Lost in Translationals?

Viewing a piece of entertainment in a different context to which it was made for can have interesting consequences. Some parts may simply not work for certain demographics, see the US adaption of the UK series Skins, which didn’t work for an American audience because drug use and sex were present which for the demographic was more than they were willing to accept.


Television adaptions always have a lot to prove though, upon their announcement many fans of the original are outraged meaning the show has already started on the wrong foot. The series then has to define itself outside of the confines of the original while also proving to be a true adaption with purpose. The perfect example of this is The Office US which while being extremely Americanized found a way to translate the characters into something both original and new fans can identify with.

“If, as Andy Medhurst suggests, ‘comedy plays an absolutely pivotal role in the construction of national  identity’ because it invites us to belong by sharing the joke, then comedy may be particularly revealing in terms of how that national identity is imagined, especially if we turn our attention to what the joke implies in terms of sharing and belonging.” (Turnbull, 2010)

The above statement suggest that comedy specifically requires a contextual code to understanding certain forms of humor. Summer Heights High is an interesting example as it is uniquely Australian yet it’s reputation in the wider world is rather less glowing as some consider it racist. I guess the here the key as such to understanding the humor is Australia’s nature of self deprecation. An interesting series to not is the popularity of Please Like Me in the US which was recently nominated for an International Emmy. In cases like this the success of the series is most likely due to the rise of young adult slice of life series popping up on HBO, such as Girls and Looking.

Ultimately what is lost in translation is the identity of the nation. It’s like being shown a funny YouTube video after everyone else you know watched it in a specific context. It’s just not going to fit right and a television series is no different. But if there is something relatable to it, like in the case of Please Like Me, then the series may have a chance at pulling in an audience.


Turnbull, S (2010) ‘The long tail of mother and son: the transnational career of an Australian situation comedy’. Media International Australia incorporating Culture and Policy, no. 134, pp. 96.

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