At the time of writing, viewers hadn’t seen Ten Percent (Amazon Prime Video, starting today), a UK remake of French Netflix hit Call My Agent!, and neither had most critics. Nonetheless, some knives have already been sharpened in anticipation of a flop.
There is hardly anything wrong with the pedigree of the new series. The main writer and also one of the producers and directors is John Morton who created the BBC’s very funny Olympia mockumentary Twenty twelve and his successor W1A.
There’s a strong cast, too, including Jack Davenport, Jim Broadbent, Maggie Steed, Lydia Leonard, and Tim McInnerny, most of whom play characters resembling those of the original.
Good guest stars playing exaggerated versions of themselves include Kelly McDonald, Olivia Williams, David Harewood, Helen Bonham Carter and Dominic West.
But even with such a high-quality talent on board, the idea of moving comes up Call my agent! across the English Channel seems like a pointless exercise.
It’s not just that the original, which became a word-of-mouth hit during lockdown, is that good off the bat; The big problem with trying to adapt it is that it’s just so typically Gallic in flavor and tone.
It has a certain – and there is no other way to put it – “je ne sais quoi”. The location is important. London may be a gleaming modern metropolis, but it’s still not Paris that’s practically a minor character in the original.
Remaking French originals for English-speaking audiences has always been more of a film thing than a television thing. There have been numerous Hollywood remakes of French films – far more than most of us probably realize.
The best known are smash hit comedy three men and a baby based on Trois hommes et un couffin (Three men and a cradle), and James Cameron’s box office hit True Lies, a remake of La Totale! – a smaller film but with an identical premise: The boring suburban family man is really a secret agent.
For some reason, American television has largely left France untouched. A&E’s the returned one, a remake of the spooky zombie chiller Les Revenants, was canceled after one season. As for the UK… the outdoor game show It’s a knockout based on jeux sans frontières, is as far as it goes.
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The most successful adaptations of “foreign” series are usually the ones that take the bare bones of the original premise and take it in a whole new direction. hometown has been credited as being based on the Israeli series prisoners of war, but it was only an adaptation in the broadest sense.
hometown was a spy thriller about whether a US soldier had been turned into a sleeper agent by his Al Qaeda captors.
prisoners of war was about the difficulties faced by three former prisoners of war trying to adjust to life at home again and had no spy angle. It could also have been unrelated series.
The American version of The office only took off after abandoning attempts to strictly copy the BBC original (including adapting some of the same scripts) and letting its characters develop their own identities.
There are of course exceptions. Psychiatric Drama In treatment, based on an Israeli series and the US version of shameless closely based on the originals and were both huge successes.
In general, though, series that slavishly copy the originals and hope they’ll work in an entirely different market rarely succeed. The US versions of Broadchurch (called grace point) and cracker (renamed Fitz in Europe) were catastrophes.
Other American remakes that either flopped or underwhelmed are among others The Killing, Prime Suspect, Life on Mars, Coupling, The Inbetweeners, Skins and no fewer than three separate, equally horrific attempts at remaking FawltyTowers under different titles.
We’ll know soon enough if Ten percent is destined to join the ranks of those unwanted and unloved remakes.
https://www.independent.ie/entertainment/television/tv-news/will-the-call-my-agent-uk-remake-measure-up-to-its-successful-french-counterpart-41594180.html Will the Call My Agent! The British remake can keep up with its successful French counterpart?