Loosely based on a very good 1989 film starring Steve Martin and Dianne Wiest, the concept has been rebooted in two television shows—one in 1990 and another in 2010. The 1990 version was not a success, but the second try in 2010 is family drama at its best. Sure, “Parenthood” can be overly sentimental. Sometimes its conflicts are resolved in ways that seem pat and simplistic. It’s far from perfect, but “Parenthood” features some of the best dramatic acting ever seen on network television. No performances fall flat, and the show’s many child actors deliver uncannily strong performances. Plus, new plot arcs about Asperger’s syndrome and childhood bullying make the material fresh and contemporary.
Another American remake of a U.K. show by the same name, “Shameless” premiered on Showtime in 2011. This dramedy about working class life—and addiction—in Chicago is very similar to the original London-based version in plot, style and emotional voice. With the help outstanding cast members including William H. Macy, Joan Cusack and a host of relatively unknown child actors, the show is both hilarious and deeply sad. Emmy Rossum stars as Fiona Gallagher, a teen mother figure to her younger siblings and caretaker for her alcoholic father. The show is essentially a very good remake made great by Rossum’s impressive dramatic range and powerhouse performances.
3 “The Office”
The American version of the 2001 Ricky Gervais-led BBC comedy began in 2005 and ran for nine seasons. As the sad, lonely manager of Dunder Mifflin-Scranton, Steve Carell’s Michael Scott provided a more sympathetic version of Gervais’ more buffoonish David Brent. Critics sometimes noticed that the NBC version lacked the original show’s edge, suggesting that American audiences were more compelled by sympathetic—if flawed—characters who seemed capable of personal redemption. While this would never have worked in the Gervais version, it was a successful departure with Carell, whose performances in films like “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” showed off his talent for showing human sadness in comedic context. The show’s supporting characters were better developed than their original counterparts—and even managed to drive the show for two more seasons after Carell’s seventh-season departure.
2 “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”
The fantastic 1997-2003 television series created by Joss Whedon was a remake of an unimpressive 1992 film of the same name. Whedon was frustrated with the film studio’s direction with the original, and saw the TV series as a way to realize his creative vision. The show was a cult and critical success. Heroine Buffy Summers was like no other action star on TV, a slight but badass woman whose vampire-slaying skills meant she needed no rescuers to save her. The show worked as both a comedic satire of its genre and as a compelling character-driven narrative. Geared toward teens, it asked challenging questions about the existence of human evil—and what it means to fight against what the show dubs the “Big Bad.” Buffy launched Joss Whedon as a cult phenomenon in science fiction and fantasy years before he won box office success with “The Avengers.” It also influenced later pop culture successes such as “Twilight” and “True Blood,” neither of which touched “Buffy” in quality or depth.
1 “Battlestar Galactica”
The 2004-2009 Syfy remake of the 1978-1980 franchise had the advantage of little to live up to. The original, little more than a tacky TV copycat of “Star Wars,” was short-lived and critically panned. Using only bits of mythology and character names from the original, the allegory of the post-9-11 War on Terror that emerged in 2004 blew its predecessor away from the outset. While the original glorified military culture, the new show asked difficult questions about the consequences of militarization and the dehumanization of the enemy in war. At a moment when many Americans were not thinking critically about foreign policy, the show challenged our thinking about who is good and who is evil—and ultimately shattered the good-versus-evil dichotomy. Both cultural statement and gripping drama, “Battlestar Galactica” delivered as one of the greatest television remakes of all time.