TELEVISION: American treatment

It’s as safe a bet as a night with Adam Hills on the box: the Yanks can’t remake our comedies because they won’t get our humour.

Because we’re pretty funny, right?

Our American cousins surely couldn’t fathom Ja’mie, the casually nasty Sydney private schoolgirl in Summer Heights High.

Nor could they match the cerebral silliness of Shaun Micallef.

And Denton – can you imagine them sitting through Denton?

But when you start to think about it, that bet doesn’t seem so safe. Americans did get Ja’mie. Summer Heights High was a hit on the US cable network HBO.

They do have an answer to Shaun Micallef. Actually, they have more than one – Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert for starters, thought it’s harder to find a Denton equivalent. Awkwardly, not many of us have sat through his latest effort, Randling.

The point is, we get a bit precious about our comedies, and never more so than when they’re unbolted and shipped off for US remakes.

The latest booked in for the American treatment is the ABC’s A Moody Christmas. The US networks, ever on the lookout for the next Modern Family, are swirling.

You can see why. Moody is a funny, warm and bruising look at us and how we make it through Christmas. But more than that, it’s about families and how they can stand each other.

Surely Australians don’t have a mortgage on the unspoken awfulness of Christmas Day.

The Moody rumours follow the news that the show’s ABC stablemate Rake, the dark legal comedy recently renewed for a third domestic season, has been picked up by Sony Pictures for a US version.

I’ve never heard more trepidation from a group of fans. Rake devotees are terrified they’ll ruin it. It’s too nuanced and too Sydney, they say, with some justification.

That city’s legal and political landscape is a lattice of rivalries and long lunches and harbour views. 

Then again, the remake is going to star Greg Kinnear, an Oscar nominee. So why not give it a chance? If the remake bombs, how does that affect the quality of the original?

Some of the worries might stem from recent attempts. The US version of Kath & Kim bombed, for example, and a remake of Packed to the Rafters never made it out of development.

But I think it goes beyond that. I think some of it is unthinking, presumptuous snobbery that Americans aren’t as witty as us, based on ... what? Seinfeld and Arrested Development versus Hey Dad and Hey Hey? Please.

Those still fretting would be well-served to look at the US versions of The Office (a gorgeous, subtle show despite the early doomsayers) and Wilfred, the one about a talking dog adapted from an SBS comedy.

Indeed, with Elijah Wood perfectly cast as the wide-eyed loser whose life is falling apart, the American Wilfred is better than the original.

Which goes to show, we shouldn’t be afraid of the Americans having a crack at our home-grown comedy favourites. Except Housos. They wouldn’t get Housos.

A Moody Christmas airs on ABC1 at 8.30pm on Wednesdays.

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