We’re the Sweeney son, and we haven’t had any dinner. You’ve kept us waiting. So unless you want a kickin’ you tell us where those photographs are.
Detective Inspector Jack Regan knew how to make a point. If he were writing this he’d be telling you, “We’re British son, and we haven’t had our BAFTA. You’ve kept on stealing. So unless you want a kickin’, stop takin’ our programs.” That’s what I’d be telling you as well. Thankfully The Sweeney hasn’t been Americanized, although there was an appalling cinema remake, but you’ve taken the next best thing. So let’s start there.
Life On Mars was a BBC production that wore its heart on its sleeve. It wasn’t so much a thinly veiled homage to The Sweeney (which was shown on ITV) as an out and out salute to the gritty earthiness of the 70s cop show. DI Gene Hunt was Jack Regan incarnate. The police stations were dingy and the pubs were dark and smoke filled. They even used the same copper coloured Ford Granada. Anybody watching it who had grown up with The Sweeney could taste the DNA (if you can taste DNA). The shows were twins separated at birth. So how can you expect them to replicate that in America? The answer is, you can’t. Instead you get a gritty 70s New York cop drama with a twist. And long sideburns.
Another show that tried and failed to emulate its British counterpart was Prime Suspect. I’m sorry but they were on a hiding to nothing trying to replace Helen Mirren. I mean we’re talking about HELEN MIRREN here. As much as I love Maria Bello, and I do on all sorts of levels, she was doomed along with the show trying to follow in such illustrious footsteps. And why do female cops on TV always look so glamorous? I worked 30 years in the West Yorkshire Police and never met anyone who looked remotely like a supermodel. As an aside, thank goodness for HBO and The Wire. Actors that looked like real characters not pinups. (Two of the best of which were British. Who’d have guessed?)
A couple of other shows that spring to mind are, Cracker, played in the UK by Robbie Coltrane with such delicious Scottishness that poor old Robert Pastorelli should have tossed his caber instead of remaking it. And Broadchurch, which transposed a Dorset village to a town in Northern California for Gracepoint. Not much difference there then. I mean come on. Can’t you come up with any ideas of your own?
To be fair, there have of course been some success stories. I don’t want this to come across as just sour grapes. House Of Cards at least had the passage of time between the 90s set BBC show and the US version. It also benefitted from the star wattage of Kevin Spacey giving a powerhouse performance. Similarly, The Office had Steve Carell taking over from Ricky Gervais, although the whole fly-on-the-wall-documentary feel never sat right with me in the UK show anyway, so that’s a double strike for me.
While we’re at it why don’t we include two glaring offences. Both movies. Both starring Michael Caine. Both slaughtered by American remakes.
Back in the 1969 Caine made an ode to the swinging 60s with The Italian Job. It was so quintessentially British you could watch it with tea and biscuits. The red white and blue of the car chase Mini Coopers were as British as you could get. Not to mention Benny Hill. Then in the 1971, Caine turned nasty as a vengeance-seeking gangster in Get Carter, as hard as nails with hardly a spare line of dialogue. What happened next? You turned one into a Mark Wahlberg chase movie and the other into a Sylvester Stallone action vehicle. Oh my god.
I can’t leave without mentioning the most grievous travesty of justice though. Between 1974 and 1977 the BBC brought us the best television sitcom EVER. Porridge was the story of two prisoners serving their porridge (prison sentence for you Americans) in the remote environs of Slade Prison. It was quite simply the funniest TV show I’ve ever watched. Lightning in a bottle. And it still hasn’t aged. So what do you do over there? Hijack the writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais and turn it into On The Rocks, remaking each episode practically word for word but with a complete lack of chemistry or timing. It was nothing short of criminal. For this, and all the above, you should be sentenced accordingly:
You are habitual criminals who accept arrest as an occupational hazard and presumably accept imprisonment in the same casual manner. We therefore feel constrained to commit you to the maximum term allowed for such offences. You will go to prison for five years.
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Colin Campbell is the creator of Jim Grant and The Resurrection Man thrillers: Jamaica Plain, Montecito Heights and Adobe Flats. His 4th, Snake Pass is due in April, 2015.