TV review: Shameless US | Horrible Histories with Stephen Fry | Blethering Scots

Well, this is familiar – sort of. shameless us substitutes Chicago for Manchester and has the usual pretty people with carefully disarranged hair pretending to be scruffy proles, but its opening episode is nearly identical to that of the original.

There's drunk Frank having a pillow put under his head while he lies passed out on the floor, there's dutiful daughter Fiona hooking up with a car thief who later buys her a washing machine because he's so charmed by all of the loveable, cheeky siblings she's raising, there's Lip discovering that his brother is gay: all memorable scenes if you were watching Channel 4 seven years ago.

So perhaps only hardcore fans will want to bother reliving it all with different accents over on More4 (while those never convinced by the series, even before it spiralled off into a downmarket soap, will not find anything here to change their minds). But still, it's worth having a look, because the few differences between the two series cast an intriguing light on cross-cultural traffic and the differences between how the Americans depict their "underclass".

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Some of the basic plot no longer makes sense: without a welfare state, what exactly are they all living on, given that American Frank is just as unlikely to do a day's work as his British counterpart and the kids aren't out dealing drugs? There's some mention of a "disability cheque" from a work accident but it only seems to cover his bar bill. Also, their house is massive – absolutely massive.

If a house this size appeared in a British drama it would be the home of a wealthy lawyer or doctor, yet here everyone just takes the amount of space they have for granted. They don't even have to pay rent, for some reason. While in America this may pass for the wrong side of the tracks, the place is simply too well appointed for British viewers to take their supposed poverty seriously.

William H Macy is engaging as Frank, playing him as more of a cute drunk than David Threlfall's seedier version, but he's not around much. In this pilot episode, he introduces his kids in a heavy-handed manner then passes out until almost the end; perhaps it's deliberate, to evoke the sense in which Frank is an unreliable, erratic presence in his family's life. But it's a shame as he's by far the best actor, as well as the best known, in the cast and so most of the show is carried by youngsters who don't seem to have grasped that this is supposed to be a different kind of show to the norm.

Emmy Rossum is sweet and long-suffering as Fiona, but we're told rather than shown that she's sacrificing her youth to care for the family; Rossum doesn't quite get across the too-young world weariness that Anne-Marie Duff managed. Likewise, Justin Chatwin as her putative boyfriend Steve, can't capture James McAvoy's breezy charm and comes across as a smug bore – not helped by some cringeworthy dialogue imposed on the pair, like "you make me want to enjoy my life again".

Still, perhaps later on it develops its own style: the American series has at least been renewed for another year, which is a better fate than the recent remake of another Channel 4 hit, Skins, which hung around on MTV just long enough to outrage everyone before being abruptly cancelled. Frankly – so to speak – the more it makes the most of its unique attributes, the better.

There's another kind of translation in horrible histories with stephen fry, based on the best-selling books by Terry Deary, which has been making youngsters (and a few adults) chuckle for three series quietly on the CBBC channel. Having been the surprise winner of Best Sketch Show in the British Comedy Awards – which, not to put it down, was in part to do with lack of competition – it has been awarded the dubious honour of a promotion to BBC1, with its best bits repackaged with spurious links from Stephen Fry.

The sketches are still good fun, including the ones you might have seen on YouTube already where King Charles II raps and the Vikings do a soft rock number, but the point of Fry is lost on me: he's in a studio half-heartedly decorated with random historical objects basically repeating what the sketches have already told us more amusingly ("No one really knows how much of the story of Troy is true and how much is myth," he intones: well, thanks for that Stephen, otherwise I obviously would have assumed that Menelaus really did greet Helen with "you is well fit, innit?").

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It's a bit like those 'adult' editions of the Harry Potter books with different covers for people who didn't want to look as if they were reading a children's book, even though they were.

There's more local slang in blethering scots, a cosy, couthy wee programme about favourite Scots words – glaikit, fankle, gallus and the like – cheerfully discussed by familiar small screen faces (Michelle McManus, Kaye Adams, Sanjeev Kohli and co). You won't learn anything new, unless you don't come from a Scottish background and have been needing some of these expressions interpreted for you, but it's a harmless amble of a half hour summed up by one sadly missing from the programme: aw, the nice.

Shameless US

Thursday, More4, 10pm

Horrible Histories with stephen fry

Tomorrow, BBC1, 6pm

Blethering Scots

Monday, BBC2, 10pm

• This article was first published in The Scotsman on June 18, 2011