The American entertainment industry has long been dominated by remakes, a fact that’s easily backed up by a quick glance at the last year in film.¹ What’s less well-known to most people, however, are the amount of television shows on the air that have their origins elsewhere. The UK, in particular, is responsible for American Idol, Sanford and Son, American Gladiators, Being Human, and Whose Line is it Anyway?, to name a few. And let’s not forget about The Office.
It makes total sense that the game shows were taken and adapted for an American format²; if people are going to watch other people make money, they’d prefer it if it was at least the same currency. The other shows, however, were adapted because of cultural differences. As far as Being Human goes, the characters remain a vampire, werewolf, and ghost, yet attempt to live normal lives in an American setting. Cultural differences also encompass humour, and it should be clear to most people that what makes the British laugh won’t necessarily do the same for Americans.
On December 16, 2010, ABC announced that they were planning on rebooting the Canadian series Being Erica3. First airing at the beginning of 2009, Being Erica is a show that follows the life of Erica Strange, a thirty-something year old woman whose life is turned around when she begins an unorthodox form of therapy. Her sessions essentially consist of her being sent back in time to relive past regrets, a smooth blend of science fiction and comedy-drama that seems almost believable at times.So what are the reasons for ABC deciding that a reboot of a show that began in 2009 is a good idea? I can see that their primary justification might be that the show is not relatable enough for American audiences, and that a remake could attract far more viewers south of the 49th Parallel.
As far as “Canadianness” is concerned, Being Erica is set [and filmed] in Toronto, the fifth largest city in North America and one that’s not too different from many in the United States. Frequent shots of the city skyline are featured and the characters are often seen in and around familiar Torontonian areas, from the AGO [Art Gallery of Ontario] to Centre Island [just south of the Harbour Front]. The producers of the show have stated that since Toronto often appears in American productions as various US cities this was a chance for them to “showcase the highlights of the city in a way that had not been seen before.”4
Apart from the setting, there’s not much about the show that really screams Canada. I’ve watched through to almost the end of the second season and I can’t recall a single blatant reference to hockey, Mounties, or poutine.5 Erica Strange grows up and attends high school, graduates from university, and then goes on to find a career, just like any woman in America would. In other words, a viewer south of the border has little they can’t relate to.
In regards to Being Erica not being watched the show has actually garnered a respectable amount of popularity in the States, airing on SOAPnet, ABC’s sister company only a month after it started in Canada. In America the second season of the show had an average 3 million viewers6, which, for a show produced and film in the Great White North, isn’t bad.
As both a Canadian and a Torontonian I enjoy this show for more than just its ability to show off the city I live in. Being Erica is smart, funny, interesting, and a slew of other generic adjectives. More than that, however, it is also good television, something I’ve been finding difficult to locate these days. If ABC wants to take this show and remake it in a different city with different actors and actresses then by all means; they’re allowed. But they’re going to need to make their version as good or better.
1. The Wolfman, Clash of the Titans, True Grit, The Karate Kid, and the list goes on: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2010_in_film
2. Though there has never been an American adaptation of Countdown.
5. Poutine is fries covered with gravy and cheese curds. You’re welcome.