Why we have our doubts about a US remake of Black Mirror
"Black Mirror" Season 1, Episode 2 "Fifteen Million Merits"

Charlie Brooker’s innovative drama series Black Mirror is reportedly getting the US remake treatment by Netflix.

The streaming giant is said to have agreed terms with Brooker and his production company for “multiple episodes” of the dystopian anthology, which started life on Channel 4 in 2011.

According to the Radio Times, Brooker is currently working on new scripts.

There have been rumours of a US remake of the cult TV series since early this year. Before this is confirmed, we would like to put forward an argument of why they just shouldn’t bother.

US remakes of British TV series have a history of not working out well. For every success story, there are multiple failures.

Adapting a series for another country is tough to get right. And something like Black Mirror, which is set in a very British context, seems destined to disappoint.

Essentially, a TV show is made for the original home audience. Everything from the tone, the aesthetics, the feel of the show is contextual.

For a US series to work, a new setting, story, theme and characters must be relevant to the country. And often, when you alter the original context of the core idea, it doesn’t translate well at all.

Despite the often bigger budgets stateside, remakes can lose their spark.

the office

One of the more successful examples, The Office, actually worked best when it outgrew Ricky Gervais’s version and began creating storylines that were relevant to a US audience. There are always different cultural references and subtly different senses of humour to consider.

The American series has now outrun the British version by a whopping seven series. While this had a lot to do with Steve Carrell’s involvement, American shows tend to form their characters differently, and for The Office, it was successful.

With a more traditional take on what a lead character should be, the US Office made its David Brent character more likeable. More of a traditional protagonist. And, in this instance, it worked. Brent was petty and irritating, with few redeeming qualities. His US counterpart Michael Scott was an uncomfortable, awkward boss but likeable in a way that Brent wasn’t.

Similarly, Gareth’s American counterpart Dwight Schrute was better equipped to deal with the abuse that Jim, the US version of Tim, gave him, making it feel less cruel, more prankish and more American. 

Dawn’s fiancé Lee in the British show was controlling and bordering on emotionally abusive. In the US version Pam’s other-half was more of an idiot, who seemed to mean well. Goofy. Americanised.

Can a dark look at our tech-fuelled future really afford to take on the more loveable, likeable protagonists that are intrinsic to many US series? Probably not.

Timescales are another factor that can affect the transition from UK to US. American TV series tend to be longer. Taking something that was created for a six episode run and turning it into 15 episodes, again changes the tone and development of the series.

Would a shorter series like Black Mirror translate to a longer series of ten episodes instead of three, for example? The short, sharp jolt of dystopia that it delivers is at the core of its success.

Of course it makes sense that it would be more difficult to impress a UK audience, home of the original series.

And there is a difference in whether we deem it to be a ‘successful’ remake of one our own popular series, and whether it is successfully adapted for an American audience.

For example, the US Shameless doesn’t translate well to us as we are constantly comparing American Frank to Mancunian Frank (and there’s just no comparison). But, five series in, with a sixth on the way, they must be doing something right in transcending that massive cultural leap.

Can Black Mirror do the same? We have our doubts, but are willing to be proved wrong.

Stay tuned for our list of worst ever British to American TV remakes.

In the meantime, here’s Brooker talking about the most recent Black Mirror, White Christmas: