Sometimes in the world of popular culture, an idea pops up that is so good you can’t believe it’s never been thought of before. Stirring dramas, wacky comedies and aesthetics so perfectly unique yet relatable to everyone’s human experience that you can only sit there, astonished, that such an idea remained unmade until that very moment.
And then there are other ideas. Original ideas for films or dramas that, for whatever reason, come out in pairs – two projects with the same premise that appear around the same time, two metaphorical buses racing towards the viewer after a long wait with no such idea in sight.
Now, consider this premise: a young office drone played by an actor from The Inbetweeners finds himself thrown into a parallel dimension by a strange wrist ornament, trapped in another Game of Thrones-esque world with no obvious way of returning.
Pretty unique, right? Wrong – because I just described both new Dave comedy Zapped, starring James Buckley, and E4 sci-fi series Tripped, that starred Blake Harrison in December of last year.
Through a weird coincidence, these two shows (which also have strikingly similar titles) got made around the same time – and it’s not the first time this sort of unintentional thematic pile-up has occurred over the years, usually in the world of cinema.
In 1997 audiences had their pick of volcanic action in Volcano and Dante’s Peak, and a year later could choose between the meteoritic movie magic of Deep Impact and Armageddon.
More recently, 2013 saw the White House attacked by terrorists in both White House Down and Olympus has Fallen, while 2011 had two sets of friends try to keep romance out of sex in No Strings Attached and Friends with Benefits.
In recent TV terms, the reboot of Upstairs Downstairs was tripped by Downton Abbey’s first series, while BBC shopping-themed drama The Paradise struggled in the ratings against ITV’s Mr Selfridge.
It’s never clear what causes these doubled ideas to turn up. Sometimes a real-life event inspires multiple projects; sometimes both try to target a specific niche (as with Downton and Upstairs Downstairs); sometimes it’s just the coincidence of two different people having a similar idea that we normally don’t notice when things are released further apart.
Whatever the reason, it seems like Zapped and Tripped are the latest victims of that curse (only emphasised by the fact that Harrison and Buckley were Inbetweeners co-stars).
With that said, it’s usually only a curse to the losing project, with the series or film that delivers a less popular version of the premise consigned to history while the more successful project lives on. And by these standards, Zapped looks set to triumph.
Having watched the first couple of episodes I’ve found it a more entertaining watch than Tripped, perhaps due to its comedy pedigree (Steve Coogan guests stars and executive produces while the series is made by Mighty Boosh, Sensitive Skin and Gavin & Stacey production house Baby Cow) and more focused scope.
Sharon Rooney, James Buckley and Paul Kaye in Zapped
Meanwhile Tripped struggled a little with its comedy/drama tone and ambitious storyline (which saw heroes Milo and Danny thrown through multiple parallel universes as opposed to Zapped’s single other world), and despite having some great moments lacked the strong gags that Zapped gave its talented cast (MVP being Paul Kaye’s drunken wizard Howell). So overall it seems like Zapped will be the programme that stands the test of time.
I could be wrong about this whole thing, but never fear. I’m sure there’ll be a second think piece along any moment to make an argument that leaves mine dead in the water. That’s the way with these things.
Zapped begins on Dave tonight (Thursday 13th October) at 9.40pm
Sign up to the Radio Times newsletter for the latest TV and entertainment news