I have been thinking about my promise to talk about the far-left and far-right and their race-based immigration policies, and realized that the topic requires a bit more fact-finding. And having been informed by the legal staff of Liverputty that I was skating on the edge of EU libel laws--much stricter than American regs (that part's actually true)--I feel I had better be more circumspect in the future.
So I'm going to talk about Alf, or as I think of it, the Keanu Effect.
Yes, indeed, Virginia, Alf is still on television here, if not this week then next week perhaps, and certainly I saw a few episodes in passing last month. The thing to remember about shows in translation is that they only have to match the new dialogue with duration and visual content. For any imported sitcom...and the vast majority of sitcoms on German TV are synchronized American ones (the German comedies are mostly virtually-interchangeable sketch shows along the lines of Mad TV, with casts of 3 to 6 good-looking comedic actor/-esses and, apparently, one tired writer with a copy machine--rather like Minimalist's compositional techniques)...the network must first hire a translator to write a german-language script to match the lip movements of the already-filmed show (how's that for an ellipses, Lptty editorial staff?!). This does not mean that they have to translate, word-for-word, the original dialogue. The good ones transliterate.
Alf is a good example of a visually interesting show totally ruined by inept dialogue, which has been more or less saved in transliteration. Put simply, Alf in german doesn't suck. Mostly because the original dialogue has been thrown out the window. This phenomenon can perhaps be best illustrated by its eponymous exemplar, Keanu Reeves. I had, like every red-blooded American Boy, bitterly regretted KR ever since he attempted to expand from Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. Whereas that role was perfect for him (I can never remember whether he was Bill or Ted), when he attempted to play characters with thoughts or emotions he fell flat on his face. However, his physical comportment on camera is not actually incompatible with acting.
And he looks so good.
In Germany, the new Keanu Reeves came as a pleasant surprise. The german actor providing his voice is subtle, manly, emotional, and above all, intelligent. And Keanu still looks so good. His face, which in english, is as blank a canvas as his voice, becomes in german a wonderfully subtle palatte enlivened by the vocal nuances of his german acting. Rather like tofu, it takes upon itself the flavors of the sauce. As with Alf, an utter banality is rescued when all aural content is thrown out the window.
This doesn't always happen of course. The Nanny is a popular show here, but while all of the Fran-Fine's-Voice jokes are faithfully translated, they chose an actress with a somewhat Kathleen Turneresque timbre. It just doesn't work. And in many shows, so many puns are translated directly, rather than transliterated, that the whole point is lost. There are lots of Huh? moments when the laugh track helpfully informs you something is funny, when there has been absolutely no humor in evidence. Not that that is an unfamiliar experience, even with original sound.
Very clever shows, like The Simpsons or South Park, suffer in translation, I think, because it is simply not possible to be as verbally nimble in german as in english. The short-cuts and short words just don't exist in sufficient profusion. And the meat is, perhaps, too strongly flavored, itself, to gladly accept a new sauce.
So: Alf better, Keanu good, Bart...underwhelming.
Dear readers: if this has entertained you, or piqued your interest, please ask me questions (if not...don't). The subject of transatlanticism is too broad for a dilettante like me to organize and address in a cogent fashion. Cogency is anyway, for me, an undiscovered country.
Yours in disarray,
P.S. You may have noticed an increased ornamentation of my previously staid prose. I have had a battle with the corporate drones at Liverputty International and won. I will no longer be, in my more archaic moments, expurgated and eviscerated, leaving my best bits on the cutting room floor. A small victory for linguistic non-comformism against journo-corporate newspeak.