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10 British Sitcoms Inspired by American Shows

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It's not unusual for television producers to adapt successful British sitcoms for an American audience. For example, Three's Company, Sanford & Son, and, of course, The Office all started as British shows. It is unusual, though, for British television to adapt an American show. And when they do, the result is rarely a hit with UK audiences. Here are the stories behind 10 attempts to translate American laughs into British humor.

1. Days Like These

Growing up in the 1970s is pretty tough for Eric Forman. Between his overbearing father, Ron, his doting mother, Kitty, and his girlfriend, Donna Palmer, trying to keep everyone happy is sometimes more than he can handle. Thankfully he has his friends – clueless Michael Mcguire, ditzy Jackie Burget, burnout Dylan Jones, and good-natured foreign exchange student Torbjorn Rasmussen – by his side to help him through.

Although some of the names and cultural references were changed, the 1999 Britcom Days Like These was virtually a word-for-word remake of the popular American series That 70's Show. The original producers created the British version, and they got Bob Spiers of hit British comedies like Absolutely Fabulous and Fawlty Towers to direct, so they had high hopes that their show would translate well for a British audience. It didn't. Often called one of the worst British sitcoms ever, Days Like These was canceled after only six episodes, though another four aired later on to little fanfare.

Compare the Days Like These pilot, above, to the pilot of That 70's Show.

2. Married for Life

By the end of its 11-year run in 1997, the Fox Network hit Married...with Children had lost a lot of steam with American audiences. However, even today the show is incredibly popular in syndication across the globe, and has been remade for foreign markets in places like Russia, Hungary, and Argentina. One of the first countries to hop on the Married... remake bandwagon was the UK with Married for Life, which debuted in 1996.

On paper, Married for Life should have been a hit. In typical fashion, the British version changed the names of the characters – Al Bundy became Ted Butler – and replaced American phrases with British ones, but otherwise they used the original show's scripts. The cast was also pretty solid for a sitcom. Julie Dawn Cole, who got her start as Veruca Salt in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, had been on British television for 25 years when she played Judy Hollingsworth, the Butlers' next door neighbor. Married for Life also starred famous funnyman Russ Abbot, who had hosted two popular British sketch comedy shows in the 1980s. But Abbot couldn't save this stinker – the show only ran for one series of seven episodes before being canceled.

Thankfully one member of the cast came out of the experience unscathed – Hugh Bonneville played Steve Hollingsworth, but he is now known as Lord Grantham on the hit ITV series, Downton Abbey.

3. Brighton Belles

Short-lived sitcom Brighton Belles, a UK version of The Golden Girls broadcast on ITV, premiered in 1993, a year after the American version ended its seven-season run. Despite an attractive cast of funny, older women, Brighton Belles was doomed from the start, because Golden Girls was already wildly popular in syndication on rival broadcaster Channel 4. Treading over familiar territory, the show never found an audience, but managed to stay on the air for nearly two series, ending its run after 11 episodes.

4. Nobody's Perfect

It's well known that the groundbreaking American sitcom All in the Family was a remake of a British sitcom called Till Death Do Us Part. Of course the Bunkers were a success in their own right and spawned a number of spin-offs, including 1972's Maude starring Bea Arthur as an outspoken, liberal woman in suburban New York City. Maude was also a big hit, lasting for five full seasons and a partial sixth before Arthur decided she was done in 1978.

In an unusual move, British television remade Maude in 1980 as Nobody's Perfect, starring Elaine Stritch, known today as Jack Donaghy's mother on 30 Rock, and Richard Griffiths, who played Harry Potter's uncle in the successful film franchise. The show only aired for 14 episodes between 1980 and 1982 before it was canceled.

Elaine Stritch and Bea Arthur's careers would cross paths again a few years later, when Stritch was the producers' first choice to play Dorothy on The Golden Girls, a role described as "a Bea Arthur type." However, Stritch blew the audition when she nervously inserted expletives into the script, so the producers had no choice but to actually approach Arthur for the role.

5. The Fosters

Not only did Maude inspire a British version, but it also had a spin-off of its own, Good Times, starring Maude's housekeeper, Florida Evans, played by Esther Rolle. Good Times was on the air from 1974 until 1979, depicting the day-to-day struggles of a middle class black family in Chicago, and was itself a ratings success for much of its run. During its peak in 1976, it was remade in Britain as The Fosters, which used scripts from Good Times but changed names and shuffled characters around slightly to differentiate itself. The show ran for 27 episodes, but was never a big hit with audiences or critics. In fact, although it featured the first all-black cast on British television, many felt it actually reinforced racial stereotypes, a critique often leveled at Good Times as well.

The Fosters was the first major role for Lenny Henry, who played Sonny Foster, the British equivalent of Jimmie Walker's Good Times character, J.J. Evans. Henry has since become a respected actor, writer, and comedian, appearing on numerous British TV shows, comedy specials, movies, and plays.

So, to summarize, a British sitcom (Till Death Do Us Part) was remade as an American sitcom (All in the Family), creating a spin-off (Maude), which inspired a British remake (Nobody's Perfect) and an American spin-off (Good Times), which was then remade as a British show (The Fosters). Despite this tangled web, the British versions were not connected in any way.

6. The Upper Hand

Widow Caroline Wheatley is a career-minded single mom doing her best to raise her nerdy son, Tom, in the English countryside. Her man-hungry mother, Laura, can occasionally lend a hand, but what Caroline really needs is a live-in housekeeper. Much to her surprise, Laura hires Charlie, a former professional soccer player sidelined by an injury who will do just about anything to get his daughter, Joanna, away from the rough London neighborhood they currently call home.

If this sounds familiar, that's because The Upper Hand was a British remake of the long-running American sitcom, Who's the Boss?. Unlike many British remakes, though, this one was actually very successful, receiving seven series for a total of 95 episodes between 1990 and 1996.

While the original counted two veteran sitcom actors in the cast, Taxi's Tony Danza and Soap's Katherine Helmond, and made a star out of friend-of-the-Floss Alyssa Milano, The Upper Hand had a former Bond girl and star of The Avengers, Honor Blackman, who played the feisty Laura. The remake got a shot of American star power when Helmond made a cameo appearance as a carnival psychic named Madame Alexandra during the series four finale.

The show borrowed quite a bit from the original, but it went where Boss? was afraid to go when Charlie and Caroline tied the knot at the end of series six. However, as with so many sitcom romances, when the sexual tension went away, so did the audience, and the show was canceled after the seventh episode of the seventh series.

Compare the pilot for The Upper Hand, above, to the pilot for Who's the Boss?.

7. In with the Flynns

The latest remake of an American sitcom is the BBC's In with the Flynns, which adopts many aspects of Grounded for Life, a sitcom starring Donal Logue and Megyn Price, which ran from 2001 to 2005 on Fox and the WB. Flynns debuted in June 2011, running for a six-episode series, and has been renewed for a second series to air this year, though the critical and audience reception has been lukewarm at best.

Inspired By...

Some British shows aren't direct adaptations of American shows, but they're similar enough in tone or concept to draw comparisons between the two.

8. Lead Balloon

The BBC comedy Lead Balloon, which ran for four series between 2006 and 2011, took its cues from the long-running HBO hit, Curb Your Enthusiasm. The show starred comedian Jack Dee as fictional comedian Rick Spleen, who is constantly putting his foot in his mouth, then tries to find a way out of his predicaments, usually in the most self-serving ways possible. Spleen is surrounded by his kind and polite wife, Mel, and his sometimes-polite friend, Marty, who try their best to keep Spleen's bile in check.

9. Saturday Live

Between 1985 and 1987, the UK had their own version of Saturday Night Live, called simply Saturday Live. Although they didn't reuse the scripts or characters from SNL, the format – a guest host, musical acts, and a live broadcast with a studio audience – was clearly, and admittedly, influenced by the long-running American sketch comedy show. Saturday Live was short-lived but influential, helping to launch the careers of comedians Harry Enfield, Ben Elton, and the comedy duo Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie.

10. Coupling

When Coupling debuted in 2000, it was impossible to dodge the comparisons to America's Friends. Both shows followed a group of young people as they supported each other through the trials and tribulations of love, life, and careers. Over four seasons, Coupling was able to distinguish itself by featuring more experimental narratives and directorial choices from current Doctor Who showrunner, Steven Moffat, but the label "The British Friends" will always haunt the show. In an odd twist, as Friends was winding down its run in 2003, NBC tried to retain the same audience with an American remake of Coupling, which only lasted four episodes before it was canceled.

Compare scenes from the first episode of the British Coupling with scenes from the first episode of the American Coupling:

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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