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Betrayal and Red Widow - Why the American versions don't work

Sunday's series premiere of Betrayal happened to coincide with the season 3 premiere of the Dutch TV series Penoza. In case you forgot, ABC made a remake of Penoza, called Red Widow, which was cancelled after one season. Betrayal, which is a remake of the Dutch TV series Overspel, is also unlikely to get a second season after its premiere numbers bombed. Why are the Dutch versions enormously popular while the American counterparts suck?

Just to be clear, I haven't seen either of the four shows. I am a Dutchman, but I am not a big fan of homemade TV series. When we watch TV, it will be an American scripted program 70% of the time. The other 30% is either a film (also English-languaged), news, sports events and sometimes a Dutch program, usually non-scripted (e.g. a quiz show or occasionaly The Voice). Since I have not seen any actual footage, I am completely relying on reviews and commentaries.

Penoza is said to possibly be "one of the best TV series ever made in The Netherlands". It's described as being so good that it almost feels as a non-Dutch series. "Director Diederik van Rooijen has succeeded in creating a pentrating and realistic image of the Dutch organized crime," one review writes. The acting is said to be excellent and believable, and the minor inconsistenties in the first episode are hardly noticed due to the magnificent cast. "The story is so thrilling and unpredictable that you can't wait for the next episode." Penoza is currently airing its third season.

Red Widow seems completely the opposite. Its two-hour pilot was "high-aspiring but poorly executed". The show is said to be too busy, and Penoza writer Pieter Bart Korthuis said that "many of the subplots from us that made the world more believable, have been left out". Penoza lead actress Monic Hendrickx said: "Red Widow appears to be more smoothly than Penoza. It lacks the raw part that I really enjoy." Director Diederik van Rooijen understood the cancellation of Red Widow. "It was too glossy," he says. "After two episodes it already went down hill. Our intention was too show what the underworld does to a family and never too romanticize the violence."

Overspel is a must see. "It is a very strong drama that knows how to pull viewers into the intrigues with both the story and the characters as well as the complete setting," a review writes. Critisc praise lead actress Sylvia Hoeks. "The way in which she visibly suffers under the pressure of adultery is impressive," says the reviewer. "She also knows how to show a fiery and strong woman as a surpressed and insecure woman." But it is not just the acting work that makes Overspel a good show. "You can feel that every image of the show has been thoroughly considered and thought about." Overspel's second season will premiere this month, and the series has already been renewed for a third season.

Betrayal is said to be a show that takes itself too seriously. "It does require a lightness of touch, an ability to acknowledge the camp factor without giving way to it," LA times writes. Another reviewer, who has seen Overspel, wrote: "[Overspel] was quite enjoyable. That proves to me that it’s not the premise that makes Betrayal as horrible as it is. Rather, it’s the extremely soapy feel that ABC tacked onto the story and the complete lack of chemistry between any of the characters." There are no good reviews to be found about Betrayal. It won't be this season's first cancellation (Lucky 7 was the first), but I believe it will be among the first five cancellations.

And which Dutch drama will be next to be remade? Vuurzee was said to be also adapted by ABC, but it didn't make the cut. Perhaps they could try it once again? Or maybe they should just stop making remakes and instead broadcast the original show with English translations.

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