Kirsty Macleod is dubious as to whether an American remake of Only Fools and Horses will work
Regardless of your age, if you have grown up in Britain this scene will be ingrained on your cultural subconscious: “Play it nice and cool son, nice and cool, you know what I mean?”, says Derek ‘Del Boy’Trotter, before moving to lean on a lifted bar counter and falling out of shot to canned laughter in one of the most celebrated British television moments of all time.
The multi-award winning and much-loved Only Fools and Horses is set for a US remake, taking the basic premise of two canny brothers looking to get rich quick to an American market. John Leguizamo of Romeo + Juliet fame is set to take the role of Del Boy – originally a street-savvy but luckless Peckham market trader played by (now Sir) David Jason – with stand-up comic David Ybarra usurping Nicholas Lyndhurst as the younger and even more hapless brother Rodney.
Only Fools and Horses began filming in 1981, ran for seven series, and has been resurrected numerous times for one-off specials, one of which holds the record for the highest UK audience for a sitcom episode. Over a third of the population tuned in to watch “Time on our Hands” in 1996, a testament to how the British public took the show to their hearts. Throughout the Thatcherist ‘80s, the exploits of the Trotter brothers with their money-making schemes provided comedy in the face of austerity, but also echoed the nation’s mood of resourcefulness and resilience in a difficult decade. The trademark Trotter three-wheeled Reliant Regal van became a symbol of working-class pluck, and the storylines, while comedic, stressed a family-centric and community-based set of values that reflected both the time and setting.
Could something with such deep roots in British subculture work in an American series? While Guy Ritchie’s films have popularised the ‘diamond geezer’ on the big screen, there is no obvious equivalent in American culture; though the rough-edged housing estate backdrop of greater London undoubtedly has parallels in the US, these come with cultural subtexts of their own.
David Jason himself doubts that the series will translate: “It might work but you’ve got to change it so much that, in the change, in order to Americanise it, do you lose the whole concept of the piece?” he told the Radio Times. “It’s so London and so British…that you wonder.” The Office is a good example of how a show, stripped of its bitter, awkward British humour, could become an entirely different creature in the Steve Carell-headed American remake. When it comes to the beloved Only Fools… I think I’ll be sticking to the original. As Del Boy would say, it’s lovely jubbly.