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Exploding the Myth: British TV is Superior to American TV.

May 25, 2009

I often see on message boards or hear people say things to the basic effect of “American tv is garbage, British tv is great, and America just rips off British shows and dumbs them down.”

Well let me tell you something, British tv sucks. It is awful. Do you realize the happenings of ‘Big Brother’ are front page news over there? On our ‘Big Brother’ knock-off a dude held a knife to a girl’s neck, got kicked off the show, and it barely registered a mention in the media.

I lived in England for four months and can say with authority that their five non-cable channels are almost a complete waste. When I was there in 2003 they showed ‘The Weakest Link’ every single day of the week. And you know those “game shows” where some super exciteable moron wants you to call in or text your answer to an insanely easy question, but only if you pay a fee for your call or text? Those were over there long before they got here. At least the Brits have prank callers to keep things interesting.

Where is the British ‘Mad Men’, ‘Lost’, or ‘Breaking Bad’? What do they have to stand up to ‘The Wire’, frigging ‘Eastenders’?

Now, that isn’t to say British tv is all bad. ‘Mi5’ is pretty decent, and I’ve heard good things about ‘Primeval.’ And of course when I turn on the television without a specific show in mind, one of the first things I check for is to see if ‘Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares’ is showing on BBC-America.

‘Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares’ is a good example of the criticism that America imports and screws up good ideas. It is true, we do tend to dumb things down in order to appeal to the broadest audience. The British iteration of this show features Ramsey going to a failing eatery, knocking some sense into the staff and ownership, building a strong comraderie with everyone, and trying to pull the place out of the gutter with guts and determination. In the American version he goes somewhere, and has big showy fights with everyone (because conflict generates viewers!), and then throws money at the problems in the form of new equipment from the show’s sponsors (synergy!). Despite the same basic premise and the same star the two shows couldn’t be more radically different, and the British version is vastly superior.

But we also often get adaptations right. Take a look at both versions of ‘The Office.’ I was a big fan of the British show before it was adapted for American television and I hated the idea of doing the show over here. I figured it would be lowest common denominator stupid. The first episode was almost a word for word remake of the British show’s first episode. The couple episodes that followed were original scripts, but they were pretty bad. Slowly towards the end of the first season the show displayed a marked improvement, and by the second season it found its legs and began to carve out an identity of its own.

‘The Office’ does bring to mind the one area British tv easily beats American tv: comedy. The state of television comedy in America is dire, there are very few comedies that have respectable sized audiences and earn any kind of critical appreciation. CBS has ‘How I Met Your Mother’ and ‘Big Bang Theory’. NBC has ‘My Name is Earl’, ‘The Office’, and ’30 Rock’. ABC has the young but promising (though horribly named) ‘Better off Ted’ and that’s it. Fox has nothing. The CW has nothing, unless you count ‘Reaper’ as purely a comedy show.

England has had so many superb comedies in the past few years it’s hard to count. ‘The Mighty Boosh’, ‘The IT Crowd’, ‘Peepshow’, ‘I’m Alan Partridge’, ‘The Office’, ‘Spaced’, ‘Extras’, and ‘Little Britain’ just to name a few.

So yes, if you want to talk about televised comedy, the Brits have a much more healthy and varied landscape. But if you’re talking about the overall quality of the television, try sitting through a rainy London day with their five main channels before you say the redcoats have anything on us.

When the Brits make a scene as awesome as Omar in court maybe I’ll start paying attention.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 26, 2009 4:05 pm

    Man, I just turned on BBCA to watch Kitchen Nightmares and they’re showing the American version! Noooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!

  2. rockitboy permalink
    May 31, 2009 2:24 pm

    Can’t really argue with that – British tv drama is a serious slump. Just about all the decent stuff that we go and buy on DVD is American. And please, dont be fooled by the current hype on Primeval – series 1 and 2 were pretty good, but they changed the writers and directors for series 3 (not to mention killing off some of the main leads) such that the plots and storytelling logic is absolutely infantile. Avoid.

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