I’ve been watching a lot of BBC America as of late, it’s become one of my favorite channels.  I’ve always had a fondness for British television- when I was very young my mother used to watch the British Comedies that came on PBS late at night, I think it was Sunday nights but it’s been a while and I’m not 100% sure.  It was really the only television I watched as a very young child, so it obviously made a big impression on me.

I know American television is starting to take cues from British shows, but there is always an off note.  I finally started figuring out why whilst watching Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares the other day.  This is a show that actually has a British run and an American run that both air on the BBC America channel, so I have seen both styles back to back and the differences between the two becomes very clear.

In the British version, Chef Ramsay narrates the piece.  The normal mode of events is this: he goes to a restaurant in trouble, he sits down and has a meal, then he goes and speaks with the chef.  The whole while he’s doing the narration himself, giving his opinions on the meal out loud in the show as well as in the voice over.  What results is something that’s not quite stream-of-thought (it’s too well-organized for that) but often feels similar.  After speaking with the chef he spends several days helping the restaurant pull itself back together, whatever the problem sometimes it’s organization issues, sometimes it’s the fact that the kitchen is filthy and the chef isn’t actually cooking anything (this is a fairly common problem, and they seem to go hand in hand- the kitchen being filthy and the chef not cooking).   Sometimes the manager is screwing everything up, although generally it’s almost all of these problems combined.

The American version is similar in the way the thing rolls out, but there are small changes.  Ramsay doesn’t narrate, some American cat does that.  Instead of plain establishing shots of the building, there are normally dramatic crane shots of the restaurant in question.  And the narrator really plays up any drama that goes down.  You know, “Next, we’ll see Chef Whats-his-Nut’s finally lose his cool,” with clips of What’s-his-Nuts throwing a vacuum or something.

Let’s be clear, there’s always drama.  Ramsay is crass and blunt, he has no filter.  He almost always has a chef or a manager or a waitress (or all three) melt down.   But nobody plays it up, it just occurse.  It’s much better that way, I think.  Actually seems like a show instead of an exaggerated shouting match.  And in the British version, you get his thoughts, and he comes across as passionate about food and restaraunts, you find out why he’s shouting and angry.  Mostly because the apathy of the staff drives him nuts, I think.  But you don’t get that idea from the American show, he just comes off a prick.

In short, the American show mugs for the audience.  Everything about it is cheezy, really.  The music and dramatic cues are completely unnecessary- it’s not like you can mistake a screaming match for a non-dramatic moment.  The narrator being a different person makes the show far less personal and much more about the drama, which is tacky.  The British version is about food and the restaraunt much, much more.

I’d also like to say, while we’re talking about British television, that British TV treats adults like adults.  There’s a lot more cussing- even in non-Ramsay shows- and it’s not TV cussing either.  They bleep out the harsher words, but I get the feeling that American television does that.  I also get the feeling that they’re willing to show bare ass on British tv, and it’s blurred out for our sake on BBC America, although I can’t be terribly sure, because it’s blurred out for soft American audiences.  I know they don’t blur out people giving the finger- although BBC America did it in a show they aired, they didn’t do it in the ‘behind-the-scenes’ show they played after.  It was a minor oversight, but I found it fascinating.

I know I’m just kind of rambling, but the differences are there.  I don’t think Desperate Housewives is any more a kid’s show than Torchwood or Being Human, but the latter two shows treat everyone who watches like full-grown adults.

Wouldn’t it be great if American programming intended for adults could use language that doesn’t baby us or treat us like idiots?  I know people are afraid of causing offense, but the wonderful thing about TV is this: if you don’t like it, change the channel.

Hell, it’s why I watch so much BBC America.

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