Lost In Translation: Some American TV Shows Don’t Quite Survive The Foreign Exchange

Photo: CW and Wikipedia
Photo: CW and Wikipedia

One of the things that makes the family on Modern Family so gosh darn modern is the inclusion of married gay couple Mitchell and Cameron and their daughter, Lily. That’s what families look like in the 21st century; people have gay family members with families of their own, not to mention divorces, remarriages, step-children and zany Columbian second wives that become breakout stars.

Iran didn’t seem to get that memo when they decided to create Haft Sang, an unlicensed version of the show; Mitch, Cam and Lily’s characters are nowhere to be found. For a side by side comparison of the two shows, check this out:

Foreign versions of your American television favorites are nothing new, but, over the decades, some have landed much further from the original creator’s vision than others. From swapping cops and lawyers for bobbies and barristers on Law & Order UK to the less inflammatory animated antics of Al Shamshoon (a.k.a. The Simpsons) in the United Arab Emirates, here’s some shows that got lost in translation:

Al Shamshoon

Remaking The Simpsons for audiences in Dubai (actually, just redubbing) probably wasn’t so hard once they got rid of Homer’s (renamed Omar) drinking, epic pork consumption and any jokes that have to do with religion. Bring on the laughs! In this version, Omar and his wife Mona are constantly battling with their ill-behaved son, Badir. Is it really The Simpsons without all-knowing, precocious and decidedly feminist Lisa and all the guys meeting at Moe’s? No, it’s Al Shamshoon.

Does it work? Why you little! *chokes remake*

Chrysa Koritsia

In 2008, Greek broadcaster ET1 premiered a modern version of universally beloved The Golden Girls and, despite having to update and Hellenize a few things here and there, mostly stuck with the original concept. Sophia is Sophia, Dorothy is Dora, Rose is Fifi (we hope her stories all start with “back on Skorpios…”), Blanche is Bela, and they’re all still ladies of a certain age with opinions on everything. Although nothing will ever replace the original series, the Greek version retains much of the humor, mood and overall tone of the American original. Greece also works in lieu of the original Miami setting, although we’d love to see the show get ultra-Greek and have that special episode one day where the girls deal with the Greek economic situation or get John Stamos to guest star as Bella’s younger, American-born lover.

Does it work? Thank you for being a friend; it does.

Moya prekrasnaya nyanya (My Fair Nanny)

The Russian remake of the Fran Drescher sitcom The Nanny has been a huge success since it debuted in 2004, and owes its popularity to sticking close to the original stories. Viktoria (Drescher’s role in the original) becomes the accidental nanny for a wealthy family headed by handsome widower Maxim. Misunderstandings ensue immediately as blue collar meets blue blood (or proletariat meets oligarch?). What’s sadly lacking here is the nanny character’s strong Jewish heritage, which was such a hallmark of the original series and a major source of humor as Fran infused a little ethnic flavor into the stuffy WASP/Brit family. Russia’s relationship with its Jewish population remains…complicated, to be kind, so Viktoria’s culture clash story is as a Ukrainian living in Russia. In light of recent events in the Ukraine, we’re not sure how to feel about that.

Does it work? A lot of Russians seem to think so, but all I can say in the spirit of the original Nanny is “oy.”

Law & Order: UK

There are so many versions of Law & Order out there. SVU, LA, Criminal Intent, Trial by Jury (and it wouldn’t be surprising if a junior “hall monitors and crossing guards” version was in the works over at Nickelodeon). And that’s just in the U.S. In the British series (because Brits love their crime procedurals as much as us Yanks), the laws are different and the cops don’t carry guns, yet the spirit is the same. But it’s so hard to take English trials seriously with those wigs. Can you ever picture Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston in the original US version) cross examining a murderer wearing one of those horse hair toppers? How does anything get done in their legal system, while everyone is working so hard to suppress the giggles?

Does it work? Wigs aside, it’s a bit of alright.

Gossip Girl: China

From decadent Park Avenue and anonymous websites to…communist, censorship-giddy, Internet-blocking China? It’s unclear how the CW series could possibly translate under the strict content policies of China. According to the press release, “the series [is] about the lives of the students of the prestigious Shanghai International University, the school of choice of the rich and powerful. Each week, the main characters’ trust, love and friendship are tested, with all the behind-the-scenes tales recorded in a blog. In the beginning, they are confused and lost, however over time, they discover who they really are and eventually find the right path to pursue their dreams.” But what about all the sex, drugs and backstabbing?

Does it work? In spite of the nouveau wealth of Shanghai, no. The cultural shift just doesn’t flow.

  • act_on_love

    I hear Castle is really big in Estonia. Have a look at the English language version. It’s lots of fun.

Author

Tony Bravo

Tony Bravo is a San Francisco freelancer covering fashion, menswear, lifestyle and entertainment stories. He is a regular contributor to The Bold Italic and the San Francisco Chronicle's Style section.

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