The Black Box: “Coupling U.S.”

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 look a a show that translates worse than Google does.

Some of you more versed in British television might be thinking “Coupling was a pretty good show, why are you talking about it?” Well, pay attention to those two little letters appended to the end of that title. Yep, this is another fine example of an export failing to measure up to the original.

“Coupling US” premiered on September 25th, 2003 on NBC. The series was a remake of the BBC2 series “Coupling”. Four episodes of the produced thirteen were aired before the show was canceled. The UK series was created by a name which will be shockingly familiar to some of you, who also wrote (technically) the US version as well. Who, you ask?

Screen Shot 2015-11-22 at 8.04.53 PM


Yeah, two years before the modern incarnation of Doctor Who even began, Moffat’s work was already airing in America. And, while theses scripts may have worked with their original casts and direction… They kinda didn’t here.

What they did right: Ok, so the scripts are decent enough and the joke writing is solid. Of course, that’s ’cause these are literally just the scripts from the british show. Remember “Days Like These”? This is the same thing in reverse.  It just goes to show, English or American we’re all alike in our shared ability to fuck up good tv by adapting it poorly.

What they did wrong: The casting. I’m not saying the cast is bad, because they aren’t, but they aren’t suited to british comedy. As someone who loves the comedic entertainment provided by both sides of the pond, there are distinct differences. American sitcoms are about likable characters who are usually there underdogs. British sitcoms are about shitty assholes who for some reason are just inherently charming. British sitcoms are home to some of my favorite characters of all time, but if you met Bernard Black from Black Books or Mark Corrigan from Peep Show in real life, you’d probably hate them. And god forbid you meet someone like SuperHans.

But as such, all the parts in Coupling US are written as charming assholes, but the cast are playing them like charming American sitcom characters with no acknowledgement of the assholish things they are saying or doing. And that kinda makes them worse. At least someone like Roy from The IT Crowd KNOWS he’s kind of a jackass. These poor bastards have no idea.

Which poor bastards, you ask? Well, let’s start with…

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Sorry about the weird subtitles, it was the best I could do.

This is Steve, our male lead I think. His main plotline in the episode is his inability to break up with his girlfriend and not, as that screenshot would suggest, his slow transformation into a nutcracker.

How is he an asshole?: He plans a date with another girl before he breaks up with his current one. Also, he is a literal lumbering man ox who goes week in the knees at the mere mention of sex. Admittedly, that’s an accurate depiction of a lot of people I know, but whatever.

Screen Shot 2015-11-22 at 8.01.38 PM                                                                                                  I’m, like, not even sure what language these are in.

This is Susan, that girl Steve was trying to leave his girlfriend for. She’s like, fine, I guess. She doesn’t really have an arc or a character to speak of. She does flash the entire rest of the cast for actually no reason, though. At the end of the episode Jeff (who we’ll get to) basically states that he will leave the restaurant where the whole cast winds up if Susan shows him one of her breasts. After all the rest of the cast gather round like arctic explorers around the last licks of life-saving flame, She takes off half of her top (not sure how that works either). Then, she changes her mind and says everyone can stay.

Why is she an asshole?: She isn’t. She’s kinda fuckin’ crazy, but she ain’t an asshole so good for her!.

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I don’t think it’s German, but definitely something in that general region.

Meet Sally, Susan’s best friend. She barely exists in this episode. I think she might show up a grand total of twice. And one of those times she’s being an asshole.

Why is she an asshole?: She starts dating Susan’s ex-boyfriend less than twenty four hours after she breaks up with him. Typically you at least let a rebound bounce off the backboard before you snatch it up, Jesus.

Screen Shot 2015-11-22 at 8.02.20 PMOk, I’m SURE that caption definitely says SOMETHING about sex. Not sure what, though.

Jeff is Steve’s best friend. He is also your typical “guy who’s weird about sex” character. He has no real experience with women and lies about the experiences he does have to seem like a fucking asshole cool.

Why is he an asshole?: Aside from that whole weird “if you show me one of your boobs I will leave” thing he pulled, he also executes another dick move. He lies to Steve and says that he “totally would’ve” slept with Susan if she hadn’t had a panic attack when it was actually he who had the panic attack. Classy.

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Ten bucks says it’s a language from a country that used to be part of the USSR.

Jane is Steve’s ex-girlfriend who he is unable to break up with. Mostly because she won’t let him. Throughout this first episode, she manipulates Steve multiple times and takes advantage of his stupidity and weakness.

Why is she an asshole?: I’m sorry, did you miss the part where I talked about her weird sexual manipulation? It’s creepy and more than a little uncomfortable-making. Christ, she’s like The Purple Man with boobs.

Screen Shot 2015-11-22 at 9.35.38 PM

It’s Swedish. I looked it up and it’s Swedish. Looks like I lose ten bucks.

And finally, meet Patrick, Susan’s ex-boyfriend. He has very little to do in this episode at all, and most of it is be weird. He’s also kind of a dick.

How is he an asshole?: Well, first of all he practically jumps on top of Susan’s best friend the second she dumps him, so that’s a dick move. An secondly, He put-and-out tells Susan which one of her breasts is better which seems like a no-no.

Welp, there we go. Another show in the can. And now, like any great hero, I must return to my perch looking out for more shit television to review the hell out of. I’ll talk to ya next week, and until then, remember: no matter how big of an asshole you are, you aren’t a bigger asshole than any single character on Coupling US.


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