This article was originally published in the 2011-2012 academic year.
Allow me to set the scene – I am a huge fan of British comedy, in particular our timeless sitcoms (or Britcoms, as they seem to be referred to these days). Whether it’s Rowan Atkinson’s sharp wit in Blackadder or John Cleese’s bumbling antics in Fawlty Towers, our fair country has undeniably produced some classics in its time. So, imagine the excitement I must have felt when I recently heard that US telly producers intend to bring back the most famous Britcom of all, Only Fools and Horses, for an American audience.
Oh, I’m sorry, did I say excitement? I meant disappointment. Or outrage. Or despair. Take your pick, they’re all true.
Now, why am I rambling on about all this? It’s because the entertainment industry seems to have an infatuation at the moment for digging up famous properties from the past and turning them into something new so as to cash in on their success, often with disastrous results. It is a golden age for the remake, although it is often at the cost of the original’s credibility.
Perhaps I’m being too quick to judge though. The Only Fools and Horses remake was only announced a few weeks ago, so the finished product could indeed be something commendable. After all, the US remake of The Office was a resounding success and is still a hit to this day. But I can’t say I’m holding out much hope. The Office was an exception to the rule that, generally speaking, when a British series is taken to America, it doesn’t translate very well. For instance, Channel 4’s groundbreakingly innovative Peep Show was meant to be taken to the States, but it didn’t even make it past a pilot episode (and frankly I couldn’t imagine anyone else but David Mitchell and Robert Webb in those roles).
Also, Only Fools and Horses is so inherently British, it’s going to need quite a makeover in order to be a true success across the pond – and I know I said I wouldn’t judge just yet, but it has to be said… John Leguizamo as Del Boy, really? I have nothing against the guy but I fail to see how the person behind Ice Age’s Sid the Sloth and Luigi in the dreadful Super Mario Bros movie could ever compare to the likes of Sir David Jason. Hey, prove me wrong.
It’s not just American remakes of British shows that are typically bad though. There are also some really lazy remakes out there in the world of film. As amazing as The Lion King may be, shelling out to see a ‘remade’ version with tacked-on 3D visuals is asking a bit much, and this is a trend which appears to be spiralling out of control. We’ve already got Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace out in 3D (though why you’d want to see that again is beyond me) and soon enough we’ll have Titanic in 3D too. Box office smashes they may have been, but it’d be nice to have at least a little effort put into these ‘remakes’.
That’s not to say all remakes are flops though – and typically they’re more successful when they’re more along the lines of a ‘re-imagining’. The Muppets, a franchise that was slipping into obscurity following a long absence, has been rejuvenated for the modern day in a brand new (and very successful) film. Spyro the Dragon, a fondly remembered videogame icon, was last year given a butt-ugly facelift and a starring role in the new Skylanders game, which has become a whole fad in itself.
And how could I possibly get through this article without mentioning the BBC’s absolutely sensational Sherlock Holmes re-imagining? Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, has won universal acclaim for the way it so seamlessly sets Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic tales in the 21st Century. In fact, it worked so well, the US have decided to steal the idea, call it Elementary, and consequently ruin it by setting it in New York and casting Lucy Liu as a female version of Dr Watson. No, I am not kidding. Why couldn’t they just be satisfied with the excellent Sherlock Holmes films starring Robert Downey Jr, eh? At least those constituted a revival that stayed true to the source material.
Ultimately, I don’t quite know where I stand on this contemporary remake culture. Seeing an old favourite brought back to life in dazzling glory is truly a sight to behold, but more often than not the attempts are half-baked and they drag the original’s name through the mud in the process. In such cases, I’d rather they were just left well alone. One thing that’s for certain though – the remakes and reboots will keep on coming, good and bad. There’s another one due to hit cinemas this summer, as it happens. My Spidey sense is tingling, that’s for sure… *cough*