Thursday, April 14, 2011

That's How She Became The Nanny

Truth be told, I never actually watched a single episode of "The Nanny", the 90's hit sitcom that brought Fran Dresher into the mainstream; I never made it past the opening theme. In retrospect I may have even enjoyed watching it. I do find her idiosyncratic voice and her effervescent, hyper-Queens persona to be oddly and somewhat inexplicably charming. I also remember kinda liking "The Beautician and the Beast" (in an odd and somewhat inexplicable manner) which was essentially the entire premise of the "The Nanny" condensed into one film.

Although my "Nanny" viewing history never made it beyond the introduction, I have to admit it was one of my all time favorite television introduction. It had everything that a classic TV theme song/intro needed: a unique visual style, insidiously catchy music and lyrics, and provided efficient introductory narrative exposition to any new viewer. On that last point, "The Nanny" was a masterpiece of economical exposition it laid out the entire 6 season story arch from her unexpected arrival from Queens to her romance with Mr. Sheffield to her conflicts with C.C. to the relationship with the children in less than a minute. If it was any more effective it would have been written by Sherwood Schwartz.

Given how great the intro was, it should not have been such a surprise to me that many of the foreign adaptations of the show (adapted in no less than 10 different countries! Alas no Trinidadian Nanny though. ) copied much of the same style but with (sometimes) subtle cultural variations. My four favorite adaptations I found on youtube were:

Russian Nanny
It's pretty faithful to the original. They try to keep the same style of music but it definitely loses something in the translation. I noticed that the butler makes the Russian Nanny sign some gigantic novelty sized contract, which I guess is standard for all domestic employees over there. Also who is the weird looking lady taking everyone's picture in the end, the Nanny just got hired and she's already outsourcing responsibilities?

Mexican Nanny
I had a friend growing up who had a Mexican nanny, it was never quite as madcap. It's no surprise that one of our closest neighbors also produces the closest version of the show. I actually dig the Latin flavored variation of the theme music, it changes things up without losing the original catchiness. The only other real difference I noticed was the overly cartoonish sound effects.

Polish Nanny
I am not a fan of the Polish Nanny's music. It has a bizarre late 80's, cheesiness to it that I just couldn't get aboard with (also had a weird Rusted Root-style chanting section at the end). Everything else seems to be pretty similar except for the fact that poor Polish Nanny has to resort to using an outdated, Soviet era, electric trolley car to make that initial trip the the Sheffields'; it's hard to look glamorous in that.

Chilean Nanny
The music remains quite faithful but everything else gets radically altered. The animation style completely changes from the minimalist, abstract caricature version to a more fluid, children's cartoon-like version. Also, Chilean Mr. Sheffield comes across as a bit of a sleaze with his Members Only-style jacket and his unabashed leering at the Nanny. The conflict for the affection of Mr. Sheffield between the Nanny and the kids verses C.C. is way more literally expressed as they actually drive her away from Mr. Sheffield (and into the trash). They are definitely messing with the formula but I sort of like the bold new direction.

Two final observations on the adaptations. First, it seems that every country has their own version of going from Queens to Manhattan, whether it be from one part of Santiago to the other or taking the crosstown tram in Warsaw. This would seem to imply that most big cities have a universal Queens/Manhattan dichotomy, whatever that would mean. Second, I wonder how all these shows deal with the overt East Coast Jewishness of Fran (if you think about it, with the exception of "Seinfeld", Fran Fine was the most prominent Jewish character on TV). Most likely none of the characters in the adaption are Jewish, so I guess they'd have to have to fill that gap with some other character trait (I think the Latin based shows just seem to give her bigger boobs).

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