Television pilots are tough to make. It’s hard to introduce the concept and entire cast of characters of a show in one episode and still have that episode hold up on it’s own. But just because something’s hard doesn’t make it any more excusable when you fail spectacularly at doing it. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to The Black Box, where we check out pilots that crashed and burned to see exactly what went wrong.
This week, we ask the question, what would happen if “That 70’s Show” was british for some-fuckin’-reason.
Oh, look, it’s all those familiar faces we totally remember.
Before we talk about anything, let’s talk about “The Office”. As most all of you should know , “The Office” was a long running American comedy based on a beloved British comedy of the same name. The American version used similar characters and names, but it expanded to become its own show, seperating itself from the original as it did. What you may not know, is that this process of re-making British shows in America and vice versa is actually a common one. Today, we’re looking at one of those re-make attempts that failed spectacularly. Ladies and gentlemen, “Days Like These”, or as you might know it better, “British ‘That 70s Show'”. Enjoy!
And no, I DON’T know what the fuck that weird blob is supposed to be.
“Days Like These” premiered on February 12th, 1999 on British channel ITV. The series had 13 produced episodes, of which only ten ever aired. After the show’s cancelation, ITV began syndicating “That 70’s Show” itself, presumably as an apology. The show follows teenager(?) Eric Foreman and his friends as they come of age in Luton, England in the 1970s. Why am I explaining this to you? it’s just “That 70s Show”! You’ve most likely seen “That 70s Show” so you’ve most likely seen this.
What they did right: The actors they picked to play the Ashton Kutcher and Danny Masterson roles are both pretty good, even if they aren’t as memorable as the original actors.
What they did wrong: Ok, when I said this is LITERALLY just British “That 70s Show” I don’t just mean that it’s about similar characters or that it’s shot similarly, no. It’s the same exact script!
There are some small changes, sure, mostly to character names and pop culture references, but the jokes are the same, the lines are the same, hell, even the blocking is the same. All together, it creates this weird feeling of everything being just familiar enough to be recognizable but just different enough to throw you right the fuck off. It’s like going to DIsneyworld for the first time if you’ve only ever been to Disneyland. You think you know where you’re going and you take that shortcut through Fantasyland to get to Tomorrowland but all of a sudden you can’t find “Star Tours” because it’s in a completely different park for some stupid goddamn reason.
Sorry. Anyhoo, the characters are mostly the same. Unfortunately, they all seem WAY too old for these roles.
Pictured: a teenager, apparently.
Eric lacks the dorky nervousness that Topher Grace brought to the part, and therefore gives up most of his charm and likability. Donna isn’t nearly as memorable, and her and Eric’s sexual tension doesn’t play in this version, mostly because the actors lack chemistry. The actor playing Ron (Red) Foreman does his best and sells a couple of the jokes, but he can’t possibly compare to Kurtwood Smith. Also, this show trades the nationality ambiguous Fez for the clearly-from-the-eastern-bloc foreign exchange student Torbjorn. Torbjorn is extremely annoying and none of his lines work, either in context or on their own. I hate him very very much. Also, he has the same last name I do, so it’s good to know that the shows I review are openly fucking with me at this point.
The plot is just the plot of the pilot episode of “That 70’s Show”. The gang wants to go to a concert, Eric gets a car, they go to the concert. The plot is good, but that’s because this show literally copy-pasted it from a better show! But here’s the problem, you can’t just copy-paste a show like this. “That 70’s Show” is not just a show about the 1970’s, it’s a show about the AMERICAN 1970’s. The American 1970’s and the British 1970’s were very different. The American 70’s were marked by Jimmy Carter and disco. The British 70’s were about economic turmoil and Margaret Thatcher. Transplanting the show from one country to another really doesn’t work in this case, for much the same reason that a man in 1940’s Sweden might have a different experience from a man in 1940’s Poland. NOT EVERYWHERE WAS HAS THE SAME HISTORY AND CULTURAL CONTEXT. You can’t just find/replace “America” with “England” and pretend like it’s the same thing.
The show also eliminates many of the interesting direction decisions for the “That 70’s Show” pilot. Most notably, the POV sequence of Eric navigating Kitty and Red’s party is presented without the POV angles that made it interesting! The first of the iconic “sitting around the table” scenes is darkened up and pumped full of smoke, diminishing the subtlety of the original joke.
I mean, if you squint really hard, it kinda looks like you’re watching “That 70’s Show”
To be honest, I’m finding it really goddamn hard to think of things to say about this. It might be kind of neat to watch if you’re a HUGE “That 70’s Show” fan, but for anyone else, it won’t even be marginally entertaining. Speaking as someone who likes the original show, but hasn’t invested too much time in watching it, This remake was like watching paint dry. I got nothing out of it, and I feel like I wasted a bunch of time. Hell, watching paint dry would probably be more interesting, because if you do it in an unventilated room, there’s a chance you’ll lose consciousness. This show has no charm of its own, it destroys what it steals from, I want to never watch an episode again, and I don’t like it. Ok, that’s a thousand words, I can be done now.
Next week, I really need to start picking what I review better, we’ve had two duds in a row. See ya then!!