The American restaurateur Joe Bastianich is sitting there telling us how terrific Restaurant Startup is. The show airs on CNBC, the U.S. business channel. Bastianich, familiar as a long-time judge on Fox's MasterChef, is the face of the new series and executive producer.
It's a cross between MasterChef and Shark Tank (or Dragons' Den in Canada), all about "real deals, real opportunities." Bastianich and sidekicks Tim Love and Antonia Lofaso critique food and decide on investing in a restaurant concept.
It's mildly interesting but what makes it worth examining is the premise, which is a mash-up of multiple existing shows. Finding originality can be hard. That's a continuing theme in the U.S. TV racket. Even as original cable dramas draw massive attention and praise, the impulse to copy, to reboot and reuse, never flags.
There's a new version of The Odd Couple coming on CBS. It's been decades since Neil Simon wrote the original play; there was the 1968 movie version and the classic TV sitcom version starring Tony Randall and Jack Klugman; The New Odd Couple in 1982; the movie The Odd Couple II in 1998 and now it's back, with CBS trying to squeeze yet more juice from the concept – ill-matched male roommates. Why?
TV veteran Garry Marshall, who is a consulting producer, says "Well, Neil Simon did a good job with these characters, but whatever you do, you've got to have casting. I think The Odd Couple play is still running someplace and holds up pretty good. And now this casting is tremendous. We've got Matthew Perry, my favourite from Friends and Thomas Lennon."
Executive producer Bob Daily claims it's just time to revive a great idea. "I think it's such an elastic concept. The DNA of those two characters has seeped into television for the last four decades. I spent five years writing on Frasier, and Frasier was basically The Odd Couple with one Oscar and two Felixes. Bert and Ernie [from Sesame Street] are the Odd Couple. We're going back to the brilliant original Neil Simon source material. But I think those two characters, Oscar and Felix, are so iconic and they're so timeless, and, it's been 45 years. So it's time for a reinterpretation and for a new generation that's not familiar with The Odd Couple."
Having seen the new version, I don't buy it. Maybe you will – a motivating factor for network remakes is the audience's familiarity with a title and premise. People like the familiar.
And then there's strange matter of remaking English-language drama for a U.S. audience. Fox turned Broadchurch into Gracepoint and missed the mark completely even with the same star, David Tennant. Coming to ABC in March is the network's reboot of the short-run, Australian-made psychological thriller Secrets & Lies. Same story, same characters, but 10 episodes, not six, and a different cast. The miniseries has already aired in Canada (on CBC) and Britain and is popular on Netflix in the U.S. ABC boss Paul Lee was asked if such remakes aren't redundant. "There are plenty of examples of those that haven't worked, and there are plenty of examples going back to The Office and All in the Family that really have worked," he said. Asked why 10 episodes instead of six, he joked, "More secrets, more lies!"
Also coming on A&E is a U.S. version of The Returned (Les Revenants), the brilliant French drama about the dead returning to life in a small town. The pilot is an exact replica of the original. Asked what is the appeal of remaking something that is basically perfect, producer Carlton Cuse also cited The Office. "Really, the starting point is similar, but we eventually make it quite different. We kind of take a different turn. I think the same is true of The Office."
Like you, I'm all for recycling, but there's a point where the recycled material is just garbage.
Also airing Wednesday
Young Drunk Punk (City, 8:30 p.m.) is new and a very sweetly funny comedy series derived from Bruce McCulloch's theatrical hit of the same title. The former Kid in the Hall plays dad to the main character, teen rebel/palooka Ian McKay (Tim Carlson) who, along with super buddy Shinky (Atticus Mitchell), are determined to rock the complacent Calgary of the early 1980s with their punk frenzy and cool. For a start, the soundtrack is excellent, featuring the Buzzcocks, the Demics, the Diodes and almost every cool, snappy tune from the period.
It's a gentle, breezily hilarious sitcom which opens with our two heroes attempting to graduate from high school. The unusual shenanigans ensue – battles with jocks and creeps and an escapade involving the rescue of a sister's stereo. There's a great feel for the period, and it's done lovingly. McCulloch himself is the strongest performer, but the two young leads are deft at the ridiculously tortured-teen routine. Tracy Ryan, McCulloch's wife, plays the mom as a slightly daft but nice figure and Allie MacDonald (from Lost Girl) is great as the budding firecracker who is Ian's sister Belinda. The show is no groundbreaker, but it's utterly charming.