Monday, May 02, 2005

Flowery Twats

We've gotten to talking about Fawlty Towers, English and American comedy over at Norm Breyfogle's forum, and someone asked about the short run series shown on American TV that were 'adapted' from Fawlty. Here's my response...

You've never seen Amanda's then? Tonight, when you go to bed, pray to whatever God you have and thank him for bestowing such love and devotion upon you.

The premise is that some cretin at ABC thought that Fawlty Towers could be vastly improved if it was re-made with Americans - probably the same idiot who thought Robin's Nest would be better with John Ritter. Anyway, they took the FT scripts and rather than leaving enough alone they again 'improved' them. Basil Fawlty became Amanda Cartwright and as such John Cleese became Bea Arthur. They also introduced some new characters, including a banker who kept trying to foreclose on the property, thus making Bea look kinda sympathetic - I'd say that was mistake number one, but the truth is it was just another in a long line. Part of the charm of FT was that Basil was utterly unsympathetic - he was a bastard, pure and simple, who had a cow for a wife. Great stuff. Amanda's lasted a whopping eight episodes, and if you can remember a line from one of them I'll hunt you down and kill you.

It didn't stop there. After Amanda's died the death it deserved another flaming idiot, this time at CBS, wanted to throw some more money away (beats me why they can't just donate to a children's charity) and 'created' Payne. Payne starred John Larroquette - you remember him from Night Court, where he wasn't that bad. But Payne, well rarely has a show been so aptly named. Larroquette played Royle Payne - and I won't begin to tell you what's wrong with that - and for a second it might have worked. Unlike Amanda's, Payne copied the FT plan to a 'T'. Same hotel location, same floorplan even. However there were a few things they couldn't copy - Fawlty Towers, John Cleese, Connie Booth, Andrew Sachs, Prunella Scales - the list does have an end, but those four actors did more in the few episodes of Fawlty than anyone connected to the USA shows have done in their entire lives.

Basil was a tyrant, that much is for sure. But to portray him as a completely obnoxious, rude character is just wrong - we laugh with Basil, and at what he does and says, and you can't laugh at someone being obnoxious for the sheer hell of it. Still there's a lot in the original Fawlty Towers that you'd never be able to get away with today - Miss Tibbs and Miss Gatsby, Manuel - Terry was relatively normal, when he wasn't stoned. Major Gowen is a classic example. You'd never be able to replicate his discussion about West Indian cricketers being niggers and the Indians being wogs without someone screaming. Still the Major was never better when he wore a loud tie to a funeral with the explaination that he 'didn't like the chap'. And let's not start on Mrs. Richards...

Plus how could you not laugh at the sight of a man giving his car a bloody good thrashing?

"Well, might I ask what you expected to see out of a Torquay hotel bedroom window? Sydney Opera House, perhaps? The hanging gardens of Babylon? Herds of wildebeest sweeping majestically..."

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