March 21, 2005

Recycling is garbage

By: Kelly Jane Torrance

I’ve always been told that art and politics don’t mix. But I’m starting to question this conventional wisdom. Sometimes politics could use more beauty and subtlety. And sometimes art could use more regulation.

Take the California Electronic Waste Recycling Act of 2003, for instance. “The Electronic Waste Recycling Fee is imposed on the consumer and collected by the retailer, at the time of the retail sale or lease of certain new or refurbished televisions, computer monitors, laptop computers, and other devices,” reads the website of the perhaps aptly named State Board of Equalization. The fees went into effect this year.

Now I’m not normally a cheerleader for taxes. Or California. But I think the Golden State is on to something here. I propose we collect a recycling fee, not just for televisions, but also for what’s on them. Because if consumers of television programs and films had to pay a recycling fee, we might not be subject to the dearth of creativity we’re witnessing in Hollywood right now.

It seems America has run out of writers. What else explains our need to remake British TV shows and movies? This Thursday sees NBC’s premiere of The Office, a new series based on the British hit comedy of the same name. Steve Carell of The Daily Show takes the place of Ricky Gervais as the hilariously smug manager barely hanging on to his job. The network really didn’t need writers for its pilot episode–apparently, it will be word for word the same as the original.

Which makes me wonder why executives think we need another Office. This isn’t even one of those British cult classics that only a small number of Americans have seen, like Red Dwarf (which was also remade). Everyone I know who buys DVDs owns at least the first season of The Office. Its biting humor, though painful at times to witness, is hard to resist. And BBC America has aired the show for years.

Another popular BBC America program was Coupling, a sort of higher octane (read: more sex) Friends. The universal premise translated well across the pond, as did that of The Office. But the American version, made a couple years ago, was cancelled after just four episodes. The network responsible? NBC again.

It’s not just television that shows us the same thing over and over again. The big screen is becoming just as repetitive. One of the movie trailers in heavy rotation this March Madness is for a sports movie starring Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore, Fever Pitch. I recognized the source material the first time I saw the promo. The film starring Colin Firth as a soccer-obsessed teacher was made in 1997, written by Nick Hornby from his book of the same title. In the new version–which looks terrible–Fallon is a Boston Red Sox fan.

Fever Pitch is directed by the Farrelly Brothers, who are responsible for such films as Kingpin and Shallow Hal. A rather odd choice for a remake of a British picture. But then, I can’t understand this redo, either. The sport of soccer was the soul of the movie, and one cannot just change the city and the game and expect the same picture. It’s like moving Beverly Hills 90210 to rural China.

Perhaps I’m getting worked up over nothing. Remakes of British shows for American audiences are really nothing new, after all. Sanford and Son is one such re-creation. Three’s Company is another–and even its two spinoffs were remakes of British spinoffs. All in the Family was too, and it became even more famous than its original. Like The Office, many of these shows also featured scripts that were very similar to the British versions.

The British, on the other hand, don’t seem to need our ideas. There are very few transfers in the other direction. Concept game shows like Fear Factor are one of the few types of programs redone for a British audience.

But then, one of the great things about so many English television programs is their Englishness. Isn’t that why we fall in love with shows like Are You Being Served?, Fawlty Towers, and Cracker? Hollywood executives seem to think it was the plot we liked in these shows, rather than their spirit.

Those last three TV shows were remade in America, and they were all failures. But Hollywood has never been known to learn from its mistakes. Even in-country remakes like The Manchurian Candidate and The Flight of the Phoenix haven’t been successful. But in 2005, you can look forward to King Kong, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Herbie: Fully Loaded. Who said that time travel was impossible?

Kelly Jane Torrance is arts and culture editor of Brainwash. Her Web site is

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