Have American’s cracked the case of translating British Drama?

In my previous post, I discussed television comedy in translation across cultures. In this post, I will continue the television in translation topic, but will be discussing the translation of drama. Charlotte Frew led the discussion of how drama operates across cultures, locations, and nationality in her lecture ‘Sherlock and Elementary: Representing Englishness in Television Drama’.

Sir Author Conan Doyle’s story of Sherlock Holmes has been adapted many times for different mediums; such as television and film. Perhaps the most recent, and well known, would be the British, and later American, television adaptations of the famous tale.

The British BBC adaptation, premiering in 2010, tells the tale of the sleuth, and his partner, Dr. John Watson solving crimes in collaboration with Scotland Yard, in 21st century London. In the movie-length episodes, the characters are brought to life by the brilliant Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. This adaptation has seen great success, both in Britain and abroad. At the 66th Annual Emmy Awards, Cumberbatch won Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Movie; Freeman secured the best Supporting Actor award and the series co-creator; and Steven Moffat, won an award for Writing for Miniseries, Movie or a Dramatic Special for the season three finale, Sherlock: His Last Vow. The success of Sherlock on its own shores was not surprising, but what was surprising was its victory in America, especially amongst strong US competitors.

Sherlock (UK) staring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. Source: http://harmonyradiantreads.blogspot.com.au/2012/01/show-you-must-watch-sherlock.html

Sherlock (UK) staring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. Source: http://harmonyradiantreads.blogspot.com.au/2012/01/show-you-must-watch-sherlock.html

In 2012, the CBS American television adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes tale, Elementary, premiered in the US. This American take on the concept follows detective Sherlock Holmes, played by Jonny Lee Miller, living in New York, and his adventures with his partner Joan Watson. In this adaptation, the faithful companion is a female, played by Lucy Lui. Although the show faced a slew of criticism before and after airing, Elementary has beaten the odds and earned itself a +10 million audience and Emmy nominations.

American adaptation, 'Elementary'. Source: http://whatculture.com/tv/10-reasons-elementary-better-sherlock.php

American adaptation, ‘Elementary’. Source: http://whatculture.com/tv/10-reasons-elementary-better-sherlock.php

During my further reading, I have come across reviews of Elementary that I suggest you check out:

‘How Elementary silenced its critics’ by Frances Roberts: http://www.denofgeek.com/tv/elementary/24495/how-elementary-silenced-its-critics

‘Elementary, Sherlock and the adaptation problem’ be Gem Wheeler: http://www.denofgeek.com/tv/sherlock/29290/elementary-sherlock-and-the-adaptation-problem

‘Elementary vs. Sherlock: A critical review by Rozzychan: http://rozzychan.wordpress.com/2012/10/20/elementary-vs-sherlock-a-critical-review/

Reference List


Noice, Different, Unewsual!

This blog’s topic examines television comedy in translation. For our lecture concerning this topic, guest lecturer, Professor Sue Turnbull presented her research, findings and opinions on the topic. Professor Sue Turnbull also wrote the accompanying set reading which explores the difficult process of exporting and adapting Australian comedy and what factors make for successful comedic translation in different global markets. So, based on these resources, the question I will attempt to address today is:

 Why do some comedy’s travel better than others?

 When addressing this topic, we looked at Susan Purdie’s comedy theory. In my further reading, I can across another article by Sue, ‘LOOK AT MOIYE, KIMMIE, LOOK AT MOIYE!’: KATH AND KIM AND THE AUSTRALIAN COMEDY OF TASTE in which she directly quotes Purdie’s explaination of the theory:

“…funniness involves at once breaking rules and ‘marking’ that break, so that correct behaviour is implicitly instated; yet in transgressing and recognising the rules, jokers take power over rather than merely submitting to them.”

Comedy is dependent on the breaking of social rules. Our laughter signals that we can, and have, recognised the break. But in order to recognise that social rules have been broken, we need to understand what these rules are. This gives light to the cultural specificity of comedy and explains why translating television comedy from one national context to another is so difficult.

As this was my group’s topic for the Group Presentation assessment, I researched Australian comedy series Kath & Kim in detail. Kath & Kim premiered in Australia on 16 May 2002 and soon became one of ABC’s highest rated shows. This led to it being picked up by Channel 7 in 2007. The show was not just a success in Australia but was also a big success in the UK. This may be because the UK is familiar with the Australian sense of humour and the settings in which we present it- such as suburbia, and this makes the comedy easier to export and translate.

Our beloved Aussie's, Kath & Kim Source: http://www.dimboolacourier.com.au/news.php?newsid=503

Our beloved Aussie’s, Kath & Kim
Source: http://www.dimboolacourier.com.au/news.php?newsid=503

After the successful adaptation of the American The Office, there were high hopes for an American remake of Kath & Kim. Like the Office, the American Kath & Kim was adapted by Greg Daniels in association with Reveille Production and NBC Universal Television Studios. In 2008, America’s own Kath & Kim was premiered. Upon close compassion, the first episode of the American Kath & Kim largely resembles the first episode of the Australian version, in terms of plot, dialogue and structure.

Australian Kath & Kim vs. American Kath & Kim Source: http://www.6pr.com.au/shows/breakfast/bestof

Australian Kath & Kim vs. American Kath & Kim
Source: http://www.6pr.com.au/shows/breakfast/bestof

However, the American Kath & Kim was vastly unpopular in American and also in overseas countries such as Australia. Part of the joke of the Australian series is that the actors made an effort to exaggerate their worse features. Kim imagines herself as a size 10, ‘horn-bag’, when in reality Gina Riley is a forty-plus size sixteen, voluptuous woman. In the American version, Kim is played by 36-year-old, size 8, Selma Blair, a beautiful, young, slim actress. This removes the irony from the character. And this is what Sue suggests in the set reading, that what has been seriously lost in translation is the irony that makes the Australian version of the show as comedic as it is. Sue also says “…Kath & Kim have been slimmed down, toned up and ironed flat for American network television because this is what an American audience wants and expects from a sitcom” (Turnbull 2014, p.115).

The successful translation of a comedy not only depends on the translation of the cultural context (such as Fountain Lakes to Florida), but also the kinds of production deals that are made, the casting, the performance, and the expectations of the audience.

Reference List:

Turnbull, S (2014), ‘Local Television in Global Context’, BCM111 2014, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, 10 September.

Turnbull, S (2008) ‘It’s Like They Threw a Panther in the Air and Caught It in Embroidery’: Television Comedy in Translation’, Metro Magazine Issue 159 Dec.

Turnball, S (2004), ‘”Look at Moiye, Kimmie, Look at Moiye!”: Kath and Kim and the Australian Comedy of Taste’, Media International Australia, Incorporating Culture & Policy, No.113, Nov, <http://search.informit.com.au.ezproxy.uow.edu.au/documentSummary;dn=008540568640410;res=IELLCC>.

Cross-Over Cinema Crosses Boundaries

In this blog post, I will attempt to unpack the complex concept of global film, specifically cross-over cinema. Dr. Sukhmani Knorana (2014, p.2) uses the term cross-over cinema “to encapsulate an emerging form of cinema that crosses cultural borders at the stage of conceptualization and production and hence manifests a hybrid cinematic grammar at the textual level, as well as crossing over in terms of its distribution and reception.”

Upon reading this definition I admit to have found it hard to comprehend. However, upon further reading, cross-over, or cross-cultural cinema is a concept that can be unpacked and delved into.

­­This week’s group presenters, Laura Jesson, Megan Gillman, and Rebecca Deacon simplified the definition to “cinema that crosses cultural borders at any stage of its conception, production or reception” – a much easier definition to digest. The group went on to explore some interesting disadvantages of cross-cultural cinema stating that cross-cultural films can result in countries concluding they are knowledgeable of other culture’s characteristics. I find this most relevant to the Western culture portraying other cultures. They used examples such Slumdog Millionaire (2008) and Sex and the City 2 (2010).

Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall and Cynthia Nixon in Warner Bros. Pictures' Sex and the City 2 (2010) Source: http://www.aceshowbiz.com/still/00004000/sex_and_the_city_2_19.html

Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall and Cynthia Nixon in Warner Bros. Pictures’ Sex and the City 2 (2010) Source: http://www.aceshowbiz.com/still/00004000/sex_and_the_city_2_19.html

I could relate to the Sex and the City 2 example, as I am a big fan of the franchise and have seen the movie a number of times. However, when the group mentioned this example, I began thinking about the first time I watched the movie. This was before I had undertaken Studies of Religion, a HSC course, which studies Islam, among others. When I first watched the movie, I let the movie’s Western understanding of the Islamic culture wash over me. However, upon watching it recently I realized how racist some scenes come across. For example, in this scene, Samantha’s handbag breaks, spilling condoms onto the street and she is judged by a group of Muslim men. She speaks up for herself, portrayed as a liberated Western woman, enjoying her freedom and sexuality. Miranda briefly scolds Samantha for her disrespect, but the situation is not given the weight that a truly serious incident, such as this, deserves. In the Muslim culture, this would be considered highly inappropriate, disrespectful and even illegal. This example illustrates how cross-cultural cinema can lead to misrepresentations of cultures and can influence how ‘foreigners’ perceive a particular culture.

With this being said, cross-over/ cross-cultural cinema can be a positive reflection of the globalisation of the international film industry, but must be undertaken with research and respect. I also believe that to get the most out of a cross-cultural film, writers and directors should work closely with the culture they wish to represent.

Reference List

Khorana, S 2014, ‘Crossover Cinema: A Genealogical and Conceptual Overview’, Part 1: Producing a Hybrid Grammar, p.2.

Jesson, L, Gillman M & Deacon R 2014, ‘Global Film: Towards Crossovers’, Week 5 Group Presentation, viewed 4.9.14.