Sitcom Rip-Offs That Were Way Too Obvious
You know a sitcom has made it when other people start pitching stuff like, “It’s basically Seinfeld, but... Actually, forget the ‘but,’ it's basically Seinfeld.” Here are the most shameless attempts to become the MEGA Bloks to a popular sitcom’s Legos:
Sitcoms about growth-stunted Black orphans being adopted by wealthy white people were all the rage in the early 1980s — by which we mean that there were two of them, but that’s still kinda weird, right? Or maybe not so weird when you consider Diff'rent Strokes was the 17th most-watched show in the U.S. at its peak.
By 1983, however, viewership was on the decline, and star Gary Coleman had started evolving from an adorable preteen to a somewhat bitter-looking teenager. (The fact that his parents were pocketing his money might have had something to do with that.) ABC smelled an opportunity and greenlit Webster starring Emmanuel Lewis, or as the producers probably called him, “Gary Coleman 2.”
Like Diff'rent Strokes, Webster also had “very special episodes” involving kidnappers, child molesters and drug addicts, but then again, so did every other lighthearted family comedy in the 1980s. They also had incongruous crossovers: Coleman got dating advice from Mr. T...
...while Lewis taught Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Lt. Worf about the concept of “feelings.”
The main difference was despite being the preachier show, Diff'rent Strokes left Coleman feeling overworked and screwed over, whereas Lewis saw the Webster crew as a real family. This might explain why the former lived such a tragic life while the latter is now doing wholesome videos on Cameo.
Unhappily Ever After
Unhappily Ever After is evidence that it’s perfectly possible to plagiarize yourself. The show was co-created by writer/producer Ron Leavitt, best known for also co-creating Married... with Children, a show about a miserable shoe salesman, his sexually unsatisfied wife, dim-witted son and attractive daughter who favors tight clothing.
In 1995, while Married... with Children was still on the air, Leavitt also co-created Unhappily Ever After with Arthur Silver, a writer and producer on the former show. This one’s about a miserable car salesman, his sexually unsatisfied wife, dim-witted son and attractive daughter who favors tight clothing. Even the “new” characters are reminiscent of existing ones from the other show. The frequently ignored second son was about the same age as the infamous Seven Bundy, and Mr. Floppy, the talking stuffed bunny, was a more deranged version of Buck, the Bundys’ dog (except the dad character can actually hear him).
In fairness, Unhappily wasn’t always meant to be a total complete rip-off. Early episodes focused on the mom after the dad is kicked out of the house, settling in a crummy apartment with the talking rabbit. By the second season, however, Fake Al Bundy was back home, and the stories started feeling more and more like rejected Married... scripts. At least they had enough self-awareness to address this common and understandable viewer complaint by, uh, calling the viewers “idiots.”
Can’t Hurry Love
Friends managed to score some pretty impressive guest stars in its early seasons, like that time Elizabeth Taylor showed up to insult Monica and Rache— Wait, no, that happened in a completely different show called Can’t Hurry Love, though there’s a serious chance that Taylor herself didn’t know the difference.
Can’t Hurry Love is one of the most egregious shows to come out of that time period when half the sitcoms on the air had something in common with Friends, either because they were intentionally stealing from it (The Single Guy, Partners), or because Friends stole from them in the first place (Seinfeld, Living Single). This one starred a group of, uh, pals in their late 20s who liked to complain a lot about their romantic mishaps and money issues despite sleeping with a different person every week and living in giant New York City apartments.
Characters consisted of Annie (played by Nancy McKeon, who was almost Monica in Friends), Didi (an amalgam of Rachel and Phoebe), Roger (a horny Italian womanizer like Joey) and Elliot (who filled both the Chandler and Ross roles by being really sarcastic and really dull). Despite being tied in the ratings with Law & Order, which went on to last 20 years and was recently necromanced, Can’t Hurry Love was canceled after only 19 episodes. It’s a tragedy that it didn’t even get to the point where they would have started introducing animals into the cast.
iPartment and The Theorists
There are plenty of licensed overseas remakes of U.S. shows out there, from Poland’s version of The Nanny to It's Always Sunny in Moscow (which The Gang has seen and approved). But every once in a while, the producers can’t be bothered with the whole “copyright law” thing, and you get stuff like Belarus’ The Theorists, which just straight up grabbed a bunch of Big Bang Theory scripts, ran them through Google Translate and gave them to the Belarusian version of Jim Parsons and company.
The Big Bang Theory doesn’t exactly scream “artistic integrity,” so how do we know the producers didn’t approve this cheap rip-off for some quick beer money? Mainly because co-creator Chuck Lorre complained about The Theorists’ existence during a rant in one of his show's vanity cards, where he also says that he wouldn’t bother suing because the TV production company plagiarizing him was owned by the Belarusian government. To their credit, the actors involved reportedly quit the show upon learning they were involved in an illegal government operation, leading to its cancellation.
Apparently, there’s nothing more universal than low-effort nerd jokes because China got in on this action, too, with iPartment, which has also been accused of cribbing from Friends and How I Met Your Mother, among other shows.
If the cast found out about the thievery, it looks like they didn’t care since the show went on to have several seasons and a movie. I’m assuming they’re up to the Young Zhanbo spin-off by now.
Kuwait’s Block 13 has been described as “the very first animated sitcom” to come out of the Persian Gulf, making it an important milestone in animation history. But just because it’s historic doesn’t mean it’s good or original. In fact, it’s the opposite of those things.
Now, Block 13 isn’t a COMPLETE South Park rip-off. First of all, the humor wasn’t quite as edgy as South Park’s, meaning that you’d never see something like the Kuwaiti version of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas raping Arab Indiana Jones. Also, the “Cartman” character is merely egotistical instead of completely psychotic, and no one yells, “Oh Allah, they killed Saloom!“ when the "Kenny“ character dies in every episode.
Oh, and the “Stan“ character has no hat. But other than that, yeah, it’s a rip-off.