CliqueClack TV

Free Agents – US or UK?

Let's answer a burning transatlantic question the only way I know how - using sitcoms

It’s time to settle an age-old question, to put to rest this crucial issue once and for all: Which is better, the US or the UK? And finally we have the mechanism with which to decide. It is not about politics, it is not about teeth, it is of course about the TV show Free Agents. Obviously. Channel 4 made the British version in 2007, and NBC is currently showing the American remake. By deciding which is superior, we will indubitably, certainly and absolutely know whether the US or the UK is the best.

To declare an interest, the original Free Agents is a personal favourite of mine; the prevailing air of sadness sets it apart from most sitcoms. However, this tone hasn’t been completely captured in the remake. It seems too glamorous, too sexy. This is partly down to the casting — I’m just not sure Hank Azaria‘s Alex is pathetic enough. Look at him. He’s muscular, he’s chiselled, he’s Hank Azaria. Meanwhile, Stephen Mangan can look so downtrodden that his original Alex personifies self-absorbed misery. It’s what made him perfect in Green Wing, and perfect in Free Agents.

See what I mean? The chemistry between Alex and Helen is the best thing about both versions, but it was better in … guess which … the original. Stephen Mangan and Sharon Horgan had chemistry like Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig in Green Wing, not chemistry like Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig in Episodes.

The remake successfully retains the wit of the original. Free Agents doesn’t really do punchlines, just funny, snappy dialogue. Unfortunately, the American pilot — which is otherwise completely identical to the British pilot — sanitised the scene in which Alex imaginatively describes his antics of the previous night, which made it much less funny. So that’s another point for the UK.

At the risk of kicking the US version while it’s down, I’ll add that Matthew Holness is funnier than Mo Mandel as Dan, and that Sara Pascoe is better than Natasha Leggero as Emma. The remake can have a couple of points for the retention of the brilliant Anthony Head as Stephen, but I’m afraid it’s far too late to make any real difference.

I just don’t see why this remake was necessary. When Showtime remade Shameless it was understandable; it needed tweaking in order to work in the US. But the same cannot be said for Free Agents. The remake is the same, but worse in every area. It is let down by the obsession with only putting classically attractive people on TV, while failing to match the miserable atmosphere of the original. It all just feels too … shiny.

So it’s settled, the UK is better than the US, and that’s the final word on the matter. I’m sorry, but I don’t make the rules. Do you see George Washington leaping to the defence of NBC’s Free Agents?


Photo Credit: NBC

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