How BBC’s sitcom season showed the past should stay in the past

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The BBC is responsible for some of the best sitcoms on TV. To celebrate that fact they have tried bringing some of them back, updating them or straight-remaking them in an attempt to rekindle some of that magic (or even reboot and restart with a new series). The problem is, they weren’t that good.

They were put together very well. They were well-cast, well-acted and managed to bring some of the magic of the classic series. Unfortunately, some of that doesn’t translate well to modern comedy. Are you being served? was a mess of double entendre and outdated jokes, Porridge felt like a poor imitation of the Ronnie Barker starring classic and Goodnight Sweetheart was a good idea but delivered in a very gentle and archaic way.

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Trying to bring Goodnight Sweetheart back didn’t work

This shouldn’t have been a surprise though. For years, Hollywood and the major TV studios have been trying this. People look back fondly on shows and movies from their childhood and to gain easy cash or easy ratings, the studios try to recreate and capture that magic. What becomes quickly apparent is that often those shows are not the great, fondly remembered products that people think they are. Nostalgia hides flaws very easily and those flaws come back quickly when the shows return to the screen. This means shows like Ironside, The Bionic Woman and The Tomorrow People were almost destined to fail before they start.

The second issue is when old TV shows become movies. There are even more examples of how badly this can go. You need to take what made an amazing series and condense it down to two hours. You usually have to recast, meaning either completely change the way the character is or have an actor do a poor impression. In the worst cases you change the tone of the show completely. People were desperate for an A-Team movie but it didn’t translate, neither did Starsky and Hutch, Miami Vice or The Equalizer.

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The Carrie Diaries felt doomed to fail

The BBC went for another tried and tested technique – the prequel. Keeping Up Appearances was a decent sitcom and managed to keep people entertained well into the 90s however what it didn’t necessarily need is a prequel about Young Hyacinth. Prequels are troublesome anyway but forcing a prequel is the worst type of rebooting or remaking. This is why the Carrie Diaries (Sex and the City) or Rock and Chips (Only Fools and Horses) felt doomed to fail as well.

You can’t blame the BBC for trying though. There are examples of when bringing a show back works and works well. Battlestar Galactica, Fear the Walking Dead, 21 Jump Street, The Fugitive or Mission:Impossible are all examples of shows which have been rebooted, remade or transferred to the big screen successfully. What you don’t find in that list are sitcoms though.

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Of course, some examples work well

Maybe sitcoms are the poison chalice. Many are so ingrained in their time-period that outside of the nostalgia of watching an original repeat, they don’t translate to modern-day. The comedies which are timeless, such as The Office or Friends, wouldn’t work because you couldn’t capture that magic with a new cast or a new setting.

Overall, the BBC tried something commendable but it didn’t work. There are some great sitcoms and the BBC are responsible for a lot of them but that doesn’t mean that they should be remade, rebooted or have a prequel thrust upon them. History, as always, shows us that it doesn’t work as much as studios and TV companies may think. Not that facts like that will ever stop them.

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It was a nice try…



3 thoughts on “How BBC’s sitcom season showed the past should stay in the past

  1. My knowledge of BBC sitcoms is limited to old “Monty Python” TV show and the more recent (and awesome) “The I.T crowd”. I need to somehow get updated with more these british comedies.

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