American TV and British TV have long been considered different beasts: one exciting, or trashy, the other deep or boring. "American shite," a friend often says, and I know what she means. She's talking 2 Broke Girls or CSI Every Bloody City in the US, certainly not an HBO gem like House of Cards or my current favourite, The Night Of. Both these shows are that other thing that is meant to denote utter crapness - they are remakes. House of Cards first ran on the BBC in the 1990s. Ian Richardson played the PM just as Kevin Spacey plays the President. Both actors nailed it and both versions are rather good. Going back to the BBC original after bingeing on the HBO show is actually rather fun, and easily achieved thanks to Lightbox. Americans have been remaking British shows since the beginning of TV, with mixed results. Perhaps the greatest success is All In The Family, Norman Lear's 70s classic sitcom that propelled Archie Bunker (Carroll O'Connor) into the world. He was a redneck curmudgeon whose DNA is to be found in everyone from Tony Soprano to Homer Simpson and especially in Donald Trump. Lear had only read about the British show Till Death Do Us Part show when he decided to buy the rights and turn Alf Garnett into Archie Bunker. It reminded him of his own family, which is possibly why he made such good a job of the remake, now considered far superior to the original, which seems a bit one-note in comparison.
I'm four episodes in and it feels like it can't possibly get any better and that it can never last long enoughTill Death Do Us Part certainly hit the same race-based funny bone, but All In The Family had extra dimensions to explore, giving it the ability to somehow tug the heartstrings. A similar flair is also evident in the upgrade of The Night Of, currently showing on Soho, though its originator, the BBC's 2008 series Criminal Justice, was nothing if not classy. The British version had a young man, Ben Coulter (Ben Whilshaw), entering the legal maze after being accused of murder. Did he commit it? We know that the girl he was with was killed sometime during or perhaps after a good old-fashioned booze/drug bender and blackout. He is, of course, unable to remember killing her, but terrible, crazy, things certainly happened and you would have to say he looks as guilty as sin. The Night Of sticks to the script but we're in New York and our young man is a Pakistani, a Muslim, in these troubled Trumpian times. The racial confusion of current-day US is nicely illustrated when a black witness describes the suspect to the cops. First he calls him "an Arab dude". But the cop wants more details so the man offers that "he looks like he works in a deli or shit, a short Puerto Rican-looking motherf****** with beady eyes." You'd expect the exchange to end there, but the cop and the show aren't done yet. The devil and much more is to be found in the detail, and this is a finely crafted, slow-moving machine. The cop, fixing the witness with a calm gaze that may as well be a lie-detector asks, "Well, how do you know he isn't a Puerto Rican, was he wearing anything Arabic?" The cop is played with notable precision by Bill Camp, a veteran of American theatre. It's just one of many exchanges that magically delivers the texture you'd usually associate with a novel. It can also be a gruelling ride as we follow young Nasir "Naz" Khana (British actor and rapper Riz Ahmed - he was terrific in Four Lions) into the purgatory of muted tones and terrifying jailbirds. Luckily it's so beautifully honed that you'll be able to bear even the moments that test your gaze. I nearly didn't look a few times, and I can watch anything, even Hosking and Toni Street. The cast is superb. Sure, the original boasted the late, great Pete Postlethwaite among others, but here you get to soak up one of the greatest performances yet from John Turturro, and that's really saying something. His shambling lawyer John Stone, channels a few things. Chiefly I'm reminded of Peter Falk's Columbo, although it has to be said that Stone makes that bung-eyed sleuth seem as dapper as James Bond. But he shares Columbo's chief superpower: he can smell a rat and perhaps spot an innocent man. Stone, like all good heroes, has some issues, including a skin complaint that makes wrapping his feet in Gladwrap seem like good idea. Even better, why not poke the inflamed skin with chopsticks? He also has sex with a prostitute, his client, but it's not the heroic thrusting of the leading man. This is all too real, it's socks-on dull and a just little bit grim. Of course Turturro has good material to work with. This thing is made by people at the top of their game, and they're playing a blinder. I'm four episodes in and it feels like it can't possibly get any better and that it can never last long enough. The Night Of (Soho) House of Cards (1990, Lightbox)