Friday, January 4, 2008


One thing from my first trip to Australia keeps haunting me.  And that's how caught up with the rest of the world Australians seemed to be, compared to, say, us.  I mean, when you're waiting in line at a restaurant, everyone was reading the newspaper.  For actual news, too, not just to celebrity goings-on.  Most Australians I came across knew a hell of a lot more about what was going on in America than most Americans I've come across know about Australia, and I got the distinct impression that they'd kick our butts on a head-to-head challenge about worldwide current events.

And this isn't really going to be a post bemoaning the general ignorance of Americans about the rest of the planet -- although that's clearly my hook.  I think what disturbed me the most wasn't so much our ignorance, but the fact that I don't think we're even aware of how ignorant we are.  I think that, at some point along the line, we bought into the whole "only remaining superpower" rhetoric and somehow thought this meant that everyone will look to us, and we don't really have to waste our time looking at them. 

And this rather depressing point about the relationship of Americans to the rest of the planet was brought to mind the other day by some rather stunning news about the show I've been watching on those British DVDs I recently acquired.

The show in question is a British show called Life on Mars.  It ran two seasons -- only 16 episodes -- but from what I can gather was quite successful.  (In Britain, they actually plan shows to run for a limited amount of time, rather than just assuming every successful show will continue indefinitely.  Man, imagine how good Twin Peaks would've been if they'd planned the damn thing to go only 16 episodes.  I digress.)  Here's what you need to know about Life on Mars -- it's a cop show.  (OK, I lie.  It's a cop show where a cop is minding his own business, gets hit by a car, and wakes up in 1973.  So you've got your modern day cop trying to get along in the world of Starsky & Hutch.  And then there's also added elements of how the hell did he end up in 1973, is he dreaming the whole thing, how's he going to get back, and so forth.)  ANYWAY, Life on Mars -- really excellent stuff. 

Someday, you will hear about Life on Mars, as it's apparently being worked on as a mid-season replacement by ABC -- although, like all TV things this season, that's rather up in the air.  But producer David E. Kelley (no slouch) has gone and got the rights to do an American version of the show. 

Ever since I discovered the original Life on Mars on BBC America, I've been trying to keep up with news about the American version, because, y'know, it'd be awfully nice if it was good.  But there's one piece of casting news that I read that I just can't get over.

Kelley attempted to hire the two stars of the British version to star in the American version.  With American accents.

Let's ponder this for a moment.  You've got a perfectly good British show.  You can:  (a) just air the damn thing on American television; or (b) ask the very same actors to do it all over again, except with scripts set in Los Angeles rather than Manchester, and could they use American accents please.

It boggles the mind.

OK, look, I understand that Mancunian (really -- that's the word) accents are not the easiest on earth to get attuned to.  And I know that Americans, as a rule, aren't entirely up on their rhyming slang.  But Kelley would rather remake the show in easier-to-understand American form, because he doesn't trust Americans to take the plunge to try to understand a British accent.  We're not talking about translating from a foreign language, here.  We're talking about English into English.  And Kelley thinks that Americans won't watch something that's not in American English, with American slang and idioms, and good old American accents.

And what kills me about the whole thing is that he's right.  We expect the rest of the planet to understand the programs we put out -- (can you imagine the BBC telling ABC, "Gee, we like Lost, but can we reshoot it with all the actors doing British accents?") -- but we wouldn't imagine that relationship working in the other direction.  There's a teensy bit of effort involved in understanding a new accent (about 30 minutes with the closed captioning on usually does it for me), and the Great American Viewing Public would rather wait around for someone to remake the show in easy to understand American accents than to go that effort and watch the original.

The original actors, John Simm and Philip Glenister,turned down the roles in the American remake.  The roles will instead be played by Jason O'Mara and Colm Meaney.  Both of whom are Irish.  And will be using American accents.

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