British humour is better left at home than sent to the US


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The Independent Culture

Oh, what’s occurring? Not much, as far as the American version of Gavin and Stacey is concerned. The remake for Fox, titled Us & Them, has been dropped and the completed episodes – starring Jason Ritter and Alexis Blede and a supporting cast of Michael Ian Black, Kurt Fuller and Malcolm in the Middle’s Jane Kaczmarek – will never air.

To say that the British rom-sitcom has had a tortured time Stateside is an understatement. Mooted remakes by NBC and ABC never got off the ground. The Fox version looked hopeful until last October when the network halted production six episodes into a 13-episode series, released the actors from their contracts and went very quiet. This week the axe fell for good.

Why? A look at the extended trailer online tells a familiar story. Gavin, a slick New Yorker falls for Stacey, a pretty Pennsylvanian hick online. After six months of cyber-flirting they have their first, drunken date, accompanied by their chubby, heavily tattooed best pals and mithered over by their dysfunctional parents. Swap Brooklyn for Billericay and it’s exactly the same as the BBC original.

James Corden and Ruth Jones famously came up with the idea when Corden went to a wedding and realised he had never seen a straightforward big day on television. One “where, essentially, nothing really happens”, he said. Can you make a hit out of a show where nothing happens, twice over? Perhaps not. In any case, Corden and Jones were not involved in the American remake, except as executive producers, which would have paid off handsomely had it been a hit.

It is tempting to put the failure of Us and Them down to cultural differences – Americans do not get the nuances of class, the American dating scene and weddings aren’t the same. Besides, the shores of America are littered with the shipwrecks of once illustrious, remade British sitcoms – Ab Fab, The Inbetweeners, Coupling, The IT Crowd. No wonder Episodes, a sitcom about the perils of remaking a hit British sitcom in Hollywood, is now heading for a fourth series.

I’m inclined to think that it’s less a matter of clashing senses of humour than timing. There are more and more successful translations now. The American Office has outlived its original by almost 200 episodes. Veep, The Thick of It’s Washington cousin, has been renewed for a fourth series. And last year, Getting On, a sitcom by Jo Brand set on an NHS geriatric ward – could it be any more British? – was remade by HBO, got great reviews and now a second series. When it first came out Gavin and Stacey filled a gaping hole in the schedules for a big-hearted, deceptively simple family sitcom. Times must have changed, but happily repeats of the original will always be to hand.

Dumb and Dumber To

Older but no wiser, thankfully. This week The Farrelly Brothers released the trailer to Dumb and Dumber To. The sequel in which Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels reprise the dimwits they first played 20 years ago will be released in December. I can already tell you that it will be funny – if you like daft gags about catheters, mobile phones and randy old ladies (and who doesn’t?).

I can tell you this because the two-and-a-half minute trailer packs in 20 or so gags which will almost certainly be the funniest in the film. The comedy spoiler-trailer is getting worse. Bad Neighbours and 22 Jump Street both put their best joke in the trailer lately. Is it possible to give a flavour of a comedy without giving away the punchlines? Producers need to find a way because it doesn’t half leave viewers feeling short-changed when they finally sit through 100 minutes and realise they’ve already seen the funniest three on YouTube.

What I Watched…

Rik Mayall

Too much to choose from but Richie’s panicky greeting of the gas man in Bottom perfectly captures Mayall’s maniac zeal. He could make you cry with laughter with a single phrase.


I thought this Radio 4 sitcom about a family-run regional theatre had an unusually pleasing dark side and then I found out it was written by Frankie Boyle. David Mitchell is perfectly cast as the Fawlty-esque anti-hero.

Fathers and Sons

It’s far from a farce but a classy adaptation of Turgenev’s elegiac novel at the Donmar Warehouse had some sublime comedy moments, thanks to Tim McMullan and Susan Engel.

To 26 July (