Can British sitcoms make good movies?

Today sees the release the long-awaited Absolutely Fabulous movie. For many US fans this won’t mean very much but to a lot of British TV viewers from the nineties, this will be music to their ears. Should it be though? Unfortunately for the fans of Ab-Fab, turning sitcoms into movies doesn’t always come with the best success.

It is a strange decision to make. Sitcoms are renowned for taking set characters, placing them in a stable situation and then adding an outside element which offers humour for half an hour. The key is that the status-quo and initial set-up remains the same as the credits roll. Movies are the opposite. They require growth, change and some sort of journey. They don’t necessarily suit one location, a set situation and one-dimensional characters.

Mr Bean didn’t transfer to the big screen successfully

This is where many of the sitcom-movies have failed. The decision becomes to take their well-known characters out of the situation that made them famous and throw them into a bigger, bolder story which they wouldn’t have done on the small screen.

One of the best examples of this is Mr Bean. Rowan Atkinson’s bumbling, slapstick creation is a staple of British TV and beloved by the nation. The film brought took him from his very British environment and placed him firmly in the USA and out of his usual “comfort zone.” Although the movie isn’t terrible, at times it doesn’t feel like Bean and the real insult was the large monologue they had the practically silent character deliver towards the end.

Less said about Mrs Brown’s Boys the better

This is a theme that continues though and the last two years have seen two notable examples of sitcoms that just don’t translate. Mrs Brown’s Boys and Bad Education both tried for the big screen but both failed to bring it to life. Whatever made their original series so clever and popular didn’t translate and both received negative reviews for their reliance on broader, more silly and crude humour.

With anything there is an exception to the rule and that is a sitcom which strayed very little from it’s initial premise and set-up. The Inbetweeners Movie took the four central characters and just followed them on holiday. They didn’t become secret agents, superstar DJs or meet any celebrities. Their situation, status and characters remained the same and it could well have been a normal episode of the show. This worked though and it was successful enough to inspire a second (less successful) movie.

The Inbetweeners movie is an example of how to sitcom-movies well

Absolutely Fabulous needs to follow suit. It needs to be more like an extended episode of the show rather than a large attempt to conquer Hollywood. The two main characters can not be saving the world or leading the country. They need to be the same classic characters from the original series in a recognisable situation.

This isn’t just advice for Ab-Fab either. August sees the release of David Brent: Life on the Road. The star of one Britain’s most successful sitcoms has his own movie which follows the same documentary format but follows Brent on a tour with a band. This is the exact set-up which usually causes many other sitcom-movies to fail, taking the main character too far away from the situation that made them famous. With Ricky Gervais at the helm though, you can’t help but feel this could be another example that bucks the trend.

Overall, it seems if you want to make a successful movie from a British sitcom, you need to stick firmly to the source material. If you try too hard to take the traditional characters and place them in extreme “movie” situations, the original magic is lost. For Absolutely Fabulous to be successful, it needs to feel more like an extended episode than a crazed fans super-dream.

Can the David Brent movie work?

2 thoughts on “Can British sitcoms make good movies?

  1. Interesting. I’m going to see the Ab Fab movie tonight so I’ll let you know what I think. I’m really unsure about whether the Brent movie will work. As an obsessive fan of The Office, and Gervais in general, I know it will be funny. But I know it won’t have that magical ingredient of the sitcom. Gervais’s films often lack what he does so well in his sitcoms (The Office, Extras, Life’s Too Short, Derek) – harsh reality and normality! We can only wait and see.

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