Why a US remake of Misfits will never work

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I’d love to receive a guided tour of the scrapheap where failed American remakes of excellent British TV shows go to die. Ladies and gentlemen, if you look to your left, you will see the withered corpse of Gracepoint, the Broachchurch remake cancelled after one season. To your right, the decaying carcass of the also-cancelled, risible take on Life On Mars. You might spot the debris of one of the three separate Fawlty Towers remakes – none of which ever managed to air a full season. If you’re really lucky you might glimpse the remains of never-at-all-aired Us & Them (née Gavin & Stacey).

The IT Crowd, The Inbetweeners, Spaced, Ab Fab, Coupling, Skins: for every The Office (US) and House of Cards you’ll find a thousand less fortunate victims of the American obsession with remaking British shows.

Now, Deadline is reporting that Misfits – E4’s 2009-2013 superhero comedy-drama about a group of young people doing community service who find themselves in possession of superpowers after a mysterious storm – is the latest British show to receive the US remake treatment. Freeform, a former youth and family channel owned by Disney currently rebranding to millenials (specifically 18-34-year-olds), has ordered a pilot from Diane Ruggiero-Wright (who has previously worked on iZombie and Veronica Mars), who wrote the adaptation and serves as showrunner.

The premise and key characters remain the same as the original – and four of the five leads have been cast. Ashleigh LaThrop will play Alicia, a middle-class party girl, Tre Hall will play Curtis, a talented and handsome athlete, Allie MacDonald will play no-nonsense – and occasionally violent – Kelly, while Jake Cannavale will play arrogant class clown Nathan. So far, so similar.

Over at Vulture, Tim McGovern writes that “after its previous stint on the E4 Network, Misfits, which felt like the supernaturally gifted cousin of the show Skins, will find itself right at home on Freeform”, which “already has two Marvel shows about kids with powers”. But, as with Skins, the problem with many remakes of British youth programming is that it’s often toned down in terms of sexual content, swearing, and general naughtiness (see also: America remaking rather than redistributing Skam). As Rosie Knight notes on Twitter, Misfits is “is literally 90 per cent swearing and fingering jokes” – it seems unlikely that Freeform, with its family-friendly origins, will stay true to the tone of the British version.

There’s another issue, too. Misfits was born out of a very specific clash between two different genres: what if we took the glossy, high-concept American drama series of the late Noughties, like, say Heroes, but combined it with the edgy British comedy of something altogether more down to earth, like Shameless. Like Shaun of the Dead, it worked at least in part because of its Britishness – a surprising combination of two seemingly disparate genres. “The whole point of Misfits really is that it’s a British take on the American superhero thing,” Antonia Thomas said of a rumoured American remake while still filming the original’s third series (as writer Nichole Perkins notes). “To then do an American take on the British take on the…” she trailed off. It seems faintly absurd.

Perhaps the people at Freeform are all too aware of these problems, and are a step ahead – I hope to be surprised and impressed by what the conjure up. But otherwise, I’ll see you back at the remake scrapheap trying to catch a glimpse of the cancelled TV show formerly known as Misfits (US).

Anna Leszkiewicz is culture editor of the New Statesman.

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