Hollywood is littered with film remakes and the pop charts are filled with samples and cover versions, but if they’re awful, people don’t seem to kick up much of a fuss. Remake a classic TV show, though, and you’ve usually got a big risk on your hands (as well as an angry mob waiting online). Certain TV shows can define a generation and bring us fond memories of a nicer time in our lives. It’s no surprise then that when a horrible reboot comes along, it almost feels like someone has reached into our brains and dumped all over these memories.
Some reboots–like the US version of The Office–can be a hit and turn out to be even more successful than the original series. But, it’s pretty rare for this to happen. The writing and acting talent need to be just right to pull off a good remake, and unfortunately, none of the following attempts hit the right mark. A few of these failed because the acting was corny, but a lot of these remakes flopped because the humor and original intention were so badly translated.
You’ll notice that quite a few of these badly-attempted remakes took aim at British sitcoms, and this is where a big problem comes in—British and American humor are very different from each other. Having grown up with shows like Frasier and Friends, I adore many U.S. sitcoms, but I have no desire to see a UK remake of these shows anytime soon. Some shows were never meant for a different audience across the pond, but lazy TV execs tried it anyway. Who knows why or how these 15 god awful remakes of great shows ever got commissioned?
15 The Twilight Zone
The timeless sci-fi/horror classic caused a whole generation to hide behind the couch back in the 1960’s. Each of the show’s 156 episodes was littered with more surreal moments and supernatural horrors than M. Night Shyamalan could hope to fit into his entire career. The scariest episode of all, though, had to be the pilot episodes from the needless reboots of The Twilight Zone in 1985 and again in 2002. (Apparently, at the time of this writing, there’s word of yet another reboot in the works by CBS!)
Why can’t TV producers leave a good thing alone? The most recent remake to date only lasted one season, and while critics praised it for having some faint spirit of the original show, it wasn’t enough to keep viewers hooked, let alone curious to see it through to a second series. Rule number one for TV remakes: if it ain’t broke, don’t dare to try and fix it!
14 Fawlty Towers
The legendary sitcom about an irate hotel manager is clearly well-loved by America because since its run in 1975, U.S. TV execs have tried (and failed) to remake the show not once, not twice but a total of three times (wow, guys get the picture already). The original British sitcom starring comedy icon John Cleese as the short-tempered hotel manager, Basil Fawlty, is loved by generations, so why channels ABC and CBS even attempted to touch the show is baffling.
The first attempt by ABC in the late 70’s starred Harvey Korman and Golden Girl Betty White, but even White at the height of her fame couldn’t save it, and it never went further than the pilot. The next attempt at a remake lasted a few months but ultimately bombed in the ratings and was canceled. The third (and hopefully final) attempt to reboot Fawlty Towers in 1999 seemed to fare much better than the others and even had John Cleese’s blessing! But, it only survived a measly eight episodes before being taken off the air. Awkward!
13 The Munsters
Although The Munsters were a little before my time, I have fond memories of watching re-runs on TV as a kid and laughing at Herman’s antics. I’m glad to say that the re-runs were of the original 1960’s show and not this horrific 2010 reboot by NBC. The modern “re-imagining” of the Munster family–renamed Mockingbird Lane–tried way too hard to appeal to a modern audience and ended up losing all its former appeal in the process.
The most stupid update of all to the show was the fact that a supposed family of monsters didn’t look like monsters at all! Despite the $10 million budget, every character’s makeup was pretty minimal to the point that it resembled a slightly creepier version of Desperate Housewives. A cruel irony about the remake is that it was directed by Bryan Fuller, the guy behind the TV series Pushing Daisies. Unfortunately, he tried (and failed miserably) to bring The Munster family back to life and it didn’t pay off.
12 Knight Rider
The classic David Hasselhoff series was as much of an 80’s mainstay as Pacman and permed hair. The series about a lone crime fighter and his indestructible smart car made an overnight star of its leading man and made young boys everywhere beg their parents for a talking KITT car for Christmas. The unnecessary and over-the-top remake in 2008, though, was probably making grown men cry and making the rest of us beg for it to be canned. So, what was so terrible about the reboot? Hmmm...where to begin?
First off, Hasselhoff’s ultra cool KITT car was downgraded to a Ford Mustang with a black paint job. Everything that made the original car surprising and ahead of its time seemed to turn into a clinical glorified car commercial. The overuse of gadgets in the KITT car and inexplicable storyline of Michael Knight’s son returning to take his place made the reboot a certified flop before it even began. Fans of the original weren’t so keen on the replacement voice for the modern KITT car either (Val Kilmer). I rest my case.
11 The IT Crowd
The hit British sitcom about two nerdy pals who know about computers but not women ran from 2006 to 2013. And within a year, American producers were already keen to take the show across the pond. By early 2007, producers at NBC commissioned a U.S. version in the hopes that it would have the same success. Not so much, though. For starters, America already had a hit comedy show with a similar format—The Big Bang Theory.
Both The IT Crowd and TBBT centered around socially-outcast male friends who have book smarts but no clue about the ladies in their life. As well as seeming completely unnecessary, a major reason why the remake flopped was that the chemistry between the characters was all wrong. The show centered around the friendship duo between Moss and Roy. The U.S. remake had Richard Ayoade reprise his role as thirty-something nerd Moss, but without the original Roy (Chris O'Dowd). The whole thing fell apart. Less than a year after the pilot aired, NBC pulled the plug.
10 The Prisoner
The original 1960’s sci-fi series may look dated in modern eyes, but there was deep meaning behind the slightly-tacky costumes and set pieces. The Prisoner was about a secret agent (played by Patrick McGoohan) who finds himself captive in a mysterious village that no one can ever leave. It was groundbreaking at the time and told a scary message about cult groups that still holds up to this day. Nearly 50 years later, a 2005 reboot of The Prisoner arrived, and it was scary (for all the wrong reasons).
To avoid being branded a “remake” of the classic 1967 series, the producers at AMC insisted that it was a “re-imagining” of The Prisoner, but it just ended up as something that didn’t need to be retold in the first place. Many unnecessary changes were made, including the name of the menacing white ball that chased escapees to their doom, and the idyllic green setting of South Wales was replaced by the desert. It was thankfully canned after just six episodes and scored a measly Metacritic rating of 46.
9 Red Dwarf
Red Dwarf was the kind of show that you didn’t need to be a sci-fi geek to love. The dysfunctional space crew took its audience on fun, surreal adventures, and the characters were all weirdly relatable despite it being set millions of years into the future. Sadly, this winning formula got turned on its head in 1992, when NBC decided to order a U.S. pilot episode. In spite of the pilot going down badly in the eyes of production staff, the test audience showed a taste for it, so they took this as a sign to re-shoot the remake with a new cast.
All of the original cast was replaced, apart from the character of Kryten who’s role was reprised by British actor Robert Llewellyn. Sadly, even bringing back the original nervy, lovable android wasn’t enough to keep the charm afloat in the remake, and it failed to launch any further than the re-filmed pilot episode.
8 Life On Mars
Proving that some American TV companies aren’t familiar with the word ‘subtle’, this awful remake of Life on Mars happened in 2008. As someone who adored the original British show, this one has me pretty steamed. If you’re not familiar with the original show, the plot centered on two chalk and cheese detectives in 1970’s Manchester (one of whom arrives from the present day after a car accident). The specific setting and time period gave the show a very specific style of humor and unique pop culture references that were impossible to replicate.
This wasn’t too much of a problem for the remake, though, since they tossed the show’s original intention aside for the sake of a bad TV movie with a poorly-devised twist. Since I don’t want to leave spoilers here, I urge you to see the original. But basically, all you need to know is that the remade ending is flashy, illogical, and worse than something a schoolkid could come up with. The co-writer behind the original Life On Mars series, Matthew Graham, summed it up best, “It beggars belief doesn’t it?”
Skins was originally a British drama telling the lives and loves of a group of wild teens (think The O.C. with less gloss and more overdosing, raunchy s*x, and vomiting). I hate to push the old cliché that British dramas are better at grit and in-your-face storytelling than Americans, but in this case, that cliché may have been right and is the reason why an attempt to remake this show for a young American audience was a mistake from the start.
In fairness, teens are teens no matter where they come from. They’re wild, moody, and some of them love to party. And while the U.S. remake of Skins kept to those elements, it was considered way too tame by some viewers and didn’t really connect all that well with a North American audience. Despite being considered tame by some, others took the opposite view. The opening episode’s use of drug references and near nudity of its young stars got complaints, and the show lost many of its sponsors and ratings due to its controversial themes.
6 Charlie’s Angels
The 70’s show about a trio of beautiful female detectives has clearly had an ongoing appeal in the last few decades. Since the original show ended in 1981, the girls have been revisited in a popular film franchise, and most recently in a 2011 TV remake. Sadly, the latter is neither as enjoyable nor as well-cast as previous incarnations of Charlie’s Angels, and it was so badly received upon release that it came off the air after just 4 of a possible 8 episodes. Yikes!
Whether you grew up loving the original Farrah Fawcett series or have fond memories of Cameron, Drew, and Lucy kicking butt, every generation has encountered the sexy crime-fighting girls in some form and whatever your opinion of the film reboot, nothing could compare to the cheesy and clumsily-acted 2011 TV revival. Upon airing, the pilot episode was described by critics as one of the worst ever and that the acting was so terrible that it wasn’t plausible that the angels could “change a flat tire, let alone take down a bad guy.” Ouch!
The original Spaced (above) is something of a cult comedy series in the UK, and thanks to a laughably bad attempt by Fox to reinvent it in 2007, the wacky original has possibly garnered even more fans in the last few years. If you’ve never heard of Spaced, then you might be familiar with some of the names attached to it—writer and director Edgar Wright (the man behind Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead) and its main star, Simon Pegg (Star Trek: Beyond and Star Wars: The Force Awakens).
Spaced was a brilliant homage to all things geeky and sci-fi, and it’s definitely something that needs to be seen to be believed (or described in words!). It’s a disgrace then that not only did the U.S. remake kill the spirit of the first show, but they even went one step further and didn’t even consult the original creators! Simon Pegg and other cast members slammed the remake’s director, McG, for selling out their ideas and the remake–which never got past the pilot episode–has been dubbed “McSpaced” by original director Edgar Wright. Sums it up nicely, although I was thinking of a far ruder word.
4 Absolutely Fabulous
American audiences may have become more familiar with the Absolutely Fabulous ladies after the sitcom of the same name got the big screen treatment in 2016. But, in case you’re not aware of the original British show, it followed the lives of two best friends (played by Joanna Lumley and Jennifer Saunders) as they shopped, drank like fish, did drugs, and swore...like a lot. On the basis of this, can you imagine pitching this to a room of nodding American TV producers?
Well, in 2008, U.S. audiences didn’t have to imagine. Fox launched a pilot of the official remake starring comedic actresses Kathryn Hahn and Kristen Johnson as the boozy best friends. Perhaps inevitably, though, their foul-mouthed antics and over-indulgent personalities quickly came across as more tacky than charming, and Fox sensed the boredom in the viewing figures. It never made it past the pilot stage. Utterly outrageous, darling!
3 The Thick Of It
Not to be confused with Veep which is great (and essentially the true U.S. remake of The Thick of It), the original attempt at remaking the sweary UK political comedy was atrocious, and the fact that you’ve probably never heard about it until now is a testament to how poor it really was. Every good sitcom has something that sets it apart from others—Frasier had you caring about snooty rich people, Sex and The City didn’t hold back from showing the crazy side of relationships, and The Thick Of It’s unique element was its poetic use of curse words.
Unsurprisingly, this concept didn’t go down too well with American TV executives, but they decided they wanted to remake it anyway (ignoring the very thing that made the show what it is). Thankfully, the super clean and conservative U.S. pilot was rejected and the original creator, Armando Iannucci, had to say, “They took the idea and they chucked out all the style. There was no improvisation or swearing. It didn’t get picked up, thank God.” Amen.
2 Kath & Kim
In another case of TV remakes getting lost in translation, the former Aussie comedy Kath & Kim was remade as a U.S. sitcom a year after the original came to an end. From 2002 to 2007, the Australian comedy about a dysfunctional mother-daughter duo found fans far outside its native audience and became something of a sleeper hit with UK audiences. The quirky comedy clearly had its fans in the U.S. too because NBC picked up on it and, at first, the on-body talent looked quite promising.
The U.S. remake had the former Kath & Kim actresses as executive producers, the chosen director was the guy behind the hit comedy film Bridesmaids, and the all-female Ghostbusters and the new stars signed up to play the oddball mom and daughter were Selma Blair and Molly Shannon. With names like these, it almost seemed like the remake was in good hands. Sadly, it was not. Critics slammed it immediately for its lack of humor, and within two episodes airing, viewers were demanding re-runs of the original Aussie show.
1 Bionic Woman
Sometimes, TV execs love to jump on old sci-fi shows with an aim to improve on the style and special effects that a cheesy old show just couldn’t achieve at the time. But the problem with this assumption is that no matter how dated the previous effort might have been, audiences can always be won over by characters and engaging storylines. The original Bionic Woman in 1976 had it; the remake did not.
The original sci-fi series centered on a woman named Jamie Sommers who discovers that she has bionic superpowers after an experimental surgery turns her into an unstoppable sexy assassin. Unfortunately, the 2007 reboot of Bionic Woman cast aside fun storylines, and the development of her character in favor of a Michael Bay style partly affected it. The original Bionic Woman herself, Lindsay Wagner, summed up the remake’s flaw perfectly when she said that the old show used the action and effects “like salt and pepper” while the modernized version used them for “their main course.” Watch the original. I guarantee you’ll want seconds!