There’s nothing that creates a greater moan or sigh than the words “US version” following the title of a TV show.
The rules of adaptation are simple, draft scripts that are almost identical to the original UK version for at least the first six episodes, keep character names exactly the same and be sure to keep the original show’s creator on as executive producer. From Red Dwarf to skins and Life on Mars, we’ve seen a fair few mimics tank after negative reviews and low ratings, with networks refusing to humour an audience number below the five million viewers mark.
Not until 2006 did a glimmer of hope appear in this region-converting genre when the US version of The Office entered an un-paralleled third season in contrast to the original which consisted solely of two seasons and a Christmas special. The reality of non-existent source material drove writers to loosen the chains of constricted character guidelines set from the preceding legacies and gave the previously unknown players such as John Krasinski and Rainn Wilson the opportunity to evolve their career igniting masterworks.
2011 saw the CBS owned Showtime network take a whack at adapting Paul Abbott’s Shameless. Now remade in the depressed region of former industrial Chicago, the protagonist family (still named the Gallagher’s) battle with meeting the cost of everyday life in the form of triple jobbing, free clinics and unofficial money-making daycare with a bit of cliché burst fire hydrant-dancing summers thrown into the mix. We still have a struggling Fiona, an Ian that remains firmly in the closet of the room he shares with genius brother Lip, pyromaniac and future criminal Carl, and the unappreciated glue of the family Debbie. Even the agoraphobic Sheila character is reincarnated with the help of Joan Cusack. Already from this quick blurb, Shameless US reads as a carbon copy of Channel 4’s Chatsworth Estate antics, with the show seemingly following the rules of adaptation.
What truly makes the series watchable is its determination to differ itself in the details. This can be best seen in the dark corner of “The Alibi Room” (the re-imagined Jockey pub) the dwelling place of the new Frank Gallagher represented by the Oscar-winning William H. Macy. Instead of attempting to regurgitate the well crafted soliloquies of David Threlfall, Macy pushes the desperate, sycophantic, rock-bottom elements of Frank and veers away from any prophetic ramblings of disguised wisdom. Macy’s performance pushes the concept that the show is an American interpretation of a well received UK modern classic and not an identical twin that has emigrated.
Already on its second season in comparison to the original which is in its ninth, the American Gallagher’s continue to walk the bread line like a tightrope and scrape forward like scrap heap entrepreneurs in the new recession.
Maybe you’ve seen it all before, but perhaps not quite like this.