For decades, US television has tried, with varying degrees of success, to remake certain beloved UK television shows. Some remakes, like The Office, have been so successful that they eclipse their source material. Other American remakes, like the short-lived Skins and Coupling, we'd just as soon forget ever happened.
Based on Daisy May and Charlie Cooper’s BBC Three mockumentary sitcom about two young people growing up in a quiet Cotswolds village, the Fox series centres around cousins (played by newcomers Chelsea Holmes and Sam Straley) living in a small American town.
This got us thinking about some other US remakes of UK television shows – the not-so-great ones, in particular.
So, without any further ado, here’s a ranked list of the worst US remakes of British shows.
The British version of Spaced, a sitcom written by and starring Simon Pegg and Jessica Hynes, ran for two seasons from 1999 to 2001. Ostensibly about the wacky misadventures of two twenty somethings deciding to become flatmates despite having only just met, Spaced was well-received at the time, and nominated for the BAFTA TV Award for Best Situation Comedy.
In late 2007, Fox announced it would commission an American version of Spaced overseen by Charlies Angels director McG, but the pilot never made it to air (though portions of it are available to watch on YouTube). It’s probably just as well, since all of the original show’s creators weren’t happy about a potential American remake, with Hynes joking that she intended to oversee a British version of Charlie’s Angels about three women “who love to make biscuits, and wear button-up cardigans”.
Often drawing comparisons to Seinfeld and Friends, the original Coupling aired on BBC2 from 2000 to 2004 and depicted the romantic misadventures of six friends in their early thirties. Naturally, not content with the actual Friends, which was soon to go off the air after 10 seasons, NBC commissioned a Coupling remake for the American market in 2003. It did not go over well, despite episodes being written by the British show's creator, Steven Moffat. The American Coupling was panned by critics and pulled by NBC after airing only four episodes. Later, Moffat would blame NBC for the remake's failure, saying in 2007, “The network f***ed it up because they intervened endlessly”.
5. I’m a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!
I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! (often shortened to just I'm a Celebrity) attracts about 9 million viewers each series, which should tell you just how popular the survival-themed reality programme is in the UK. Running since 2002 and recently renewed through 2022, I'm a Celebrity boils down to a group of celebrities living together in deliberately un-posh conditions and competing with one another for extra food and prizes.
Despite surviving on ITV for nearly two decades, I'm a Celebrity didn't translate to American audiences. It ran for only two seasons, spaced six years apart (in 2003 and 2009, respectively), before being cancelled.
Starring a bumper crop of actors who went on to become household names (Daniel Kaluuya, Dev Patel, Nicholas Hoult), Skins was a sensation when it aired on E4 the UK.
Chronicling the ups and downs of teenage friends in Bristol, Skins unflinchingly unpacked issues such as substance abuse, sexual identity, bullying and mental illness. By daring to show adolescence as it was lived – rather than as how adults wished to remember it – father-and-son writers Bryan Elsey and Jamie Brittain had sparked a low-key revolution.
Naturally, America had to try its hand at a Skins remake. Airing on MTV in 2011, the remake followed the lives of a group of teens living in Baltimore, Maryland, though it met with considerable controversy over its sexual content and accusations of child pornography. Later that year, MTV announced that it would not renew Skins for a second season, saying, “Skins is a global television phenomenon that, unfortunately, did not connect with a US audience as much as we had hoped. We admire the work that the series creator Bryan Elsley did in adapting the show for MTV, and appreciate the core audience that embraced it”.
3. The Inbetweeners
As if to countercheck Skins’ gritty portrayal of teendom, Damon Beesley and Iain Morris’s The Inbetweeners brought a charming bawdiness to its portrayal of pubescent derring-do. Will, Simon, Neil and Jay played virginal young men at a hard-knocks comprehensive, their lives an obstacle course of cruel teachers, aloof girls and oblivious parents.
In 2010, MTV announced plans to create an American version of The Inbetweeners, but the US version didn't connect and ultimately only lasted for one season. In 2012, Metro listed the attempt as one of the Top 10 British comedies whose US remakes have flopped.
2. Life On Mars
In the original version of Life on Mars, producers subverted the police procedural formula. A detective gets hit by a car in the year 2006, then wakes up in the year 1973. He's still a detective, still working in the same location, but in a different year and with different people. In the sequel series, Ashes to Ashes, it's revealed that the detective is actually in a form of “restless dead” police officer purgatory.
The American version, however, placed the officer in a spaceship going to Mars. Both timelines, meanwhile, ended up being computer simulations. Ultimately, the show was not renewed in the US.
In an interview, Life on Mars co-creator Matthew Graham revealed his opinion of the US remake, saying, “Have you seen it? It beggars belief, doesn't it?" He also called the US ending “a mistake” noting that it was like "coming up with something and going 'Hey-hey, you never knew this, but Gene is a Martian!’”
1. The IT Crowd
Originally premiering in 2006, and written by Graham Linehan, produced by Ash Atalla and starring Chris O'Dowd, Richard Ayoade, Katherine Parkinson, and Matt Berry, The IT Crowd ran for four seasons on Channel 4 and centred on members of the fictional Reynholm Industries’ Information Technology department (including a goth IT technician played by the wonderful Noel Fielding).
American networks have tried and failed to produce their own version of the cult comedy a number of times, with NBC ordering a series in 2007–08, starring Richard Ayoade (reprising his role as computer programmer Maurice Moss), though it never actually reached production.
In 2014, NBC tried to produce another pilot, produced by Bill Lawrence, though that also failed to make it to air.
NBC even attempted a third time, in early 2018, with Graham Linehan as a writer and executive producer, though nothing else has come of this latest attempt either.
The US isn't the only one, though. A 2008 German version of The IT Crowd, titled The iTeam: The Boys at the Mouse, actually did make it to air, but it was cancelled after two episodes.