I’ve been watching and listening to the British TV show Coupling over the past few weeks. It’s reminiscent of Friends, except a little more crude and a lot more entertaining. Unlike Friends it also focuses on couples that are rather than couples that might be, which is something of a refreshing change.

Coupling was brought over to the US a few years ago and became the epitome of poor UK-US translation. At the outset I should state that I have never seen the American version, though I have no doubt that it is every bit as poor as its critics suggest. By the sounds of it they followed the script to a T and I could easily see the script falling flat with increased FCC regulation and American accents.

That being said, I can’t help but escape the feeling that a lot of the critics on IMDB take on a tone of superiority by trashing the American version and the fact that they would be trashing it almost regardless of quality. When a show is translated from one audience to another, they have a few options about how to go about doing it and every single option gives these cultural snobs the opportunity to lourd their superiority over us plebian Americans:

Option 1: They take the script directly or make very small changes.
If they take the script directly, then some parts are not going to translate quite as well. Even if everything does translate, they’ll ask (and not unreasonably) why they didn’t just air the British version of the show (FCC concerns aside). Then, what little changes they may make, will be considered an absolute betrayal of the original.

Option 2: They revamp and “Americanize” the show.
The snobs need a fan from this to keep them from passing out. They’ll accuse the producers of jettisenning precisely what make the show “work” over there, regardless of what they change. Then they’ll say that whatever was changed was an example of how the show has been “dumbed down” and how superior they are for appreciating the original. It’ll be derided as “completely different” from the original.

Option 3: They take the bare elements but leave off the name to avoid comparisons.
They’ll relentlessly call the show a “rip-off” of the British show and accuse the producers of trying to take credit for someone else’s creative work. Even if the content of the show is the exact same as Option 2, they will actually accentuate the similarities and call it a “knock-off” (whereas in Option 2 the term would be “betrayal”)

In the process of deriding the new show, they will talk endlessly about how they saw the original and will attempt to use this as a reason why their opinion is valid while yours is not. If you saw the original but like the American version better, you will be accused of not have an appropriate appreciation for the nuances of non-American culture. Even if you say that you like both for different reasons, you’ll be accused of “not getting it”.

The Office, at present, is perhaps the most successful fictional show carried over. What some people forget is that it was originally derided as yet another example of how American producers “don’t get it.” Granted, the first season was weaker than subsequent seasons, but I maintain that the only reason that the critics have relented is that they have been overwhelmed by the positive response of the American version.

Ironically, the criticism that people who prefer the American version to the British don’t understand or appreciate Brit “dry humour” come off sounding a lot like Michael Scott when talking about any other culture where he feels the need to be multiculturally aware.

For what it’s worth, I have a slight preference for the American version of The Office, though I can easily recognize those areas where the British version is superior. I think in some ways they compliment one another. The American version would not exist if not for the British version, of course. However, the British version only lasted twelve episodes and a couple specials and now the American version is the only place where people can more Office-style humor is via the American version.

Category: Theater

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2 Responses to A Guide To Smug Cultural Superiority

  1. Ethan says:

    Trust me on this, the US version of Coupling was an unmitigated disaster. However, there is only one Jeff, and his loss to the UK version pretty much sank that boat too. (That and the co-creator jumping ship to Dr. Who.)

    The Office is interesting, in that the US version did nearly a “straight” reading of the UK ep 1 script, and while it was clunky in parts, it worked better, for me. Jim vs Tim isn’t a choice. Neither is Dwight vs Gareth. And I used to think Tim and Gareth were Da Bomb. Now I can barely bear to watch the UK series. I think the US Office works because they allowed the plot/characters to evolve from the original framework.

    But yeah, UK version of Coupling? Should be required viewing.

  2. Will Truman says:

    I believe you on the US version of Coupling. The complaints were consistent enough that I didn’t attribute all of it to snobbery (though I still maintain that a number of the critics would have been critics even if it hadn’t blown chunks).

    I actually wasn’t as sorry to see Jeff go. It seemed to me like it forced them to get a little more creative (the knight-maiden chess match, for instance). I also liked the Oliver character, who I could relate to more than the others. I do think it’s good that it ended when it did, though, as they were running the risk of going stale.

    The US version of The Office moved pretty quickly away from its inspiration. I think it did a good job of letting the characters be Americans rather than try to stick too closely to their British counterparts, so I agree with you there. I don’t quite have the preferences for the American characters that you do. I thought the British characters were more realistic (as was the whole enterprise, really), though I will say that the American characters were more interesting.

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