Pop culture customs

As Americans, we revel in the delights of imported goods. We tell ourselves that everything is better imported: wine, cheese, cars, films.

As Americans, we revel in the delights of imported goods. We tell ourselves that everything is better imported: wine, cheese, cars, films.

If I purchase a fine steak of world-famous Kobe beef from a small farm in the Hyoto prefecture of the Kinski region on Honshu Island in Japan, where the cow has been fed sake and beer and only the finest grains, I am one of two things to my neighbors and peers: a commie-loving fairy who wouldn’t know a good ol’ fashioned American steak if it violated me after lights out in lock-up, or an open-minded purveyor of only the world’s finest, a cultured man who’s travels abroad have shaped him into a connoisseur of superior cuisine (two weeks spent in Amsterdam, high out of my mind, does make me cultured, right?).

Alas, neither assessment would be accurate. Yes, I’ve had Kobe beef, and no, I didn’t like it. It seems there are two extremely polarized views of foreign culture. But if there is one thing everyone can agree on, it’s television, and while you might not know it, a good deal of our best programming is inspired or directly licensed by American production companies from foreign television corporations.

Since the runaway success of The Office, foreign television has become a goldmine for American producers and shall be so long as the bucks keep rolling in.

We currently import and export television shows as if they were any other commodity, and this fall is no exception. A number of the most hotly anticipated shows this season are based on foreign programming. Let’s take a look.

Life on Mars Imported from: United Kingdom Originally called: Life on Mars The lowdown: Detective Sam Tyler of the NYPD is hit by a car and as a result travels back in time to the age of disco, absurdly over-sized shirt collars and 8-track tapes. That’s right, the ’70s. Jason O’Mara plays the time traveling cop who tries to adjust to his new precinct in 1973.

What’s good: – Jason O’Mara as Sam. Reminiscent in appearance, mannerism and even voice of Lethal Weapon-era Mel Gibson, the Irishman is quite charming. – The music. Obviously inspired by David Bowie’s Life on Mars (released in 1973), the show also features music by ’70s faves The Who and the Rolling Stones. – Time travel. Always awesome, especially since the crimes of the past are connected to the crimes of the future. – The opening reveal, featuring a certain architectural marvel that lets Sam know he ain’t in ’08. – The ambiguity of Sam’s predicament. Is he dreaming? Hallucinating? Or did he actually bridge a 35-year gap in the space-time continuum?

What sucks: – The 1970s. They go real overboard in hitting the point home that, yes, the show takes place in the ’70s. Afros abound, bell-bottoms flare like tiny skirts for people’s ankles, and we still have to wait four years for any Star Wars references. – “Out Here in the Fields.” The name of the first episode, and a lift of lyrics from The Who’s “Baba O’Reilly” (also featured in the episode). One music title reference is enough. – Apparently the pilot. It was so shitty they had to re-shoot the entire thing.

Verdict: A fresh import from the BBC with a hopefully long-lasting shelf life.

Kath & Kim Imported from: Australia Originally called: Kath & Kim The lowdown: Kath (Molly Shannon) plays mother to Kim (Selma Blair), a spoiled brat in her mid-20s who decides that her six-week-old marriage has run its course after her husband requests that Kim occasionally microwave dinner. Kim’s response: “I’m a trophy wife.” Kath has her own man, Phil Knight (John Michael Higgins), a sandwich shop owner, who has his eyes set on marriage.

What’s good: – The banter. In the middle of numerous arguments and/or fights Kath and Kim will forget entirely what they were disputing and throw compliments about fashion/decor/etc. each other’s way. – John Michael Higgins. The Christopher Guest veteran is hilarious in pretty much whatever he does.

What sucks: – Kim. She’s extremely unlikable, there is pretty much nothing to endear her to the audience. Not to mention Blair is 36 years old, making her look at least 10 years older than the character she’s playing. – The simultaneous celebration and ridicule of celebutante-type activity. Lets just stick with ridicule. – Not enough John Michael Higgins.

Verdict: Quarantine this import at customs, if it still stinks in a couple of weeks, throw it out.

Worst Week Imported from: United Kingdom Originally called: The Worst Week of My Life The lowdown: The show follows Sam Briggs as he attempts to inform his girlfriend’s parents that he not only intends to marry their daughter, but also that she’s knocked up. The catch, Sam has the worst luck of anyone, ever. The show is based on the philosophy of Murphy’s Law: What can go wrong, will go wrong. And does it ever.

What’s good: – Kyle Bornheimer as Sam, the idiot with a heart of gold. – Kurtwood Smith as Dick Clayton, the girlfriend’s dad. He pretty much plays the same role as the role he played in That 70’s Show. The role of the ball-busting, hard-ass Red. – Jokes about urine, vomit, fake-deaths, misconstrued sexual advances, etc….

What sucks: – Not much. It’s one of the stronger imports this season. – It’s on Monday nights. Primetime television’s weakest night, where TV shows go to die.

Verdict: Switch the night this delicious import is to be served, and TV watchers will eat it up.

Eleventh Hour Imported from: United Kingdom Originally called: Eleventh Hour The lowdown: Dr. Jacob Hood (Rufus Sewell) is a science advisor to the FBI. He’s brilliant, eccentric and totally out of touch with the real world. Along with Agent Rachel Young (Marley Shelton), Dr. Hood investigates some of the most bizarre cases out there.

What’s good: – Rufus Sewell plays Dr. Hood as a House meets Monk sort of type sans obvious character flaws.

What sucks: – It’s science fiction that’s afraid of science. It’s Fringe for the Bible Belt. It tells us that science is eeevil. – Dr. Hood is really the only interesting character; the others seem sort of tossed in for shits and giggles. – The original stars Patrick Stewart as the main character. That’s Captain Picard, Professor-fawking-X. You can’t beat that.

Verdict: Deport this show.

The Ex-List Imported from: Israel Originally called: Mysterious X The lowdown: Bella (Elizabeth Reaser) is informed by a psychic that she has only a year to get married before the opportunity is gone completely. The catch, her husband-to-be is a man she has already been romantically involved with. That means anyone she ever kissed, drunkenly screwed or had an affair, short relationship or long relationship with in her 32 years on Earth is a viable candidate.

What’s good: – The concept. It’s sort of like My Name Is Earl, except instead of karma, there’s romance. – A lot of potential for hilarity.

What sucks: – The characters aren’t particularly memorable. – The comedy in the first episode wasn’t very funny.

Verdict: Give this a couple weeks, it may get funnier, if not, dump it.