You’d really have to be disconnected from the universe to not know that the 3rd season of House of Cards was released on Netflix yesterday. While I look forward to tucking into a delicious binge-watch fest, I have to finish my current fixation. That is the Australian version of The Slap—also on Netflix. It may sound familiar because the American version, a 9-part mini-series, recently began on NBC. I watched the U.S. pilot because the premise and cast intrigued me. At a family birthday party one of the adults slaps a friend’s misbehaving child. That inappropriate act causes all kinds of terrible repercussions. It stars Peter Sarsgaard, Thandie Newton, Uma Thurman and notable others. I instantly loathed all the stereotypical characters: one guy’s going through a mid-life crisis and is canoodling with the babysitter, another’s a rich, aggressive asshole (aren’t they all?), the strident, overindulgent helicopter parents, and more. I was ready to chuck it in.
Then I heard about the original Aussie version and how it was supposed to be better. Whoa, what a difference a continent makes! While the story is the same, everything about the series—from the characters to the theme—is more nuanced and complex. It also has swearing and lots more sex. Just like real life! I was instantly hooked and abandoned the NBC version.
I felt the exact same way about the Danish-Swedish version of The Bridge. I began watching the version on FX, was instantly turned off by Diana Kruger’s (who I normally like) bizarre acting choices and jumped ship to the original. My normally productive life screeched to a halt as I became absorbed in the overall richer characters, relationships, Scandinavian culture and delightfully intricate crime plotting.
I continue to marvel at how American versions of foreign shows get so lost in translation. Having been in meetings with entertainment executives, I’ve learned the sad truth why this is. There’s a general lack of faith and distrust that we, the viewers, are going to get it. We need to be bludgeoned with simple ideas and recognizable tropes, and here’s my bête noire, “likeable” characters. Bah! Consequently, complex stories become diluted … and unwatchable.
So huzzah to Netflix and Amazon and cable channels, like AMC and HBO, for taking risks. Risky TV can be captivating TV.