I thought I’d do a little deeper dive than normal into a US version of a British show. Men Behaving Badly was created by Matthew Carlson, based on the ITV/BBC series by Simon Nye. It aired on NBC from September of 1996 to December the following year. It arrived with much fanfare.
While I don’t find much to appreciate in the US version, I’m not sure how to take that, having not seen the original since it aired … I may not enjoy that show noawadays either.
What’s clear from the outset is that it’s horribly miscast. There’s some good writing hidden away in the pilot episode, but it gets lost in performance, and none of the characters seem to gel.
There’s an odd framing device too, with Sarah, played by Justine Bateman, providing a pithy (but joke-less) voice over at the beginning of each episode.
It’s no suprise to know that the show struggled in the ratings, and that for its return in season two, it was retooled, re-cast, and rescheduled to a 7pm slot on Wednesday.
For a show called Men Behaving Badly.
And gone was the framing device, replaced with high-minded on screen quotes from the likes of Anton Chekov.
In spite of the vocal criticisms of the show by the cast themselves (more later), to say that they weren’t trying to shock enough is wrong. They were trying to shock too much, with neither the wit nor the bite to succeed.
When the title sequence kicks in, the show lost me totally. It was a series of old black and white clips of women slapping men in the face.
Just a couple of months into the show’s run, Eldard and Schneider, the titular badly behaving men took to the press – probably to drum up some publicity, so they may have been trying to sound provocative.
They both express boring opinions on political correctness, and then convey some stories about how badly behaved they are in real life. Neither says anything insightful outside of begging the network to let them make the daring show they set out to make.
There was a rumour that a whole taping had to be re-staged when Eldard and Schneider mumbled the whole script in monotone. A mutiny they claimed was a protest at the way the network was restraining the show.
NBC was letting other shows get away with more, and it was actually the network’s restraints that made those shows better. Not being able to mention masturbation made Seinfeld’s The Contest a classic. Bill McNeal complaining about the use of the word penis framed it perfectly.
Reigning these shows in made them come up with more creative and original ways around the restraints. That Men Behaving Badly didn’t learn this lesson says it all. As does this promo.