10 US Remakes Of British Shows That Were Better Than The Original, And 10 That Were Worse
British TV has showcased some absolute gems over the years, with stellar casts and classic plot lines entertaining even the toughest of audiences.
And it seems the success of these shows hasn’t gone unnoticed by American TV producers, resulting in some incredible remakes of British TV shows – as well as a few that missed the mark.
Here’s our pick of American remakes of British shows that did justice to the originals, and those that were crimes against television.
Worse – The Inbetweeners
British audiences were thrilled when they were first introduced to Simon, Will, Jay and Neil, otherwise known as the Inbetweeners. Finally: a group of teens we could actually relate to, all shown in a realistic (if hilariously pathetic) portrayal of teenage life in the UK.
But whilst we were enjoying the antics of this raucous bunch, MTV were silently plotting a US remake of the classic show. Unfortunately for them, and for us, they failed to grasp the essence of The Inbetweeners, resulting in the US take on the show becoming a massive flop.
The Inbetweeners US lasted for just one season before being scrapped due to low ratings and a mauling from critics.
There’s no question that education is more romanticised in the US. For one thing, we’ve had decades of US-based high school dramas (strangely, often in the form of Shakespeare adaptations), with little in the way of such representation for UK schools.
So it makes sense that the irreverent character dynamics of The Inbetweeners wouldn’t easily translate across the pond. Turns out kids aren’t so alike after all.
Better – The Office
Ricky Gervais set the bar high when he debuted his hit mockumentary, The Office, in 2001. The show captures the mundane nature of office life, with Gervais and writing partner Stephen Merchant particularly skewering the social awkwardness of Gervais’ character, David Brent.
Brent’s self-absorbed, conceited personality is used as a vehicle for some great comedic moments. This set-up was transferred over to the US remake of the show, this time with Steve Carell’s Michael Scott taking centre stage.
Whilst both shows are gems in their own right, The Office US wins in terms of quantity, with over nine seasons of Dunder Mifflin antics to enjoy, compared to The Office UK’s sparse two seasons (plus a Christmas special).
The first few seasons of The Office US largely remained true to the British original, but writers were soon given free rein, allowing the characters to develop and go deeper than they ever did in the UK Office.
Gervais, now a regular host of the Golden Globes, has made a handful of cameos in the American version of his show, which makes the different styles plain to see.
Worse – Skins
Showcasing the gritty reality of British teen life, Skins set a precedent for British drama with its use of controversial storylines that divided the nation.
Skins was unusual in that it replaced its principal cast every two years over its six-year run, whilst still managing to allow audiences to relate to each character.
When MTV decided to have a crack at remaking this iconic British show, they had high hopes for its success. Unfortunately, this all came crashing down when nobody tuned in to watch.
The US show’s creators admitted defeat after just one season, explaining that “Skins is a global television phenomenon that, unfortunately, did not connect with a U.S. audience as much as we had hoped.”
The grungy aesthetic of the UK show is perhaps to blame: Skins is far more European in origin, and the squeaky-clean actors in the US version simply couldn’t seem to revel in the same debauchery and grime.
Better – House of Cards
Long before Kevin Spacey hit our screens as the Machiavellian Frank Underwood, there was another politician about town in the form of Chief Whip Francis Urquhart (Ian Richardson).
Though the UK House of Cards, first aired in 1990, is more realistic, the US version is a piece of art in its own right, with (the since-disgraced) Spacey expanding on a dark streak in the lead character unplumbed by the UK version.
All in all, the UK original lacks depth in comparison to its US counterpart, perhaps due to its reduced episode count and shorter runtime.
In Blighty, the show was released as three miniseries instalments and was set directly after the end of Margaret Thatcher’s premiership.
The US show, on the other hand, ran for six seasons, each comprised of at least ten episodes. More divorced from political reality, the US House of Cards was much grander and more intricate.
Worse – Cold Feet
Cold Feet first arrived on UK TV screens more than 20 years ago, and has a strong and loyal fan base to this very day.
This strong and loyal fan base was left shocked and aghast, however, when they caught a glimpse of the American remake of the show, which was cancelled after just one month on air.
In fact, one episode of Cold Feet US, titled How Much Is That Sex Act in the Window, made television history when it was ranked as NBC’s worst ever home rating for an original Friday night show.
What might be even sadder is that the show’s failure wasn’t due to a lack of effort: David Sutcliffe, of Gilmore Girls fame, was cast in the lead role, and Cold Feet US had been commissioned for a 13-episode run.
Cold Feet was revived in the UK between 2016 and February 2020, having once again been retired for the foreseeable. There’s no word on whether the American version will ever fully see the light of day.
Better – Whose Line Is It Anyway?
Whose Line Is It Anyway? defined British comedy TV through the late 80s and the 90s. The show was originally adapted from a radio programme and starred some of the biggest names on the comedy circuit at the time, including Rory Bremner, Paul Merton and Jim Sweeney.
In 1998, ABC decided to get in on the action and produced an American remake of the show. Much like the British original, the show was a huge success and featured Colin Mochrie and Ryan Stiles, both of whom had appeared in the UK version.
The show enjoyed a nine-year run before it went on a hiatus, but in 2013 the show returned to US screens, this time hosted by actress and TV host Aisha Tyler.
Whilst both shows are hilariously entertaining, the US version has featured a vast array of guest stars, whilst the UK original was always somewhat limited in that department.
Perhaps the best example of the US Whose Line’s star-power is its episodes with late-night host Stephen Colbert and with the legendary actor Robin Williams. In the UK? Neil Mullarkey.
Worse – Men Behaving Badly
The UK’s Men Behaving Badly starred some of Britain’s most celebrated national treasures, with Martin Clunes, Harry Enfield and Neil Morrissey all in the line-up (if not all at the same time).
Following the lives of a group of flatmates, the series was hugely successful, despite concerns over the show promoting a “lad’s culture of boozing and irresponsibility.”
Unfortunately, the US remake of the show fell short of the mark, even with its star-studded cast, including Rob Schneider, Ron Eldard and Justine Bateman (the latter of whom left after the first season amid rumours of tension on-set).
The show was deemed by many to be “too risqué,” and fell to the wayside when pitted against family favourites such as The Simpsons and The Wonderful World of Disney. It lasted just two seasons.
Men Behaving Badly was one of Rob Schneider’s first post-SNL efforts. After it was cancelled, he would go on to star in Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo, a feature film about a fish tank cleaner who’s forced to, ahem, change his profession.
Better – Shameless
The UK’s Shameless provided a dark yet bleakly amusing commentary on working-class England, chronicling the life of the eccentric Gallagher family and their equally oddball neighbours.
The British version of the show enjoyed more than a decade of success before concluding in 2013. Luckily for fans, across the pond, Shameless US was at that time still in its prime and showed no signs of slowing down.
In fact, the US Shameless is still running to this day, and could perhaps be considered better paced than its UK counterpart, as well as involving more intricately plotted storylines. It’s a close call, but the US remake has a slight edge over the original.
As of 2018, Shameless US has become Showtime’s longest-running original scripted series in history, a remarkable feat given the inauspicious fates of many American remakes.
The eleventh and final season will premier in mid-2020, coincidentally concluding at the same number of seasons as its British counterpart.
Worse – Payne (Fawlty Towers)
Fawlty Towers is one of the most iconic shows on British TV, and with good reason. With a stellar cast and the best of British writers, Fawlty Towers has entertained audiences for generations since its release. The same can’t be said for Payne.
The show would simply not be the same without the involvement of John Cleese, and this is perhaps where the US remake went wrong. Payne was the fourth attempt at an American remake of Fawlty Towers, and was seemingly doomed before it had even begun.
Payne lasted just eight weeks on air before being scrapped due to low viewing figures and poor reviews. Although the original Fawlty Towers consists of just 12 episodes, Payne didn’t even make it that far, with just nine decidedly awful entries aired.
Those responsible for Payne really should have learned from their forebears’ efforts to bring Fawlty Towers stateside. Of the four attempts, one didn’t get off the ground at all; another, Chateau Snavely, was an attempt to recreate the show’s humour in a motel.
The next, Amanda’s, even starred the legendary Bea Arthur, but its pilot was never picked up. It seems only the British can be truly neurotic enough to tackle Fawlty Towers.
Better – Queer as Folk
The British Queer as Folk was groundbreaking upon its 1999 release, airing as it did at a time when gay rights was still a fringe political issue.
Chronicling the lives of three gay men living in Manchester’s Gay Village, the show received mixed reactions but is widely considered a pioneering piece of LGBTQ+ entertainment.
In 2000, an American-Canadian remake of the show was broadcast on Showtime. It was applauded for its portrayal of the gay community and quickly shot to number one on Showtime’s roster.
Although both shows are entertaining in their own right, airing the show in the USA was more of a gamble, and therefore we feel the US version of Queer as Folk should receive kudos for bravado alone.
Both versions of Queer as Folk feature relatable and complex characters, but the US remake is perhaps more revolutionary in its exploration of controversial themes such as gay Catholic priests and HIV/AIDS, the latter of which was controversially omitted from the UK original.
Worse – Gracepoint (Broadchurch)
Gracepoint, a remake of the hit UK crime series Broadchurch, seems to have everything in its corner. For one thing, it like Broadchurch is also written by Chris Chibnall, and for another it sees David Tennant basically reprise his role from the UK show (if under a different name).
While Gracepoint might lack the Oscar-winning Olivia Colman, she’s ably replaced by the Emmy-winning Anna Gunn, best known for her role as Skyler White in Breaking Bad.
Unfortunately for Gracepoint, there’s a danger to recreating a show so closely – namely, that it ends up as little more than a pale imitation.
While the show is a perfectly capable crime drama, it lacks the mystique and cultural tsunami that arrived with the British original; it also sees two detectives investigate the death of a boy who falls from a cliff, imitating the plot of the UK series exactly.
Even if American audiences hadn’t seen Broadchurch – and they likely had – Gracepoint lacks the pressure cooker feel of the original, derived from Broadchurch’s evident Scandi-noir roots.
Better – Veep (The Thick of It)
Unlike many remakes, Veep isn’t a reboot; in fact, you might argue it isn’t a remake at all. Its origins are found in Armando Iannucci’s political satire The Thick of It, and developed in 2009’s spin-off film In the Loop, showing that the two shows almost co-exist.
Plus, the show’s supporting characters are often treated differently. In The Thick of It, the advisers are shown to be dunderheaded rats constantly looking to leave a sinking ship; by contrast, in Veep, Anna Chlumsky’s Amy Brookheimer sometimes seems to be the only sane person in the room.
Still, the overall dynamic is the same: those at the very heights of government are incapable, bewildered, and overwhelmed by problems that seem impossible to solve.
Both Veep and The Thick of It are worth a watch, but there are a handful of qualities that put the US version over the top. For one thing, Julia Louis-Dreyfus is incomparable. Rebecca Front, her UK analogue, is a fantastic actor, but Louis-Dreyfus thrives in the empty pomp of US politics.
Moreover, Veep came after The Thick of It, and it’s clear that Iannucci had honed his craft by the time he got to the US remake. Chris Addison, a regular cast member of The Thick of It, also directs some episodes of Veep, bringing another steady hand to the show.
Worse – The Chase
It’s not just sitcoms and dramas that get American makeovers: dozens of gameshows have crossed the pond, and generally with a great deal of success (consider, for example, the impact of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?).
The Chase, a show in which contestants collaborate to escape one of the world’s finest quiz brains, has also gone from strength to strength in the US, but something’s missing.
The US version sees the UK’s original ‘Chaser’, Mark Labbett, as the sole villain, and the show is hosted by former Baywatch actor Brooke Burns.
What the show loses, however, is style. The Chase USA has the audience sitting in the round, peering down at the contestants like it’s the Coliseum, and Burns plays into the grandiosity of quizzing against ‘The Beast.’
This contrasts the wit of Bradley Walsh, host of the UK version. The joy of the UK Chase is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously despite the overblown set-up, exemplified by the Chaser’s silhouetted walk to set to dramatic music.
Better – Lotsa Luck (On the Buses)
Lotsa Luck might be better than its British counterpart, but that doesn’t mean it’s any good. It just means that On the Buses is desperately, brain-numbingly awful.
Broadcast between 1969 and 1973, On the Buses was rejected by the BBC and instead broadcast on ITV, with the public broadcaster seeing little potential for comedy in a bus depot. Rightly so.
Replete with bawdy humour and all the excitement of driving a bus around a fictional town, the series was critically panned, though it was a hit with viewers.
Lotsa Luck, then, adds some welcome detail to the concept, even if this US remake did only last for a single season.
Lotsa Luck stars Dom DeLuise as a layabout brother-in-law, who happens to work at the lost-and-found of the city bus company. It’s far more character-driven than On the Buses, and features fewer scenes of unfunny actors pretending to drive a bus. Win-win!
Worse – Us & Them (Gavin & Stacey)
What American remakes of British TV shows often fail to understand is the multiplicity of cultures and delicate relations that Brits pack on to one small isle. Us & Them, a remake of James Corden and Ruth Jones’ Gavin & Stacey, falls right into this trap.
Gavin & Stacey sees the titular pair strive against the odds to wed and build a life together; it’s a typical Romeo & Juliet premise, with Gavin’s family living in Essex, England, and Stacey’s in Barry, Wales.
Us & Them, noting this dynamic, faithfully recreates the characters of the original right down to their names. It simply tweaks their locations: Gavin is from New York, and Stacey is from Pennsylvania.
Us & Them was hotly anticipated when it was announced in 2013, but its initial network, Fox, first scaled down its order and then refused to air the show at all. Instead, Us & Them premiered on Sony Crackle in 2018 – five years after its planned air date.
Watching the show, it’s easy to see why: the show feels like an artificial cash-grab, even if it does star Gilmore Girls alum and now-Emmy-winning actor Alexis Bledel.
Better – Hell’s Kitchen
If you’re going purely by stereotypes, then Brits are reserved and polite, where Americans are brash and unflinchingly honest. True or not, the two versions of Hell’s Kitchen definitely cement those reputations.
Both star Gordon Ramsay as a culinary Lucifer, eviscerating contestants who just want to make a nice crème brûlée and be done with it.
While Ramsay has built a reputation on his choice words to underperforming chefs, something about the British version of Hell’s Kitchen always felt a little uncomfortable.
Sure, it’s fun to see Ramsay taking Matt Goss to task for turning a lamb shank into Pompeii, but everyone involved appears sanguine – after all, it’s only reality TV, and British reality TV to be specific.
Hell’s Kitchen USA, however, truly feels like life and death. And with Gordon Ramsay on the rampage with a skillet, it very well could be.
Worse – DC Follies (Spitting Image)
Satire is sometimes said to be one of Britain’s greatest exports. In the case of DC Follies, however, the cargo ship clearly sank somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic.
Populated by puppets, DC Follies was based on the long-running UK sketch show Spitting Image, which had become so popular that its depiction of Michael Foot as Worzel Gummidge is thought to have cost him his career.
DC Follies transplants the puppets into a bar, staffed by human actor Fred Willard (of This Is Spinal Tap fame) and with its patrons permanently aggrieved by the news of the day.
With puppets including Ronald Reagan, Michael Dukakis and Madonna, the show attempted to recreate the biting satire of Spitting Image, but came across a little toothless.
For one thing, the former presidents and vice-presidents had a special ‘Presidents’ Table’ in the bar. They’re puppets! If you’re trying to mock them, don’t give them their own furniture.
Better – Secret Millionaire
Secret Millionaire is a remake of the British TV show The Secret Millionaire. But don’t let the absence of that extra ‘The’ fool you – the American version far outstrips its more reserved UK counterpart.
Both shows share the same premise: a millionaire goes undercover in a poverty-ridden situation, sometimes in the lower rungs of their own company, and witnesses the struggles of the less well-off. In the end, they donate money to those workers they deem worthy.
While the revelation of the millionaire’s identity and subsequent payouts are always uplifting, there’s no doubt that it’s a depressing concept. Most of the show consists of the millionaire, mouth agape, wondering how non-millionaires can even survive.
What makes the US version better, then, is the unfailingly enterprising spirit that the non-millionaires often have. Against all odds, they’re working to deliver pizzas and raise their children even as the millionaire flaunts their wealth on a yacht.
On the British version, everything’s a little too bleak and pessimistic – even the donations feel like petty change considering the trouble the non-millionaires are often in.
Worse – Oh No Not THEM! (The Young Ones)
If this was a list of Greatest Sitcom Titles, you could bet your bottom dollar that Oh No Not Them! would be a standout entry. Unfortunately, the quality of the show itself leaves a lot to be desired.
An Americanised remake of the surreal British sitcom The Young Ones, Oh No Not THEM! had a pilot but was never commissioned for a full series – which, if you know anything about the iconoclastic The Young Ones, isn’t exactly surprising.
The British show starred Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson as left-wing punks and radicals living in student digs. For Oh No Not THEM!, only supporting actor Nigel Planer returned.
The unsuccessful pilot of Oh No Not THEM! was the first bump in the road for writer-director David Mirkin, who would later find success as showrunner for seasons 5 and 6 of The Simpsons.
In keeping with the comedic tastes that drew him to The Young Ones, Mirkin’s time on The Simpsons tilted the show in a more surreal direction, with episodes like Deep Space Homer, wherein the Simpson patriarch is hired by NASA, happening under his watch.
Better – Being Human
Being Human takes the reliable ‘odd couple’ formula of sitcoms and intensifies it: a werewolf, a vampire and a ghost live together in Bristol, and struggle to keep their flatsharing on an even keel while keeping their true identities hidden.
The British series, starring the hugely underrated Russell Tovey, is excellent, and melds relationship drama with the grand inconvenience of being supernatural monsters in South West England.
However, it’s the American remake that – perhaps controversially – comes out ahead. Leaning more into horror, the stakes (see what we did there?) feel much higher, and the awkwardness of the British version is gone.
Part of what makes the US version of Being Human better is its pacing: the first series of the British show consists of only six episodes, whereas across the pond it ran for a full 13. This leaves room for a more complex and intriguing plot.
At San Diego Comic Con in 2011, the actors of the US version of Being Human revealed that they had all vowed not to watch any episodes of the British original, which was a season ahead at the time, in order to keep their programme distinct – and it is.