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Coupling UK vs. US

In 2000, Steven Moffat's cleverly-written comedy Coupling first aired on BBC2. The show had a 4-series run and was extremely well-received. It tested so well, in fact, that American television network NBC attempted a remake of Coupling in 2003. The US version failed spectacularly despite a significant cult following of the British version in the States. At one point, BBC America aired two episodes of Coupling UK every night. The American Coupling used scripts that were nearly word-for-word to its UK counterpart, so why did it fail to capture an audience? A lot of critics blamed the casting choices for the show's failure, saying that the US cast was amateurish by comparison. While the UK version's cast was really a stellar ensemble of talented comedians, the US cast had a lot with which to compete. The scripts may have been the same, but there were still a lot of changes in the overall atmosphere of the show. Underneath odd cases like the different versions of Coupling is that old discussion of the differences between American and British humor. It's the standard snobby argument to call British humor more sophisticated than American humor, but that really isn't the case. Comedy is a reaction to a given culture's idiosyncrasies. By using a British script and attempting to emulate characters that are funny in the context of British culture, Coupling US made itself tone-deaf to American cultural humor. Compare the opening scenes of the first episode of both versions. UK US The UK "Steve" character is believable whereas the US version is not for two reasons. First, the UK scene is directed to follow a classic straightman/goof dynamic. Steve UK isn't exaggerated, he's pretty much a normal guy. The US version is directed to be far more animated, even cartoonish. He's not the straightman, which diminishes the humor of the Jane character's goofiness. Secondly, the UK Steve's predicament is funny because of the common British target of humor: Manners. Brits perceive their culture to be stiff and overly focused on etiquette. So, a comedy about sex and relationships is almost inherently funny in the UK context because it's based on topics that are very personal and make people uncomfortable. American culture is different. We perceive our culture to be a less mannered, more irreverent one. Steve US isn't in a funny situation because an American version of Steve wouldn't sit there trying to make Jane understand that he's dumping her, he would probably just call her crazy and then leave. Certainly, Coupling US was poorly executed, but with the essential cultural issue there's some debate as to whether or not it could have been good with a better cast and more astute direction. What's truly strange is that even the UK Coupling has its inspirational roots in American media. Without a doubt, Coupling UK would not exist without Friends, which itself was just an American comedy about sex and relationships. In fact, Friends was quintessentially American, that's why it was on American television for a decade. Furthermore, Coupling UK had decades' worth of sitcom formats to subvert, formats devised and implemented by American TV shows. Had the writers and producers at NBC taken the influence of Coupling UK to make a clever, structurally unique show with American audiences in mind, perhaps something better than Coupling US would have resulted.