The year 2017 has not by any means been a slouch in the entertainment department with the likes of The Shape of Water, GLOW, Pixar’s Coco, Get Out, The Handmaid’s Tale, BoJack Horseman, Mindhunter, and more. However, in an age of nostalgia-bating, remakes, and sequels, there are those who believe that all of the original ideas have already been done by now.
Sometimes it does seem this way, with so many copycats and knockoffs out there on the market. Putting the blatant ones aside—we’re looking at you, Russian sitcom and Chinese cartoon ripoffs— some ideas are simply a result of multiple discovery, or the idea that two similar ideas can organically come about concurrently through no fault of either production party.
However, when shows come out years apart and have staggeringly similar themes, characters, and plotlines, then it’s clearly not a matter of multiple discovery. In some cases persnickety viewers cry “homage” but even this trump card does not apply if the details noted in the show are not references so much as full on duplicates.
It’s a tricky distinction, but you’ll get the hang of being able to tell the difference after discovering these 15 TV Shows that Shamelessly Ripped Off Better Ones!
15. Channel Zero ripped off American Horror Story
The premise of SyFy’s Channel Zero (2016) is that each season focuses on a different “creepypasta” — an online encyclopedia sub-genre of urban legends told through the medium of digital lore — in a season-long anthology style similar to the one employed by American Horror Story (2011). It is not this reason alone that condemns Channel Zero to copycat status, however.
While haunted houses, ghosts, and monsters are certainly elements of many horror stories, Channel Zero features a child psychologist main character going mad ,which echoes several prominent psychotherapist characters of the AHS franchise.
Additionally, the set pieces are similar — bathtub shots a-plenty, as are absent/missing fathers, cryptic writing on the walls, and haunted houseas that defy the laws of reality.
While Channel Zero may have surpassed the quality of the later AHS seasons, the fact remains that it is still tinged with certain tropes that have American Horror Story’s oeuvre written all over them (in blood, most likely).
14. Dark Matter ripped off Firefly
Joss Whedon’s tragically short-lived Firefly (2002-2003) was so beloved by fans that they launched a huge campaign to get them a major motion picture deal… and it worked.
The show followed Captain Malcolm Reynolds and his motley crew of misfits as they found a way to keep flying by, stealing a little here and there and doling out vigilante justice when they were needed by the oppressed.
Enter 2015’s Dark Matter. Essentially the show is Firefly fanfic — they do everything described in the previous paragraph and some characters, such as Jayne and Three, are essentially the exact same person — mixed with a different episode from Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer entitled “Tabula Rasa”.
The Rasa is also the name of their starship. Coincidence? Maybe (the term “tabula rasa” by no means belongs to Whedon), but SyFy Channel writers (those of the Sharknado franchise) are far more than likely to be the sort of folk to dare such a contrivance.
13. Lady Dynamite ripped off 30 Rock
Maria Bamford is one of the most prolific comedy writers of the 21st century. Her standup, while not necessarily widely known in the mainstream, has garnered her respect and attention.
Because of this success, Netflix gave her Lady Dynamite in 2016 and fans of her work collectively held their breaths in anticipation. What they got, unfortunately, was something inspired by Bamford’s real life, but had less in common with the standup’s comedy than it did with Tina Fey’s 30 Rock.
Bamford acted as star and producer, but notably not writer– and the content showed it. She became Liz Lemon 2.0, a facile character who looked somewhat like Bamford’s persona on the surface but lacked any of the fundamental qualities that made her complex or unique in the industry.
Like 30 Rock, Lady Dynamite chronically lacks heart and, while conceptually different, the similar music, tone, pacing, use of flashback, famous guest stars in small roles, and even the bare bones concept — sad sack woman in comedy tries to have it all, make a stand, struggles with her success, and tries to stay true to herself — are ripped from 30 Rock.
12. San Clarita Diet ripped off iZombie
CW hit iZombie (2015) started out as a comic back in the day, so its plot, characters, and arcs are airtight, having been edited down from a few versions.
Maybe all that editing is what made iZombie such a unique standout in the zombie craze — so many zombie-themed media offerings are essentially survivalist shows with zombies acting as the big bad threat, from World War Z and I Am Legend to Walking Dead and even the rare romantic or comedy version like Warm Bodies.
There is another show that also depicts a woman coming to terms with her newfound zombie-ism in a plucky, optimistic way: Netflix’s San Clarita Diet (2017). In San Clarita Diet, Drew Barrymore’s character strives to sustain a relatively normal life while maintaining and even strengthening relationships, plus finding the unforeseen perks of a new life as a zombie superhero.
San Clarita wanders a bit more in plot than iZombie and doesn’t quite have the “solving crimes” aspect, but unlocking the mystery of San Clarita’s mysterious and ancient zombie condition sort of fits a similar bill.
11. Crazyhead ripped off Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Anything supernatural and teen angsty isn’t automatically a ripoff of Buffy — take Twilight for example — but the idea of teen BFFs fighting a demonic overlord businessman (reminiscent of the evil Sunnydale Mayor and Wolfram and Heart plotlines from Angel) and the forces of darkness is reminiscent of Buffy.
Not just reminiscent… it’s spot on. Are we wrong? Well, how about the Chosen One with special powers to do this mission and a demon love interest and the fatherly figure who trained them in these deadly arts? Are we close enough now?
Crazyhead (2016) has been called a spiritual successor to Buffy, but there are plenty of others who think of the show as more or less a dirtier and more British remake of Joss Whedon’s Scooby Gang. We can’t say that we disagree.
10. Glitch ripped off The Returned
Les Revenants (translated as The Returned) (2012) is a French supernatural drama that found great popularity internationally — several American versions were attempted by ABC and A&E respectively, neither quite as good as the French one.
The plot is somewhat Rip Van Winkle-esque in inception, but specific in the detail that the missing people who return after a great amount of time without reason or warning were dead first.
Some return from only a few years, some from decades. They don’t return older or as zombies, however, but rather in perfect health and appear as they did at the age they died with no memory of the circumstances of their demise.
Netflix’s Glitch (2016) often causes confusion because the Australian show basically has an identical premise to Les Revenants/The Returned. It shares more than the concept alone, though.
In fact, many plotlines are taken virtually verbatim —a man/woman whose spouse dies and then remarries thus putting them all in a love triangle, the woman whose husband got old and senile without her, the young child/teen who died before their time and needs taking care of by older members of the returned, the great supernatural mystery that binds them all and threatens the whole community.
9. Riverdale ripped off Twin Peaks
Since Twin Peaks aired on ABC from 1990-1991 and revolutionized television forever, fingers have pointed at subsequent shows for “stealing” from David Lynch’s masterwork. Riverdale (2017) stands out, however.
In this world that Archie Comics brought to life, the melodramatic cast walks down a road leading to revelations of murder, gang violence, drug-trafficking, PTSD, and several separate counts of family relationships that are too close for comfort.
The shows both start with the murder of a beautiful, enigmatic teen in a small, seemingly wholesome town. The town, however, has a dark and potentially supernatural underbelly with lots of suspicious adults who know more than they’re willing to reveal. However, can the plucky lovelorn teens stay alive long enough to unlock the mystery? This plot describes both shows to a tee.
Riverdale stars have come out and mentioned the parallels (there are even alums from the older show on the newer one), but it’s already no Lynchian mystery that the show falls into downright plagiarism territory.
8. Garfunkel and Oates ripped off Flight of the Conchords
Garfunkel and Oates was a fresh, indie comedy band featuring hilarious comedians and real life BFFs Kate Micucci and Riki Lindhorne. When IFC gave the duo a chance to shine in their own sitcom in 2014, however, the actresses and songwriters proved that they had some trouble finding their own unique writing voices in the world of television.
Instead of taking the opportunity to try something as refreshing as their songwriting style, the internet exploded about how Micucci and Lindhorne ripped off the concept of 2007’s Flight of the Conchords with Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement (both of whom have found widespread fame since). In it, two twenty-something folksy songwriters and best friends trying to make it in the business and find love in urban America.
It isn’t fair that this somewhat broad-seeming concept is now “owned” by McKenzie and Clement, but if any standup show is either a ripoff of Seinfeld (if sitcom-y) or Louie (if indie experimental) then you surely see the problem.
7. Food Party ripped off Peewee’s Playhouse
Pee-wee’s Playhouse, the brainchild manchild of Paul Reubens, ran from 1986-1990 on CBS to great popularity among children and adults alike.
The show was ranked highly in TV Guide’s Top Cult Shows Ever and founded a whole new world of tongue-in-cheek satirical adult-themed “kids’” entertainment like Avenue Q, dark adult cartoons like BoJack Horseman and Rick and Morty, as well as the whole concept of Adult Swim.
While the aforementioned programs borrowed thematic elements from Reubens show, Thu Tran’s 2009 IFC show Food Party crosses the line into a pseudo-remake. The show is a somewhat satirical cooking show instead of a children’s show, but the sets made of elaborate technicolored cardboard and practical effects, puppet friends, and celebrity guests sound a bit too familiar for anyone who’s seen anything of Pee-wee.
6. Clarence ripped off Steven Universe
Steven Universe (2013) is a genius cartoon from the mind of Rebecca Sugar (Adventure Time) and it’s just about the best sci-fi on TV right now.
The show is all about a chubby little boy who saves the Earth with singing, accidental superpowers, optimism, bold silliness, and unconditional love. He’s half-alien, raised by his deceased mother’s three best friends (also aliens… and maybe robots?)
The complex long- and short-form narrative arcs and evocative character growth represented over its five season run are interwoven with masterful world-building, nuanced detail, gorgeous animation, and true heart.
Clarence (2014), however, is a show on the very same channel — Cartoon Network — with a character that looks and acts exactly like Steven, but without any significant plot to speak of. There isn’t much to say about the show beyond that, except that it’s a mystery why nobody at the Network seems to have caught the copycat.
5. Room 104 ripped off Black Mirror
Black Mirror rocked sci-fi genre in 2011 and again in 2013, with Netflix picking it up for two more wildly successful seasons. HBO’s Room 104 (2017) is more supernatural than science fiction. Regardless, the shows have more in common than both being single episode anthology shows.
At first glance Room 104 seems more like another American Horror Story copycat, but the idea of looking for humanity within the thread of a theme (technology gone wrong vs the transient comings and going of a single hotel room and the lives that pass through it), contains both a dark and philosophical exploration of the modern identitive psyche and human relationships.
Room 104 falls short of the staggering heights of Black Mirror’s success, acting, and writing, but they are certainly less dark, less anxiety-provoking, and ultimately less psychologically brilliant than Black Mirror. Whether those are good things or not depends on the expectations and desires of the viewer.
4. The OA ripped off Stranger Things
The OA premiered on Netflix in 2016 and left its viewership completely divided— it was either brilliant or hilariously bad.
The storyline centers around a young girl with an unconventional name who went missing mysteriously before reappearing years later with magical mind powers (that induce nosebleeds) that she uses to save herself and her newfound friends from bullies and the shady government organization that is after her. Telekinetic van-flipping, daddy issues, and sensory depravation tanks are featured.
Besides the fact that the girl, Prairie, was blind before being abducted and then became cured of that blindness plus the weird off-kilter spiritual undertones, does this show sound anything like the other runaway 2016 hit, Stranger Things?
Because a lot of people certainly thought so and, with the Stranger Things script being shopped around in significant advance of being picked up by Netflix, it is very possible that elements of the Duffers’ idea were snatched during that elaborate initial pitching period.
3. The 100 ripped off Battlestar Galactica
Battlestar Galactica is a popular cult television show from the ‘70s that was rebooted in December 2003 to equal or greater popularity. The resurgence lasted only six years but made a huge impact on the sci fi pop culture landscape.
Ever notice how the CW’s The 100 (2016) reads like an amateur Battlestar slashfic? The elements are all there, right from the nearly indistinguishable intro songs. There’s the ship, AI threat, social issues of a settlement on a habitable planet, the ship-board problems as resources run out —even many of the same actors (Kate Vernon, Allessandro Juliani, Rekha Sharma, and Ty Olsson).
As for the main characters, they recast Baltar as Murphy, Apollo as Bellamy, Starbuck as Clarke, Commander Adama as Kane, Boomer as Jasper (shaped by painful circumstances/ a lost love), President Roslin as Clarke’s mother Abigail (including her contentious relationship with Kane/Adama), Jaha as Zarek, Octavia as Number Six (chooses to join supposed enemies over her own people), Athena as Raven, Anders as Finn and then Lexa (Finn as the rebel leader and Lexa as the machine hybrid).
2. Beowulf ripped off Game of Thrones
The moment that ITV’s 2016 adaptation of Beowulf hit TV screens, hardcore Game of Thrones fans called the 13-episode run entitled Return to the Shieldlands a “blatant rip-off” of the filmic adaptation to George R.R. Martin’s epic series.
Was the backlash just because both shows involved medieval supernatural themes? Not quite— eagle-eyed viewers noticed the similarities between the shows’ theme music and the opening credits.
Beowulf also employed poorly done CGI, something GoT masters with finesse. This stands in contrast to most other modern medieval-esque shows that generally go in favor of practical effects (Xena, most of Legend of the Seeker, and Merlin, etc.).
It doesn’t help, of course, that the costumes look all but indistinguishable from those of the Game of Thrones cast and, considering that those actors are outfitted by the best wardrobe team Hollywood has to offer, it’s probably not just historical accuracy or coincidence since many other shows in that time period’s theme have their own unique takes on costuming.
1. American Vandal ripped off Documentary Now!
American Vandal (2017) is obviously a spoof of Making a Murderer and all of the other true crime documentaries that copied it in the wake of its explosive success on Netflix in 2015. What you might not realize is that American Vandal is at best the spiritual successor and at worst a shameless duplicate of Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, and Seth Meyers’ Documentary Now!
The idea of spoofing documentaries was not widely recognized until Documentary Now! started down that thematic path and, while the style changes nominally depending on which documentary the team is roasting, certain specific techniques from Documentary Now! where used in Netflix’s series.
Specifically, American Vandal outright copied much of the plot and technique, not to mention the comedy devices of the Documentary Now! episode “The Eye Doesn’t Lie”, an homage to The Thin Blue Line that covers a man potentially wrongly convicted of a crime and a documentary crew investigating how he may have been set up by the powers that be and why.
Can you think of any other shows that shamelessly ripped off other ones? Sound off in the comments!
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