(Editors note: This wasn’t really supposed to be the New Years’ post but it took me two days and four different programs/plugins to get my illustrative videos working. That is to say, if you don’t watch the short subjects at the end, I will cry. Unless you’re reading this on feed… or an iPad.)
I have talked a lot about the fact that I only watch old TV but one new(ish) thing I do watch is a sort of remake of something old, that is Law & Order UK. First off, we all know I’m an Anglophile, but second, the first season is all based on stories from the US version and I couldn’t resist seeing how they were Anglicized. By the way, I say newish because this show isn’t really new, it’s just new to me, as BBC America has just started showing the episodes here. Some of the British L&O’s are quite similar to their inspiration-episodes but others aren’t really at all. For instance, “Love and Loss” from Law & Order UK (my favorite ep so far) uses the US episode “Consultation,” as its basis but is an almost completely different story. In “Consultation,” a Nigerian woman dies in a cab coming from the airport after heroin she’s smuggling in her body leaks out. The plot then meanders around to the chief of her tribe (who lives in the US and has diplomatic immunity) and his drug operation. In “Love and Loss,” it’s a British citizen, a teenager who had gone abroad with friends, who has the heroin leak out (and her death is graphic and gross, be forewarned). That then leads to her older boyfriend and his use of young girls as drug mules. So, nearly the same starting point and idea but a whole different flavor of episode.
Some are more subtly different, like UK’s “Hidden” and US’s “Bitter Fruit.” The stories hew closely to each other (spoiler alert!), with a young daughter of divorced parents being kidnapped and the mother killing the perpetrator. Of course, it turns out that she had set up the whole thing to get back at her ex, the child’s father, and she kills the hired kidnapper to cover up her crime. In the US version, she’s driven to it by a bad divorce, depression, addiction to pills, and the loss of custody. In the British version, however, there’s no sympathy at all for her and she’s a total monster who wanted the child kidnapped so that she could make money off the story. It’s fun to guess why the writers choose to go in these separate directions but even more to try to figure out if something was done because of differing laws or culture. For starters, in the UK version, people use knives instead of guns (shockers) and more often than not, there’s CCTV footage to catch them. And when they’re interviewed, they get recorded. And if they’re immigrants, they’re from different countries than the immigrant characters in the US (more often Turkish or Polish or West Indian, rather than Latino). Also, the lawyers, I mean, the barristers, wear wigs and people stand when they give evidence in court. That would have been hard on Betty Broderick, whose trial I watched back in the day, and who seemed to testify for about three or four days straight. Maybe she wouldn’t have told so many long-winded stories.
But when you dissect the episodes, there are other differences which make you wonder. In “Bitter Fruit,” the parents are well-off, older, white people. In “Hidden,” they are young, working-class, and of different races. In the same way, the daughter, Jodie, was on her way to piano lessons in the US but a guitar lesson in the UK when she disappeared. But that makes sense once the first change is made because rich girls learn piano and lower middle-class girls learn guitar. It’s possible that the demographics of the parents were changed to make the “just in it for the money” plotline stand up, as it’s difficult to imagine the upper-crust mother in the US version being motivated by the possibility of selling her story to the tabloids. Of course, tabloids themselves don’t have the same resonance in the US.
This scene was my favorite to compare, as in both versions the same character is depicted but yet each woman is so totally an archetype of her country. In it, the two detectives corner the mother of the kidnapper trying to determine if her son actually visited her the night of the crime, when he left, and if there are any clues to be found. The mother is a working class, hard-bitten type, and she’s not at all fooled by the officers’ “aw shucks” innocent-seeming questions. Her son has been in jail before, she knows he’s no saint, but she will protect him no matter what. She isn’t giving anything away if she doesn’t have to.
In New York (well, Jersey, actually), Mrs. Capetti is an ethnic type and has an accent to match. She makes meatloaf for her son and the only time she warms up is when the detectives mention her television, which her son got her as a gift on which to watch the Jets. In London, Mrs. Carlton is a working-class (I don’t think Cockney is the right word… but something in that vein) Mum who makes roast pork and whose son bought her the TV to watch Chelsea. In the US, Mrs Capetti only lets the detectives into the closet after the threat of a warrant. Not so Mrs. Carlton. Do they not need warrants in the UK? Either way, both women have two newscasts to choose from but are too sharp to let slip which they watched and both keep sheets in mothballs… too bad for them, as you’ll see.
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You’ll notice (maybe) that the stills I’ve chosen are the smirks on the lead detectives’ faces as they confront the lady in question with the damning evidence despite all her attempts at subterfuge. No matter the differences, the best things are the same about the two shows: great plots and terrific acting.
And so, now that I am posting this on New Years Eve, I wish you all a wonderful 2011, an end to technical difficulties, and some really good TV show marathons on your local cable system.