Television in translation and why it doesn’t always work

When a television show is extremely successful it becomes a target for getting remade. It is natural to assume that an idea which has already succeeded in one part of the world will work in other parts of the world. However this is not always true, particularly in the genre of comedy. Comedies rely on their audience understanding the social norms that the comedy is sending up, and these differ culture to culture. Another major problem which presents itself in the translation of television comedy from one culture to another is different perceptions of what is acceptable to make fun of. This becomes especially evident in the translation of British humour for an American audience.

The IT Crowd is a good example of this concept. A show about two Information Technology guys and their technologically inept manager, it was very successful in Britain and Australia, and even to an extent in America. A US production company ended up buying the rights and casting Joel McHale in the role of Roy, a woman-obsessed IT man originally portrayed by Chris O’Dowd and recasting Richard Ayoade in his original role as Maurice ‘Moss’, a socially-inept genius.


Only the pilot was ever released, a shot for shot carbon copy of the British original. It was then cancelled.

The reason the show did not work comes down to the fact that Americans and Brits have very different senses of humour. Roy’s attempts to get women to talk to and go out with him constantly failing becomes much less believable when a man as handsome as Joel McHale steps into the role. Ayoade’s Moss is an exact replica of the original and the circumstances under which Jen gets introduced, with her walking into a destitute toilet where a man is wiping his butt and laughing manically just doesn’t seem like it would be considered very funny in America.

Perhaps it’s a good thing it was cancelled so fast because it allowed Joel McHale to go on and star in Community, an arguably much better show that the US IT Crowd would have been.


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