December 17, 2010

The Jeff Goldblum of the Week Award (12/13-12/17)

And the Weekly Jeff Goldblum of the Week Award, a weekly award that will go to the person, animal, or anything else that best exemplifies the awesomeness of Jeff Goldblum that week, goes to......

This past Monday, I had the pleasure of heading down to MTV HQ in Times Square with some other fans to watch a press screening of MTV's remake of the popular British series, Skins. While there, we received a signed copy of the first script by both original, and American creator, Bryan Elsley, and got to watch both the first and fifth episodes of the series that premieres on MTV on January 17th. It was a great day all in all (then later got much better when Cliff Lee signed with the Phillies), and as a fan of the original series and of TV in general, let me take a long time to tell you why I think this remake will work and be worth your time.

Remaking successful shows from other countries for American television is a tricky thing (not the best sentence, but I'm lazy). Actually, just creating a successful show in the first place is a tricky thing, unless of course it's a show on CBS, where any stupid idea someone comes up with is a (s)hit that runs for 10 years. There are always many factors as to why some shows do well and why others don't in terms of audience or critical reception, but a lot of times it really just comes down to luck. Some shows just seem to come along at the right time and change the landscape (Lost), while others take us to a certain place and show us the potential of the medium (Mad Men), or just fill a sickening, sugary hole that we didn't know needed filling (Glee*, ugh).

Remakes are a whole different animal, though. Throughout the history of scripted television there have been many attempts at remaking or adapting other shows from different places in America, and few have worked. Let's take a look at two recent American remakes of British tv shows (one that worked, and one that didn't) and I'll show you my formula for why I think that MTV's version of Skins will work.

1. The Office: This one has clearly worked, but why? Well, first of all, let's look at the setting. Recent studies have shown that 415% of people all across the globe work in offices. Another poll shows us that 823% of humans living or dead like things that relate to them. Also, people like comedy. While many of us might agree that the US version of The Office didn't really hit it's stride until its 2nd season, the first shortened season of just six episodes really laid the groundwork of what the show would become. Sure, the pilot was pretty much identical word for word with the British pilot (much like the Skins remake is on MTV), but in the other episodes the show was able to move past the original series and develop its own identity, even though the characters all had their blueprints. As for the characters, The US Office did a great job with casting mostly unkowns. This way, the characters felt more authentic and it was very believable that these people could work at a paper factory in Scranton, PA.

2. Life On Mars: The original Life On Mars is one of my favorite series of all time, American or otherwise. It was a perfect little gem of a series that only lasted for two seasons and told its story of a modern detective in a coma traveling back in time to 1973 and teaming up with other detectives to solve crimes and figure out if all of this was happening or was in his head. It had a start and a finish, but most of all, it had charm. British charm. Imagine if Mad Men was a British detective show in the early 70s. It's a great idea. People like to cite the writing and acting of Mad Men as to why it's so great, but for a lot of people, they just like that they're being transported back in time and seeing odd salt shakers they might remember from their youth, or some old timey hat or telephone. This is what Life On Mars had going for it, and on top of that it was decidedly British, much more than The Office (though many have complained that they can't get into because they don't understand anything that's being said). So why didn't ABC's remake of a couple years ago work? Well, first of all, we had seen much of the cast before, whether it was Michael Imperioli or Harvey Keitel or Gretchen Mol. While they are all fine actors, on of my theories why remakes need a largely unkown cast is because we already know the characters, so it helps if we aren't pigeonholed into seeing well-known actors play their own obvious versions of the new ones. If characters are going to stay the same, you need fresh faces and different takes. Another reason why this didn't work is because we already had Mad Men and we don't need to go to the 60s and the 70s.

I think I hear what you're saying at this point - "Ok, well I understand your character/actor-freshness theory, but isn't Skins just going to be like other teen drama on tv, kinda like how Coupling didn't work cause it was a Friends ripoff?"

Well, I hear you, but this is where things change completely. Teen dramas historically have a very short shelf-life. Teen shows are only really interesting when they first start out and the characters are in high school. Then they're strong and fun for one or two years (see The OC, Gossip Girl), but things start to get stale and they run out of storylines, and then the characters separate and go off to college, or magically stay in the same town. The original Skins has found a way around this and managed to keep things interesting by getting rid of its characters every two seasons so the setting stays the same, not the characters. I have no reason to believe that (if it makes it this far) this one be the same in MTV's version.

So now finally, let's talk about the remake and what I saw. First of all, Skins is nothing like any other teen show on tv aside from the fact that it involves teenagers. While they do more or less party every week, it's not some lame costume party or some charity benefit. These kids party like I'm assuming really teenagers party these days. In terms of television realism, think more of The Wire than Gossip Girl. Also, like I said before, even though the first episode is almost exactly the same, the second episode is completely different and introduces a character not in the original series. Also, while the 5th episode deals with some of the same things that the original did, it has a different take on things and stands on its own, which from what I've seen will make this American version more like The US Office.

While I recognized storylines and characters in the Skins remake, I saw them as their own characters, much like I did with The Office. I was nothing more than reminded of the original Skins version, and many times I even went as far as forgetting it because I was so involved in what I was watching on the screen. The actors and the writers have done much more than just "Americanize" Skins - they've appeared to make it their own thing and have shown signs that they will separate from the original and just use the blueprint of the characters to tell new and different stories. I get the feeling it'll be more of an adaptation than a straight up remake.

So I'm gonna watch it, and I think you should too, even if you've seen the original before. If you feel differently after two episodes, then oh well, but give it a shot. It's not your typical MTV show.

For a longer look, go to

*it should be noted that I've never seen more than one minute of Glee and that I hate it

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