Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Adapt This #2: Other countries' shows

Remaking shows from other countries is in vogue right now in the U.S., thanks to the success of Ugly Betty and The Office. This pilot season will see a number of remakes of foreign properties, most notably ABC's The Thick of It (a remake of a British political comedy) and Footballers' Wives (a remake of a British soap).

But there are two other shows that I think could go over well with American audiences that won't immediately be thought of as such (indeed, both are being imported to the U.S. wholesale). So here you go.

Torchwood (United Kingdom), perfect for ABC: Torchwood is the Doctor Who spinoff that has taken the Brits by storm. Unfortunately, it's a deeply uneven show, not quite sure of what it's tone should be (wondering how I saw it? well, the Internet contains many wonders). It veers from horror to comedy to soap and back and rarely gracefully (though, to be fair, it does get better as the season goes along).

Supposedly, SciFi has a deal to air the show, as it does Doctor Who, but there's stuff that will need to be cut for it to air (though, admittedly, SciFi could bury it at 11 p.m. or so and air it uncut, but that doesn't seem to be the best ratings decision). The language, for one thing, is saltier than American non-pay TV can handle, and the rather frank discussion of sexuality is admirable, if a bit outside of the bounds of American cinematic SF.

But that doesn't worry me nearly as much as the show's tone. Really, this should be my dream show -- a task force of operatives explores the realms of weird alien technology (and the vaguely paranormal) while coping with intra-squad squabbling and romances. Furthermore, their office is in Cardiff, Wales, which isn't exactly the epicenter of modern UK society (though I'm told it's seen a hipster resurgence -- the Pittsburgh of the UK!). There's also a strongly suggested mythology that lurks at the edge of the series, always being interesting without ruining itself. It could be a tart little piece of entertainment, but the lugubrious tone shifts often foul it up.

So that's why I think an American adaptation, rather than a straight transplant, might work better. Similar to The X-Files, sure, but that show has been off the air for over five years now, and Supernatural's more of a direct ripoff anyway. What would set it apart, of course, would be the team aspect, as well as the setting (go, Pittsburgh!).

ABC could find a home for this sort of project. It's the kind of freewheeling genre show they could pin before Lost and gain some traction with. If they didn't want it, NBC could throw it after Heroes, or Fox could just stick it somewhere and watch it die. Heck, the procedural format could work on CBS.

Corner Gas (Canada), perfect for NBC: This is trickier. As it is, Corner Gas is a pretty great little show. It's a quiet ensemble comedy set in the middle-of-nowhere Canada, a wackier, yet gentler Northern Exposure (if you can believe either). And it's entirely dependent on the tone set for it by its creator and star, Brent Butt. What's more, the casting is decidedly atypical -- there are attractive people, to be sure, but most of the cast consists of the sort of well-worn faces you don't see on U.S. television all that often.

Now, Corner Gas is coming to WGN mostly intact (the show's a HUGE hit in Canada, and the people behind the deal are hoping it pulls in good numbers on the Midwest's biggest station, I imagine). And I can't say I blame anyone for bringing it to the U.S. as is. It's going to translate and gain a cult following, I imagine, and the references are going to be familiar to those in farm country.

But I think there's an American spin to be done on this. It'll have to have EXACTLY the right sort of talent involved, as Butt was. But the middle portions of America have been largely neglected since the MTM folks and their deliberate attempts to set sitcoms in every major Midwestern city went away. There's great television to be mined from the empty spaces in America's breadbasket, and while Corner Gas is going to ring true for a lot of those folks, there's also stuff that's U.S.-centric that could be plumbed (the uneasy intersection of religion and commerce, etc.).

Now, having grown up in that portion of the country, I'm not suggesting I'm the one for the job (okay, I am), but I do think that something Corner Gas-esque could work. It might need too much tweaking to keep the name, but there's something in there that would translate, I should think.

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