Thursday, 13 January 2011


I wish, wish, wish, that U.S. TV would go back to making series that are 'based on' British ones, rather than simply re-making them, which really does not work.

For example, 'All in the Family' worked well, and was based on ''Til Death do us Part', but was not a re-make of it. Likewise 'Three's Company', based on 'Man About the House'. 'Cybill' was apparently based on 'Absolutely Fabulous', both brilliant TV series in their own right.

But hope springs eternal, and the U.S. remake of 'Shameless' - well, I was more than happy to give it a go, especially as it has William H Macy in it, not to mention the superb Joan Cusack.
So why the feck doesn't it work? It has been going round in my head all morning, why doesn't it work?

Well, for one thing, it's set in Detroit, and this is by no means the equivalent of Manchester. Manchester is just the London of the north. Like London, it has run down areas with high unemployment, but it also is a flourishing city and one that has given rise to popular culture that can rival if not beat London hands down. The bands, the dance culture, the TV industry, the footie. The only thing it lacks are the Houses of Parliament.
Detroit strikes me as more akin to Newcastle-upon-Tyne after the shipbuilding industry collapsed.

Then there's the Chatsworth Estate itself. You have to believe in it in the same way you believe in Sleepy Hollow. The people there are the people you know, except pushed beyond the limits of what you can actually believe real people would do. The Chatsworth Estate is larger than life and the Detroit setting of the U.S. version just seems to be rundown life.

The same goes for the characters. Frank Gallagher is falling down drunk or stoned, 24 hours a day, he lurches, he shuffles, but in spite of that, he'll be sitting at the bar in The Jockey and come out with the deepest philosophy or knowledge of literature that you can imagine, just as a casual remark. And women want to have sex with him. He is the most unsexy pile of humanity, and were he real, couldn't possibly ever manage it, but Frank the character just does.
Unfortunately, William H Macy didn't succeed in convincing me he was even drunk enough. He seemed more threatening than Frank. Frank is just a bloody nuisance with criminal tendencies.

Joan Cusack's character was similarly lacking in one of the dimensions of Sheila Jackson. The original Sheila Jackson is a complete headcase, but sensual and sexy. There's the larger than life dimension. You can't believe that someone as technically crazy as Sheila could also be as sexual and as sexy. Cusack gets the craziness alright, but I'm going to have difficulty believing in the sensuality.

Then there's Ian, the Manchester Ian Gallagher challenges the stereotype of the gay man. He is the least pretty looking of the Gallagher lads, but he shags like a bunny. Shags blokes that is, and it all starts for us, the viewers, with him having it off with his Asian boss, Kash. Yet in spite of the difference in their status, Kash the married-to-a-woman boss, Ian the part-time worker, there is an equality between them.
But the re-make Ian is the pretty one, whilst re-make Kash is physically bigger and stronger. It's just wrong somehow.

And let's not even go there with Karen, or Kev or Flip.

I could go on deconstructing forever, but what it boils down to is this.
The people of the Chatsworth estate are like a bag of pistachios. The moment you eat one pistachio, you can't stop until the whole bag is gone. There is no question of not watching them. They have your soul until the end. And it works because it challenges stereotypes by pushing them.
The Detroit Gallaghers need you to be determined to watch them. Maybe you believe in them, maybe you don't, but you have to watch them for something, for Macy, for Cusack, whatever it is.
For me, the characters in 'It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia' are nearer to the true Gallaghers, the larger-than-life, over-the-top madness than those of this charmless version.


Sleepy said...

Tucking in to series 8 here!
We've just had a full week of it...

Schneewittchen said...

We've managed to obtain the first two episodes, can't wait....Shameless envy:)