16 foreign-language TV remakes: the hits and flops
The German IT Crowd, Colombian Breaking Bad, Indian 24… which foreign-language remakes of UK and US shows worked and which didn’t?
We English speakers are a cosseted bunch. TV executives treat us like fat kings, serving up platter upon platter of imported delicacies with all the annoying not-in-English bones filleted out.
If we don’t want to plod our way through subtitles, we rarely have to. Wait long enough and an English-language version of that great Israeli espionage thriller (Homeland), Danish/Swedish crime series (The Bridge), Colombian telenovela (Ugly Betty) or French zombie drama (The Returned) will come our way.
It is, of course, a two-way street. While production companies in the UK and US are busily anglicising foreign hits, those abroad are doing exactly the same in reverse – with increasing frequency as the trend for scripted drama international remakes grows. It’s not just Golden Girls and Everybody Loves Raymond-style hit mainstream sitcoms getting the treatment either, but dramas and niche comedy.
Below, we look at a selection of English-language originals remade for markets abroad, sorting the one-season-cancellation flops from the multi-season hits…
Das iTeam: Die Jungs An Der Maus (Germany)
Based on: The IT Crowd (UK)
Just two episodes of Das iTeam – Die Jungs An Der Maus (The Guys On The Mouse – thanks Google Translate) were aired in early 2008, both scene-for-scene copies of the first two UK episodes. Brötchen vom Vortag or Bread From The Day Before (or Yesterday’s Jam, to give it its English title) and Stressige Zeiten or Stressful Times (presumably Calamity Jen) featured the high jinks adventures of IT workers Sandy, Tom and Gabriel (Jen, Roy and Moss) in Bornholm Industries. Needless to say, it didn’t catch on.
Hit or flop? Very much a flop.
Based on: Misfits (UK)
The creators of low-budget Italian webseries, Freaks!, cite Howard Overman’s Misfits only as an “inspiration” for its story of a group of young people who mysteriously gain a range of superpowers after collectively blacking out, but let’s just say the inspiration was heavy. Initially at least. The award-winning show quickly went in its own direction and ended up by no means a direct copy of the E4 romp. If memory serves, Misfits didn’t feature a character who could travel through time when he was sexually aroused, nor anyone drinking human blood…
Hit or flop? Freaks!‘ last episode streamed over two years ago, but while it may not still be a going concern, it certainly can’t be called a flop. Series one did well enough to lead to a budget boost for series two, a tie-in book and album. That’s getting on for a hit, we say.
La Chica De Ayer (Spain)
Based on: Life On Mars (UK)
Meet Quin Gallardo and Samuel Santos, Gene Hunt and Sam Tyler’s Spanish alteregos. Eight episodes of La Chica De Ayer (The Girl From Yesterday), a Spanish remake of the BBC’s Life On Mars aired in 2009. As you can see from the clip, production values weren’t bad, and despite only running for one series, the remake appears to have been met with a largely positive reception. It won a ‘Zapping’ award for Best Series in 2009.
Hit or flop? It ran for just one season, so not properly a hit, but it seems well-regarded.
как я встретил вашу маму (Russia)
Based on: How I Met Your Mother (US)
Fox licensed this remake to Russian company CTC in April 2010 and it looks as though it ran for two twenty-episode seasons, telling the story of architect Dima, his two soon-to-be married pals Pasha and Lucy, and their bachelor friend Yura. What we could understand of the online reviews, thanks to a certain translation service, was not kind.
Hit or flop? The show didn’t have the sticking power of its source material.
Celblok H (Netherlands)
Based on: Wentworth (Australia)
Just to get the lineage straight, Celblok H is the Dutch version of Australian series, Wentworth, which itself is a modern remake of original Aussie series, Prisoner, known on these shores as Prisoner: Cell Block H, and inspired by a UK original series, Within These Walls. Phew.
By all accounts, it’s very good. Wentworth is a hit in Australia, and its Dutch counterpart is similarly popular in the Netherlands.
Hit or flop? Hit. It’s aired two successful seasons and a third is in the pipeline.
Haft Sang Read (Iran)
Based on: Modern Family (US)
Unlike the Greek and Chilean versions of Modern Family, Iranian remake Haft Sang (Seven Stones) is not officially licensed from Fox. That said, there are so many differences between it and the US original (Cam and Mitch are now a straight couple, Hayley is now a guy…) that butchered plots aside, you have to ask if it really counts as a remake?
Hit or flop? While the jury appears to still be technically out on the future of this unlicensed copy, we can’t imagine 20th Century Fox will let it continue.
Based on: Breaking Bad (US)
A very faithful recreation of each episode of Vince Gilligan’s lauded AMC drama, Metastasis reportedly had much higher than average production values for Colombian drama (no mean feat when you see how quickly they turned around over sixty episodes) and as far as we can tell, seems to have a pretty good online reputation among Hispanic TV audiences.
We can’t think of a more fun language-learning aid, either. What better way for a Breaking Bad fan to learn Spanish?
Hit or flop? As a shot-for-shot remake, all 62 episodes were made. Judging by longevity alone, that’s a hit.
The Theorists (Belarus)
Based on: The Big Bang Theory (US)
The story goes that the cast quit this poor-quality The Big Bang Theory remake when they found out it was unlicensed, thus ending the series. We can’t imagine many tears were shed over this one.
Hit or flop? This unlicensed and short-lived imitation was an unmitigated flop.
Based on: Prison Break (US)
Pobeg (or Escape) aired on Russia’s Channel One in 2010, after an official deal with Twentieth Century Fox. From what we’ve seen, it looks as though things stayed fairly faithful to the ‘one innocent brother on death row/other brother hatches insane plan to break him out’ premise.
Hit or flop? Only one twenty-two episode season aired and while there were online rumors of a second in the pipeline, hit-status doesn’t look hopeful.
My Youth High Eight Degrees (China)
Based on: Glee (US)
If you ever thought Glee needed less nuance, broader comedy and even older kids, then this Chinese knock-off from last summer might be for you. Set at university rather than high school, My Youth High Eight Degrees (how’s that for a ‘something lost in translation’ title?) appears to have counterparts for most of the original Glee gang. There are cheerleaders, basketball players, romantic rivalries, bullies throwing kids in bins, a Sue Sylvester, a Mr Shue, and a girl with dreads (possible Sooz from As If crossover?).
The songs are pretty catchy though, we’ll give it that. Watch “Sue” do her angry dance complete with fire bursts from about 21:20.
Hit or flop? Too recent to tell.
Based on: Coupling (UK)
Steven Moffat’s sex comedy series Coupling didn’t only have a US remake, but a 10-episode Greek one too in 2007-8. Steve, Patrick, Jeff, Jane, Susan, and Sally, became Stefanos, Paris, Markos, Tina, Annie and Jenny. Low-ratings meant that it didn’t achieve the four-series success of its UK source material.
Hit or flop? A one-series flop.
Based on: Cheers (US)
Not just a foreign remake of a US classic, but a modern update of an 80s/90s classic too, 2011’s Spanish Cheers had too much pressure on its shoulders to succeed. 4 of its total 13 episodes remain unaired.
Hit or flop? Cancelled after one series: el flop.
Based on: The Office (UK)
Of the many foreign-language remakes of The Office, (French, Swedish, Quebecois – so er, French again – Chilean, Israeli…), German series Stromberg has proved to have the most staying power. According to this fun world tour of the various versions, Stromberg wasn’t a licensed remake until the BBC threatened to sue, after which point it acknowledged its origins and set about turning into something hugely popular in its own right, cementing the fame of star Christoph Maria Herbst.
Hit or flop? A hit, a palpable hit. 5 seasons and a movie, this one.
Paris: Enquêtes Criminelles (France)
Based on: Law & Order: Criminal Intent
The tendrils of the Law & Order franchise spread wide, as this three-season French remake of Criminal Intent, about two investigators – one logical, the other intuitive, shows.
Hit or flop? It went for three seasons, so ceci n’est pas un flop.
это всегда солнечно в Москве (Russia)
Based on: It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia (US)
The official deal was signed for this licensed Russian remake of FX’s It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia where most of the above-the-table remake deals happen: at Cannes’ world entertainment market, MIPCOM. As far as we’re able to tell, the episodes are pretty faithful scene-by-scene remakes of its source show, with one or two updates to suit the Russian milieu.
Hit or flop? The first season started in May 2014, so there could be room for more?
Based on: 24 (US)
After an extensive fight and a hefty price tag, movie star (and original season eight 24 star for that matter) and producer Anil Kapoor finally obtained the official remake rights for Fox’s 24 in November 2011. Two years later, season one of the Hindi version of the hit show, in which Kapoor plays Jack Bauer counterpart, Jai Singh Rathod, aired in India. Set in a Mumbai version of the ATU, 24: India has been praised for its ambition, high budget and casting.
Hit or flop? A hit. Season two is already reported to be on its way.