Honoring the transatlantic cultural cringe in 2006.
Those transgressive scallywag zeitgeist-monkeys at T-shirthell.com have released their New Year collection. Among the expected politically incorrect shirts ("Arrest white babies before they become child-molesting, serial-killing, whale-watching, corporate thugs") is a curiosity: a shirt that reads, "The British version of this shirt is much better."
This is almost certainly a sly dig at all those smug limey-hugging humbugs who never tire of telling their less cultured brethren how poorly the U.S. version of The Office compares to the British original. The traitorous filth.
This transatlantic cultural cringe actually cuts both ways. For decades Friends, Frasier, Cheers and Seinfeld were held up as the comedy gold standard to which no Brit could possibly aspire. Meanwhile, an endless stream of dire suburban family shitcoms (with hilariously inappropriate laugh tracks) were seen as proof that U.K. comedy was as dead as the British empire.
The Office changed all that, with a little help from Black Books, Spaced, Bottom, Blackadder, Ab Fab, Coupling, Green Wing, Brilliant and Little Britain. Which forces one to ask: Why doesn't BBC America show these on an endless loop? And relegate their hideous plague of makeover progs to another channel, perhaps called BBC Shite?
I write this while recovering from a savage weekend of Britcom DVD viewing-and lord, am I bummed. This stuff's so bleak! Remember how NBC tried to save Joey by making him a successful movie star? That'd never work in Britcomland. There the unspoken rule is: the grimmer the better.
There's the hideously faux pas-infested Extras, for example, which had me and the wife hiding behind the sofa in horror.
There's Monkey Dust, an animated sketch show about disease, suicide, murder, privatization and pedophilia.
And there's Nighty Night, in which a hairdresser fakes her husband's death from cancer so she can shag the spouse of the MS-stricken woman next door. The scene in which our heroine picks up dog turds from the kitchen floor and then prepares a shrimp salad is possibly the most disgusting thing ever shown on TV.
But it's not all doom, gloom, urine-reeking elevators and dog shit out there in Britcomland. As part of PW 's ongoing Smiles Across the Atlantic campaign, I'd like to direct your attention to www.guardian.co.uk/rickygervais. Here you can download half-hour podcasts of the aforementioned Gervais and fellow Office creator Steven Merchant talking absolute bollocks about, among other things, the morality of midgets fighting lions.
And then there's BBC America's surreal The Mighty Boosh, in which the King of the Mods works in a zoo run by ruthless American entrepreneur Bob Fossil. It's not only utterly unbleak, it's actually rather charming. And it features lots of great monkey dancing.
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