October 16 , 2003  
Volume 97, Issue 26  

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The Brits just do Coupling better

Mark Polishuk

Opinions Editor

Imagine watching Friends with different actors. It just wouldn't feel right hearing anyone besides David Schwimmer yell about being on a break.

This is the approximate reaction of any fan of the original BBC Coupling series watching the American version on NBC. The British show is a hilarious combo of Sex and the City and Friends, combined with a Seinfeldian ability to introduce new slang into the lexicon (i.e. the Tripod, the nickname given to a guy with a "third leg," hint hint).

No doubt some NBC executive caught an episode while over in London chowing down on bangers 'n mash and thought "Good God, bangers 'n mash tastes like garbage!" And then they thought "Hey, this show has six attractive people having sex and being funny! I smell ratings!" This is one of the legacies of All in the Family, a British adaptation that became a classic in the United States. It proved such an adaptation could be done and thus TV viewers have suffered through 30 years of cross-Atlantic crap. You might remember the short-lived Fawlty Towers remake starring John Larroquette. Getting Larroquette in place of John Cleese sure as hell ain't an upgrade.

The exceptions to this rule are naturally malleable programs like Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and the improv show Whose Line Is It Anyway?. With a scripted show, however, the unique British combination of witty humour and slapstick farce, all delivered with usually impeccable timing, is too tough to duplicate.

The American Coupling is further handicapped by the differences between NBC and the BBC. British shows are 30 minutes uninterrupted and thus nearly a third of the script has to be cut to make room for commercials. The scripts are otherwise the same as the BBC show, except with American references (George W. Bush instead of Tony Blair) and some of the racier bits edited out. The end result is a show so watered down one wonders why NBC bothered to buy the rights in the first place.

In fairness to the American Coupling, it's still much better than some of the other dreck NBC has debuted on Thursday nights (Suddenly Susan). But if you want a real taste of the Coupling phenomenon, rent the DVDs of the British program. It's bloody good fun.



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