully long gap between Benny Hill and
The Office. Realistically, its more likely that the American networks
will continue their policy of re-casting and re-making popular British
shows rather than letting Americans see the real thing. The latest news
is that the next The Office is actually going to be The Office USA,
with Steve Carell behind the desk as David Brent.




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