AMERICAN REMAKE 2: AMANDA’S

 

American television had already tried (and failed) to make their own version of Fawlty Towers in 1978. Therefore it might have come as something of a surprise for John Cleese that they would be willing to try again so soon. However in 1983 that is precisely what happened… Unfortunately the programme that was produced was far removed from the material that inspired it and it has become part of television legend that the Americans once tried to make Fawlty Towers without Basil…

 

The series “Amanda’s” – sometimes known as “Amanda’s By The Sea” starred Bea Arthur as Amanda Cartwright, a recently widowed woman, who had been left with the family hotel – and mounting debts. The hotel staff included her son Marty (played by Fred McCarren), his wife Arlene (played by Simone Griffeth), Earl the chef (played by Rick Hurst) and Aldo the bellhop (played by Tony Rosato).

 

In total, 13 episodes were produced, but only 10 were originally aired before the show was axed.

 

From the off I will state that I’m not really a fan of this remake. There were a few episodes that were passable, and I did laugh a couple of times although the instances of this were few and far between – and in most cases they were reserved for the occasions that the plot resembled something of its Fawlty Towers inspiration.

 

Here I am going to take a look at Episode 1. “All in a Day’s Work” – which aired on 10th February 1983. In essence this episode is most like Fawlty Towers. Later episodes are very, very different…

 

 

Okay, the title: “Amanda’s” – says it all really. The sit-com is very much all about Amanda. The funny lines are mainly reserved for Bea Arthur. The characters that we know as Basil and Sybil are rolled into one so that Amanda is at the centre of everything. This could have worked – although later episodes where she embarks on a relationship with the brother of her dead husband (don’t ask) suggests that there was limited potential in a character with nobody of a similar age to play against.

As you can see, some elements of this episode were a straight “lift” from the Fawlty Towers scripts. The visual gag works well in the original series because the audience already know of Basil’s difficulty in communicating with Manuel – and the cards would seem to form part of his “training”. Basil shows the cards almost absent mindedly, which is different from Amanda – who seems to labour the point. This is somewhat strange seeing as it will be our first meeting with Aldo…

…In Fawlty Towers, the biggest laugh of the sequence occurs because Manuel manages to “get one over” on Basil, with his own “OK” card. Aldo is not afforded the luxury of this response, so the joke falls a little flat. Aldo comes across as not very intelligent – which is a shame actually, as Tony Rosato tries to do a reasonable impersonation of the Manuel character.

Ah – Mrs. Richard’s – perhaps my personal favourite guest in Fawlty Towers. Played by the wonderful Joan Sanderson. The Americans have copied her look and grumpy attitude, but the hearing aid gag is completely gone. In this version, the character is merely bad tempered.

Another straight lift is the complaint about the view from the widow. The script is virtually identical – even down to the “between the land and the sky” line. However, whereas Basil TRIES to remain civil to his guest, Amanda is simply rude. Whereas Basil can mutter under his breath, to try to maintain the “Britishness” of their relationship, Amanda simply tells her guest to find a hotel IN the sea.

 

 

Its almost a “greatest hits” of Fawlty Towers in this episode, as the female guest becomes an expert on Claret / Beaujolais… In the original series this highlighted Basil’s poor knowledge and he has to cover it up – In Amanda’s this merely gives her another excuse to be rude to a guest! I suppose I could mention here what a good recreation of the set they have made – indeed the layout of the hotel is very similar.

 

 

Ah – another Fawtly Towers idea – the “fire” that is ignored by everyone until it is impossible to miss the smoke billowing from the kitchen. Of course here there is no build up with the fire practice / false alarms. I suppose this is where Fawlty Towers and Amanda’s differ quite a lot – where the original series builds a plot over the course of half an hour and intertwines several sub plots that build to a climax, this series seems to go for the quick-fire gag approach – which is amusing, but not likely to produce a belly laugh.

 

 

In this episode the plot centres around the “hotel inspector” idea – In Amanda’s it is a reviewer for West Coast Magazine. Like in Fawlty Towers, there is a case of mistaken identity – however the “false” inspector doesn’t have the delivery of Bernard Cribbins – or indeed the material to work with! Just in case you were in any doubt – the reviewer is the “Mrs Richards” style character to whom Amanda has been nothing but rude to since the moment she arrived. One of Basil’s major character traits is his desire to move up the social ladder; the fawning and lies that come from this are central to him.

 

 

 

Obviously when this is removed, the character becomes rude with no motivation. John Cleese has stated on a number of occasions that the main reason for Basil’s bad temper is his fear of being caught / found out by his guests and his wife. There isn’t much of that on display – and indeed the idea of Amanda being a widow and therefore free to do as she pleases – never really allows the audience to feel the sense of dread or to squirm in their seats – which comes from the awkwardness of the situations that Basil finds / puts himself in.

 

A few episodes into the series, Keene Curtis appears as Clifford Mundy and he does have some humorous lines. There is obviously the gag involving his name Mundy / Monday – which allows Tony Rosato a welcome comedy moment…

 

Unfortunately the character of Aldo seems to be the butt of Amanda’s bad temper. Unlike Basil, who slaps Manuel for very little reason, and with no malice, some of her slaps come across as rather mean spirited. This isn’t helped by Aldo’s realistic reaction, as opposed to Manuel’s pantomime confusion. It does little to endear the central character to us.

 

Later in the series they introduce Amanda’s brother in law (Kevin McCarthy as Zack Cartwright) – as a love interest – and while the idea is fairly novel -  the delivery of most of the scenes that the two actors share seems strained and for some reason there are lengthy pauses between lines with nothing happening.

 

I did laugh at some of the episode that involved hiding a corpse in various places around the hotel. (Sound familiar?) However I was quite glad by the time I had watched all 13. Apart from producing the screen captures for this page, I think once is enough

 

Episode List:

 

  1. All in a Day's Work (10 February 1983)
  2. You Were Meant For Me (17 February 1983)
  3. The Man Who Came on Wednesday (24 February 1983)
  4. I Ain't Got Nobody (3 March 1983)
  5. My Cheatin' Staff (10 March 1983)
  6. Aunt Sonia (24 March 1983)
  7. Last of the Red Hot Brothers (5 May 1983)
  8. I'm Dancing as Close as I Can (12 May 1983)
  9. One Passionate Night  (12 May 1983)
  10. One Passionate Night, the Aftermath (26 May 1983)
  11. Amanda's Number One Son (unaired)
  12. I Was Wild About Harry (unaired)
  13. Oh, Promise Me (unaired)