TV of the 2000s: 5 British Series That Didn’t Translate Nearly As Well As “The Office”

In “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,” Spock casually observed, “As a matter of cosmic history, it has always been easier to destroy than create.” As such, it should come as no surprise that, when the networks have the opportunity to avoid creating something new in favor of destroying something old, they damned well take it. As we continue our look back at the TV of the 2000s, we decided to revisit several of the networks’ attempts to adapt popular British series to match American sensibilities. As “The Office” has proven, they can sometimes make it work, but as these five shows remind us, they very often can’t.

5. Eleventh Hour (CBS): In 2006, ITV broadcast a four-part series entitled “Eleventh Hour,” starring Patrick Stewart as Professor Ian Hood, a special advisor of the British government’s Joint Science Committee who investigated threats related to various scientific developments and experiments. Each episode was 90 minutes in length, and it was received well enough in the UK that CBS immediately set forth on a quest to develop the concept into a weekly series in the States. Stewart was switched out for another talented Brit – Rufus Sewell – and even though he dropped his accent in favor of going “American” with his character (now renamed Jacob Hood), we were still optimistic about the series. Alas, despite an intriguing premise, the adaptation suffered from a couple of major problems.

First off, critics perceived the show as “troubled” before its premiere because of the delay in releasing the first episode for review, but, fair enough, many series have managed to survive that particular issue. The bigger problem came from CBS’s steadfast determination to make “Eleventh Hour” fit into the same procedural mold utilized by all of its other series. As such, the predominant thrust tended to be about the crime of the week, leaving not nearly enough focus on Dr. Hood, whose considerable knowledge on scientific matters makes him an enigma. Viewers should’ve been left wondering, “Who is this guy? What’s his story?” But just as we were starting to learn about Hood’s past and getting the impression that he might actually be able to find romance for the first time since the death of his wife, the series steered back into a let’s-stick-to-the-case mindset, making its cancellation after only 18 episodes less disappointing than it might otherwise have been.

4. Worst Week (CBS): The original series – which bore the slightly longer title of “The Worst Week of My Life” – had three incarnations. The first focused on the week leading up to the marriage of its two lead characters, the second shone the spotlight on the week before the birth of their first child, and the whole thing culminated in a three-part holiday special entitled “The Worst Christmas of My Life.” Anyone who enjoys a good bit of slapstick would see the merit in trying to adapt the series for an American audience, but after watching the pilot, I wrote, “Despite the first episode being thoroughly hilarious, it’s hard to imagine how they’re going to keep up that kind of momentum on a weekly basis.” What I didn’t write – but what I did indeed wonder – was why, given how much testing goes into television nowadays, they didn’t change the title. I mean, c’mon, if you watched the show, then don’t tell me you didn’t find yourself wondering from Episode #1 just how long they were planning to drag things out. In the end, “Worst Week” ran for 16 episodes, and given that its final episode* was entitled “The Epidural,” it’s clear that the series never had a chance to expand much beyond its source material. Not that they could’ve managed it much faster: getting from premiere to bringing the pregnancy to fruition within five months is certainly nothing to sneeze at. Still, with all British-adapted series, the rule of thumb is that you should create your own identity as quickly as possible…and they didn’t.

* As far as the show’s chronology is concerned, anyway. The actual final episode was entitled “The Party,” and it should’ve actually been the fifth episode. Instead, it was held back from the initial run and was later (and somewhat inexplicably) thrown into the network’s Saturday night schedule some four months after “The Epidiural” aired.

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TV of the 2000s: The Top 10 “Doctor Who” Stories of the Decade

There has been no better decade to be a fan of “Doctor Who” than the ‘00s. The show, once considered a punchline for jokes made by Trekkies, has risen from the ashes of the ‘80s and been reborn as a serious sci-fi/fantasy force with which to be reckoned. It’s managed to generate two spinoffs in the form of “Torchwood” and “The Sarah Jane Adventures,” as well as open up the entire 26 previous seasons to a whole new generation of fans. Yeah, it’s a good time to be a “Doctor Who” fan, because more than ever, people are less than likely to look at you “that” way when you tell them it’s your favorite series. With that in mind, here’s an entirely subjective list of its crowning achievements since the new series started in 2005; it’s just a shame I’ve not yet seen David Tennant’s two-part finale, “The End of Time,” so it could warrant possible inclusion. In any case, here’s to, at the very least, another full decade of time and space travels inside the TARDIS.

10. “School Reunion” – There are other stories that from a plot standpoint are much better written than this one, and thus more deserving of being in this Top 10, but I’ve an enormous fondness for this outing simply because it not only brought Lis Sladen’s Sarah Jane Smith back into my life, but it did it in such a way that left me a sobbing mess. If, like me, you grew up watching Doctor #4 (Tom Baker) and Sarah Jane battle the evil Morbius on Karn, defeat the diabolical Sutekh on Mars, and kill the giant Krynoid at the estate of Harrison Chase, then seeing her character – as well as her relationship with the Doctor – hit a poignant and dramatic high note of finality was most definitely a strong cup of tea. It’s a bit of a shame Sarah Jane has her own series now, because everything about her that’s come since has somewhat eroded what was beautiful about this story in the first place.

9. “The Waters of Mars” – It’s entirely possible I’m riding a “Who” high at the moment, and that in time “Mars” won’t seem quite as perfect as it does at present. Further, since it won’t play on BBC America until Dec. 19th, it would be wrong to discuss it in any great detail. Nevertheless, it’s got an intricate premise from Russell T. Davies and Phil Ford, deft direction from Graeme Harper, creepy monsters, outstanding set design, and one helluva complex performance from David Tennant, that’s clearly aimed at setting up “The End of Time.” The last 20 minutes are frenzied and game-changing; this is Davies pulling the rug out from under the Time Lord and redefining everything we thought we learned about him over the past four seasons. It’s fucking glorious, and even if the big finish doesn’t quite live up to the buildup, I’ll know they made a damn good go of it.

8. “The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit” – Here’s another story that might leave a reader or two scratching their heads, but it’s a tale that holds an immense amount of nostalgia for me. See, my kid was 13 at the time it premiered, as were his friends. For the second season of new “Who,” the fates conspired so that he and his buds gathered at the house nearly every weekend to watch the latest episode with me, and the otherworldly goings-on at Sanctuary Base in particular had all of us riveted. “Don’t Turn Around!” became the catchphrase for a good long while around my casa, and further, this was the story where Tennant “became” the Doctor for me. The scene where he was being lowered into the Satan Pit, talking of how the specifics of the creature didn’t fit his “rules” was the defining moment. If I’d had even a vague vibe that he might not be precisely the right actor for the role before this, any such thoughts were dashed immediately after viewing that scene. Beside, the Doctor meets Satan? Hot diggity damn! This two-parter also unleashed the Ood, who have clearly become one of the defining alien races of the new series; they returned for the aptly named “Planet of the Ood” in Season Four, and will be returning again for Tennant’s finale.

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TV of the 2000s: 15 Sci-Fi Series That Deserved A Longer Run

It’s always been a rough go on network television for series which require viewers to think and suspend their disbelief at the same time, but despite this, many brave producers and writers have tried to capture the imaginations of couch potatoes. Sometimes it works, as evidenced by the long runs of such shows as “Battlestar Galactica,” “Lost,” “Smallville,” and “Supernatural,” but more often than not, it doesn’t, which is why IMDb is littered with listings for sci-fi series that lasted for only a single season. Looking back at the decade (which, if you hadn’t noticed, is what we’re doing with all of these TV of the 2000s features), you can also find way too many shows which survived into the second season, proved that their first season wasn’t a fluke, sometimes even improving on it, and then got canceled…and, man, does that hurt. Heck, I even included three- and four-season wonders in this list, one because it had scored such a huge upswing in quality, the other mostly because it seemed like such a gyp when it got the axe. But, then, you could say that about all of these shows, really…

WARNING! LIST CAVEAT! – To be included within this list, the show cannot have started at any point prior to Jan. 1, 2000. Without that caveat, you can bet that “Angel” would’ve been included…and, yes, probably “Farscape,” too. But definitely “Angel.”

15. Masters of Science Fiction (ABC): As an anthology series in the 2000s, it’s not like it ever had a chance in Hell of surviving, anyway, which is why it comes in at the bottom of the list. Still, it deserves mention here, partially because it was really good, but mostly because it got an even bigger shaft from ABC than “New Amsterdam” got from Fox.

Get this: during ABC’s executive panel during the TCA Press tour of summer 2007, someone asked Stephen McPherson, the network’s president of entertainment about the origins of the series, and he responded, “It was a low-cost initiative that we tried. We did this series of movies to see if there was a way to spark something different at a really low cost point. You know, I think there is some good work done there, but it’s very unseen. So it’s just been…it’s been a little bit problematic.” Okay, now, to be fair, he’s acknowledging that there’s “good work” inherent somewhere in the series, but to put these comments in a better perspective, they were made before the show had even premiered. And how did he decide to remedy this problem of the series being “unseen”? By premiering it at 10 PM on Saturday night. Hey, way to get behind your programming, Steve!

In fairness, I’m sure no one, not even the series creators, ever expected “Masters of Science Fiction” to be anything other than a short-lived midseason entry, but it’s not like it had to be. The series harked back to classic dramatic anthologies like “The Twilight Zone,” “The Outer Limits,” and the like, and while its budget might not be through the roof, the performances – including turns from Malcolm McDowell, Anne Heche, Sam Waterston, Judy Davis, Terry O’Quinn, Elizabeth Rohm, Brian Dennehy, and John Hurt – were top-notch. But, then, that’s what happens when you bring in directors like Mark Rydell (”On Golden Pond”), Michael Tolkin (”The Player”), and Jonathan Frakes (”Star Trek: First Contact”) to helm adaptations of stories by Robert Heinlein (”Starship Troopers”), Howard Fast (”Spartacus”), and legendary sci-fi writer Harlan Ellison, who actually adapted his own story, collaborating with Josh Olson (”A History of Violence”). If any of this sounds like it might be up your alley, you can at least take comfort in the knowledge that the entire series is available on DVD, including two episodes that ABC couldn’t be bothered to air.

14. Dark Angel (Fox): Nowadays, it’s best remembered for the fact that it introduced the world at large to the assets of Jessica Alba (which, by the way, look damned good in black leather), but when “Dark Angel” premiered, its high profile came from the fact that it was the first thing that it was produced by James Cameron. What not nearly as many people remember, however, is that the show also starred Michael Weatherly, who would get a much longer running gig a few years later when he took on the role of Anthony DiNozzo in “NCIS,” and Jensen Ackles, now better known as Dean Winchester on “Supernatural.”

But I digress. The slightly-futuristic (it took place in 2019) “Dark Angel” was predominantly about Alba’s character, Max Guevara, a genetically enhanced super-soldier who has escaped from the government that created her and is using her job as a motorcycle courier to cover for the fact that she spends most of her time searching for her brethren, i.e. the other 11 super-soldiers who escaped with her. She does this with the help of Logan Kale (Weatherly), a.k.a. cyber-journalist “Eyes Only,” whose unparalleled computer skills go a long way toward making up for the fact that he’s paralyzed from the waist down. The series looked great, and having John Savage serve as one of its primary villains (Colonel Donald Michael Lydecker) was inspired, but trying to get the general public to embrace the cyberpunk movement – even the highly diluted version of it that “Dark Angel” offered – was a lost cause. Truth be told, we’re probably lucky that we got as much of the show as we did. If Cameron’s name hadn’t been on it, it probably would’ve been over at the end of Season 1.

13. Kyle XY (ABC Family): Ironically, I’m writing this mere moments after getting word that a copy “Kyle XY: The Final Season” has just been sent my way. Even if you aren’t familiar with the series, you’ll nonetheless have deduced from the appearance of the word “final” in the set’s subtitle that this isn’t a show that came and went within the span of a single season. Yes, “Kyle XY” actually lasted for three seasons, but it was still going strong creatively when ABC Family decided that it just didn’t match up well enough with their other content, like “Greek” or “The Secret Life of the American Teenager.” Now, look, I dig those shows as much as the next thirtysomething who wants to vicariously relive his youth through semi-realistic TV characters, but is that any reason to kill off a great sci-fi melodrama like “Kyle”? No, sir, it is not.

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TV in the 2000s: The Decade in Whedonism – 10 Small Screen Masterpieces from Joss Whedon

Like an awful lot of film and TV geeks, and just plain geeks, I’m a pretty big Joss Whedon fan. In fact, my devotion to his unique blend of fantasy and science fiction melodrama, sometimes arch old-school movie-style witty dialogue blended with Marvel comics repartee, strong characterization, and often somewhat silly plots has at times gotten almost embarrassing. A few years back some of my very adult friends were suggesting in concerned tones that I should really marry the man if I love him so much.

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More recently, I thought my fandom was under relative control. But now, I’ve been asked my opinion on the ten best examples of small-screen work in this decade from the creator and guiding force of “Angel,” “Firefly,” the already canceled “Dollhouse,” and, of course, “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer.” I only have to be thankful for the fact that first four seasons of “Buffy,” which contain most of that show’s greatest episodes, are disqualified because they appeared on TV sets before 2000. We take our mercies where we find them. (And, yes, if you’re about to catch up with these on DVD, there are a fair number of spoilers below for the various series, though I’ve tried to keep a few secrets.) One word of warning: my relative ranking of these shows is a matter of mood and borders on the random. In other words — don’t hold me to these choices!

Out of competition:

BTVS, “The Body” (“Buffy, the Vampire Slayer”) – This episode usually ranks extremely high when people make these kind of lists. Entertainment Weekly named it as pretty much the best thing Joss Whedon has ever done and maybe the best TV thing ever. The truth of the matter is that, yes, the episode where Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Geller) discovers the already cold body of her mother, Joyce (Kristine Sutherland, a wonderful asset to the show for the five previous years), dead from an entirely natural brain tumor, was probably one of the most remarkable episodes of television ever shown, and probably the only thing I’ve seen that comes close to capturing the essence of what it feels like when someone dies unexpectedly. The problem was, I didn’t find it depressing; I found it real. I didn’t feel any more like repeating the experience than I would the death of an actual loved one.

Whedon – who wrote and directed the episode himself – deserves all the credit in the world for the brave choices he made, including shooting the episode in close to “real time” and not using any music. If I have one complaint with Whedon, it’s his tendency to close emotional episodes with, dare I say it, somewhat drippy montages. His choice to eliminate music from the kind of “very special” show where other creators would lay in with three or four montages of Joyce frolicking in the woods or what have you, shows Whedon is, at heart, an outstanding filmmaker. I’ve never had a problem with his much-noted tendency to kill off sympathetic and/or popular characters. It might anger some fans, but especially if you’re dealing with inherently violent material, there’s something morally wrong about not dealing with the fact that good people are just as mortal as bad people. Still, I don’t enjoy watching this episode. If this were a movie, maybe I’d be more in awe or eager for profundity. However, if I’m going to be honest, I can’t call “The Body” a favorite and I can’t be sure it’s one of the “best.”

#10, Shiny Happy People (“Angel”) – Fans of the spin-off about Buffy’s ex, the vampire-with-a-soul detective (David Boreanaz), and various assembled demon-hunters and occasionally friendly demons, will be scratching their heads at this choice. It’s an unpopular episode from a widely and justly derided storyline involving a very weird affair between Angel’s unbalanced super-powered teenage son from another dimension, Connor (Vincent Kartheiser, now of “Mad Men“), and a suddenly evil Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter), a former high school mean girl turned lovably complex grown-up foil for her vampire boss. And, yeah, it was a little freaky for Cordy to give birth to a fully grown creature called Jasmine.

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However, as played by the wondrous Gina Torres of the then recently-canceled “Firefly,” Jasmine was freaky in a good way. A being whose god-like ability to create an instant sense of peace, happiness, and complete obedience, is somewhat set off by the fact that she’s actually a deformed and decaying, if not entirely evil, monster who must consume people to live, she was every charismatic leader and every great screen beauty rolled into one monstrous ball. More than anything else, “Shiny Happy People” reminded me of Don Siegel’s 1956 film verson of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” It was another believable demonstration of how we humans are only too willing to surrender our our humanity to the first apparently completely beauteous and 100% wise being who comes along. You know, like Oprah, only less powerful.

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TV in the 2000s: The Shows that Defined the Decade

A recent issue of Time magazine has the phrase “The Decade from Hell” emblazoned across its front cover. It’s referring to everything America has gone through in the past ten years, and it’s difficult to argue such an assertion: it’s been a shitty decade on a national level. During such times of stress, people inevitably turn to entertainment as a form of release, and although the methods in which we’ve distracted ourselves over the last ten years have unquestionably diversified, television remains the most easily accessible outlet for most Americans.

Within the format itself, the whole concept of reality TV must surely have been the biggest revolution of the decade. It’s really easy to bag on reality TV – mostly because the bulk of it is so damned unreal – but anybody who spends any time in front of the tube has surely had at least a couple of reality series they consider appointment TV. The two concepts that paved the way for everything else are undoubtedly “Survivor” and “American Idol.” The former, of course, opened the floodgates for the genre, and while it’s seen a considerable dip in the ratings department over the years, 12 million viewers isn’t a viewing figure to sneeze at. The latter, despite all the bitching and moaning and cries of “it’s not as good as it used to be” that accompany each new season, remains one of the most watched shows on the tube, likely due to the fact that it’s strictly a talent competition.

On “American Idol,” the only backstabbers are the judges, and since they aren’t part of the competition, their amusing duplicity is championed. The contestants, on the other hand, are innocents, and once the competition is underway, we’re given no peek into any possible backstage drama, which is a good thing, because by the time the audition rounds are over, we’ve had enough drama to last the whole season. Everything that comes after is all about who can best transfix us for three minutes a week via one pop ditty. It actually says something positive about the U.S. that “American Idol” remains our #1 form of reality entertainment, even if the actual reality is that the vast majority of Americans couldn’t care less about buying the winner’s album six months after they’re crowned.

You might think reality TV is a bunch of crap, and in most cases you’d be right, but the whole idea of it, to my mind, led to an important revolution, and that is serialized nighttime television (the classic “soap” formula notwithstanding). Reality shows taught viewers how to become invested in characters, how to be concerned for their eventual fate, and, most importantly, how to pay attention to an ongoing storyline, and the need to tune in every week. It didn’t take long for the networks to figure out that there was an audience for shows that didn’t continually hit the reset button. “24” must have been the first successful show of the decade to embrace the serial formula, and it embraced it whole hog. It required you to tune in for every episode, because each installment was another hour of a single day in the life of Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer. That “24” premiered less than two months after the terrorist attacks on 9/11 was pure happenstance. That it became enormously popular with viewers? Probably not so much. America needed some fictitious reassurance that there were folks on the job who could get shit done, and “24” filled the prescription.

Strangely, “24” didn’t open the network floodgates for more such programming right away. It took a few years, and then “Lost” made its mark. The number of “Lost” episodes I’ve seen could be counted on two hands, but that’s not because I didn’t like it, but because real life got in the way of it being appointment TV. Yet I viewed the pilot for “Lost” several months before its 2004 premiere, and when it ended I was convinced that I’d seen the second best TV pilot ever made. (“Twin Peaks” stills sits at #1.) The fact that a show as intricate as “Lost” still has a hardcore, central audience is perhaps a testament to that pilot. “24” started a new story with each new season; “Lost” required that you tune in for every episode of every season.

Another sci-fi series that did just that was “Battlestar Galactica,” a show that, due it being on a niche network (Syfy), never amassed a huge audience yet snagged boatloads of publicity and awareness nonetheless. It was no small feat to take an utterly laughable short-lived series from the late ‘70s and re-envision it for modern audiences, but Ron Moore and company did just that…and they did it far more successfully that anyone ever guessed possible. Most amazingly, the show taught us a lot about ourselves, by thoroughly defining what it means to be human, and as the damaged ‘00s dragged on, there may not have been a more important lesson to be learned.

On the same day I saw the “Lost” pilot, I saw another pilot for a completely different kind of series. While I didn’t rank it as one of the greats, there was one thing I was sure of: it would be a massive hit…and it was. “Desperate Housewives” was precisely the sort of vapid, soapy fare that had been absent for far too long on American TV. It clued into the seemingly bland suburban construct which surrounds so many Americans, via the Lynchian notion that “all is not what it seems.” Most anyone who lives a suburban life can no doubt relate to that idea, because wherever there are groups of people, there are bound to be some of them that are fucked up. “Housewives” is littered with fucked up suburbanites of all shapes, sizes and types, but they’re kooky and funny and there’s always some twinkly music playing in the background that in the end makes everything OK. It is not great television, but over the years it has, for the most part, been immensely watchable in the most disposable sort of way.

Around the same time period as “Housewives,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” made some major waves. It’s a series I have never watched and never plan to, but I’d be foolish to omit it from discussion since it brought two annoyingly obnoxious terms to the TV table: McDreamy and McSteamy. I haven’t heard either in a few years, but there was a time when they seemed to define everything that was wrong with television. I assume “Grey’s” fans have grown out of it…or maybe the show killed one of those guys off? I’ve no idea and can’t be motivated to investigate. Presently, there’s a brand new version of it going around, through cinema, via Camp Edward and Camp Nimrod. People can be so easily distracted it makes you wonder why some shows actually try harder.

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