I, of course, was one of those people who turned his nose up at the idea of a US network re-working The Office for an American audience. The show felt so British that any attempt to transfer for an American audience would unquestionably lose what made the original such a masterpiece.
I was proved right (of sorts) as when the series finally arrived, its attempts to emulate the original BBC series fell completely flat. However, years later, when the show began to win fans here in the UK, I felt it safe to dip my toe back into the show and see what others had fallen for. What the creators had realised, as soon as the second season, is that the Office’s brand of ‘cringe comedy’ wouldn’t sustain the long-running nature that US networks want. They turned David Brent’s counterpart Michael Scott into a loveable bafoon rather than the completely incompetent and utter embarrassment Brent had been for the 14 episodes of the UK run.
The savvy producers knew the key to the show’s longevity was to have characters to root for and to give the ‘background characters’ fully realised lives too. Despite my initial misgivings and inner snobbery towards even the idea of the show, I was won over. I’ve watched the series countless times and I can watch it without having the original shouting at me. What The Office US doesn’t manage though, is the realism of the original.
Even now, if you were able to find someone who hadn’t seen the original series, you could put it on and that person could easily believe they’re watching a true documentary. Gervais and Merchant put as much effort into making their comedy feel like than authentic documentary, as they did making the audience laugh and cringe. It’s not entirely their fault, but American shows have a sort of shiny sheen on them. Try as they might, they can’t help but look like the slick and glossy showbiz machines they are. There was no mistaking the US series for a documentary because, even with, the somewhat revolutionary ‘talking head’ segments, it still looked like a sitcom.
The Office achieved the impossible: it works as both a US sitcom, and it’s loved by fans of the original. It’s something that no other recent US remake has managed. You’d have to go back to their take on Steptoe and Son or Till Death us Part‘ for similar success.
This brings me, rather awkwardly, to the latest BBC show to be given a US network makeover. Here’s the trailer.
It’s fairly obvious that the awkwardly titled, Welcome To Flatch is a remake of the BBC Three show This Country. The brilliant creation from siblings Daisy May and Charlie Cooper. Like The Office before it, it used the mockumentary format with the rouse of BBC cameras following young people in isolated rural communities. Instantly funny, the show felt like a breath of fresh air. From two unknown faces, This Country felt immediately relatable and again, incredibly authentic. Where Gervais had transplanted his years working in an office to the screen, it was clear, from the first episode, that the Coopers knew the world they were writing about. Like all the best British comedies, This Country felt quintessentially British. Running for three series, and winning both critical praise and a devoted fanbase, the chances of a US remake felt worryingly inevitable.
I can already feel that same level of cynism creeping in that I felt when I first saw the US takes on The Office, Coupling and The Inbetweeners. Casting Seann William Scott in the role of The Vicar felt like a bad idea when I first heard it and seeing it in the trailer has only served to prove my point.
From this trailer alone, it appears they’ve taken the character types from the series and watered them down to their barest characteristics. The actor with the unenviable task of matching the weird and wonderful Kerry Mucklowe, feels more like a tribute act than a real character in the setting. The fact they’ve gone with a title like Welcome To Flatch at least makes me hopeful that’ll be a bigger ensemble piece. But, like The Office, the trailer recycles a lot of the jokes fans will remember. Sadly, these aren’t delivered with the same energy as the original and fall much flatter than you’d expect given how good the material is. On the plus side, the series is helmed by Paul Feig, who was heavily involved with The Office and we can only hope he’ll apply the lessons he learnt there here.
Ultimately, of course, it’s unfair to judge anything from its first trailer. Whether it’s good or bad or awful it won’t tarnish the brilliance of the original show but it will always be fascinating to see what American producers do with these very British comedies to make them appeal to a wider American audience.
Welcome To Flatch arrives soon to FOX in the US.