The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of Film to TV Adaptations
This year there have been an onslaught of new Film to TV show adaptations. I can’t help but always feel there must be a dearth of new ideas in writers-ville when this happens. Like an unnecessary film remake it often rehashes something that is better left alone. However, realising a great film into an even better thought out, slow burn series can give us a new perspective on a story and set of characters we always wanted to get to know a bit better. This is always hit or miss TV, never anything in-between. This season has seen TV versions of, most notably, Fargo, From Dusk Till Dawn, Bad Teacher, Rosemary’s Baby and About a Boy. As I started to take stock of this crop of shows, they got me thinking about my best and worst film adaptations of all time.
2013/14 Season Adaptations
1. Fargo (2014-)
This has been a delight and a surprise one too. It may not come as a surprise to Coen Bros fans that their quirky, subtle storytelling has adjusted to the small screen remarkably well, but there were a lot of Fargo fans worrying this would ruin one of their favourite crime films of all time. One of the big fears was the trademark Minnesottan accent perfectly delivered by Frances McDormand in the original 1996 film would be lost and difficult to recreate for the new cast. However, with talent like Billy Bob Thornton, Colin Hanks and Martin Freeman on board the nuances of these hopeless characters have been perfectly translated into an episodic treat.
2. From Dusk Till Dawn (2014-)
Based On From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)
Ok, so there’s no Harvey Keitel, Quentin Tarantino, Salma Hayek or George Clooney. I know, many of you will want to stop even considering watching this remake already. However, you would be missing out. Another remake of a 1996 film (obviously a great year for awesome films), this TV show could have been terrible as I had always suspected that the film had only worked so well due to the collaborating powerhouses on both sides of the camera. I was wrong. There was enough to work this into something more and the TV show has concentrated on developing the mythology behind the Mexican Vampires and added more depth to the central bankrobbing Gecko brothers.
3. About a Boy (2014-)
Based On About a Boy (2002)
Only comes in third place for the single reason that it has been renewed for a second season and it was developed by my TV hero, Jason Katims. Adapted from Nick Hornby’s 1998 novel the 2002 film version was acceptable and notable only for introducing the world to a very young Nicholas Hoult (Xmen: First Class (2011), Warm Bodies (2013)). As a Brit I have a bit of an issue with very British Nick Hornby stories being translated to American settings (apart from High Fidelity which was fantastic and sensitively adapted) so I was anxious, even with Katims being on board, that this would be another The Perfect Catch (The American version of Hornby’s truly British soccer book and film Fever Pitch)
4. Rosemary’s Baby
Based on Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Never having been a fan of either the novel or the 1968 Roman Polanski film this was thoroughly ‘meh’ TV for me. However, a solid cast with Zoe Saldana and the ever underrated Jason Isaacs has made it compelling and creepy enough to keep watching.
5. Bad Teacher (2014-2014)
Based on Bad Teacher (2011)
Thankfully, this show didn’t make it through upfronts and has been cancelled. It should of course never have existed in the first place. The 2011 Cameron Diaz film was forgettable enough and I have no idea who felt the basic story of a lazy gold-digging teacher had enough depth to warrant a whole show. The even more unremarkable TV version starred, if that is the right word, David Alan Grier and Caitlin Kimball (who?) and lasted a tedious 12 episodes.
Top 5 Film Adaptations (AKA The Jason Katims School of Adaptations)
1. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003)
Based On Buffy The Vampire Slayer (1992)
Controversially, for all you die-hard Firefly fans out there, I still think of Buffy as Joss Whedon’s best TV work. It was ostensibly a show about beautiful people fighting supernatural ‘big bads’ but it had so much more to offer than cheap thrills, including a great soundtrack. From the unique, witty dialogue (which gave us phrases like ‘big bad’), to the complex characters that, unusually, included fantastically strong female leads such as Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy herself. Gellar excelled as a girl who wouldn’t be defeated by any monster, who cared for her friends, and who looked damn good whilst fighting off any evil that came her way.
2. Friday Night Lights (2006-2011)
Based on Friday Night Lights (2004)
Friday Night Lights (2004) was a great film born from an ok book that told the real life story of the rise and rise of the 1988 Permian High School ‘Panthers’ football team. Directed by brat pack sauvant Peter Berg (whose directing resume includes Very Bad Things (1998), Hancock (2008), Battleship (2012), and Lone Survivor (2013)) and starring Billy Bob Thornton the film was a gutsy High School drama that splendidly portrayed all the violence and glory of football. The Emmy-winning TV show that followed, however, became something more than the film ever was. Developed by Berg and bringing on board Jason Katims it is as much of a love letter to Texas than to the game itself. It’s emotional depth, brought to the table by accomplished and poignant writer Katims, and flawless acting made it unmissable. The cast were so strong it had the feel of an ensemble drama with standout performances from Connie Britton, Kyle Chandler, Taylor Kitsch (RIGGINS!) and Michael B. Jordan (as an aside if you haven’t watched him in Fruitvale Station yet, please put that right). It survived a channel change after being cancelled far too early for anyone’s liking and FNL could convert anyone to believing in a team and the showmanship of Football. “Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose!”
3. Teen Wolf (2011-)
Based on Teen Wolf (1985)
This could have been awful. It could have been another supernatural-centric teen show with no depth and a hell of alot of angst, especially as it was developed for MTV. Not at all. Teen Wolf, based loosely on the seminal 1985 film starring none other than a very furry Michael J. Fox, boasts strong casting and gutsy writing as it flaunts our cultural thirst for all things supernatural and takes it for a ride. It is perfectly creepy without foraying too far into the gratuitously gory and its characters are all interesting and fully rounded. It has also been praised for the roles it’s provided for gay teens as it doesn’t shy away from teen sex and the fact that yes, gay teens are having sex too (shock). It also keeps its mythology fresh by exploring cross cultural theories of werewolves and those who hunt them. Excelling on both the supernatural and high school drama fronts is Teen Wolf’s great strength.
4. Parenthood (2010-)
Based on Parenthood (1989)
Katims’ hit number 2 took Ron Howard’s great 80’s film and moulded the concept into an ensemble family drama that has become one of the best written, most emotionally provocative and best acted shows on TV. With Katims at the helm the Buckmans of the 80’s became the Bravermans of the 00’s. Less neurotic perhaps but just as dysfunctional this new Braverman clan sticks together through cancer, addicted partners, adoption, PTSD and basically anything life can throw at them with great dignity. With standout performances from everyone just acting their socks off, this drama somehow always avoids becoming hysterical, predictable or boring. One of most enduring and impressive story arcs and performances comes from young actor Max Burkholder, whose award winning portrayal of aspergic Max Braverman belies sensitivity to the condition far beyond his years. Max Braverman’s character has been lauded by Asperger’s Syndrome charities as an incredibly real and accurate glimpse of life with this very difficult disorder.
The determination to understand their son and the moving performance Burkholder delivers is largely credited to Katims’ personal relationship with the disorder as his own son suffers from it. Max is therefore a deeply personal character to Katims and showing the world as accurately as possible what difficulties he and his family have faced becomes paramount to the character of Max Braverman. Now given the green light for a final sixth season on NBC it is impressive how Parenthood has successfully developed the lives, fortunes and relationships of our main characters. As a fan girl aside it also features many FNL alum!
5. M*A*S*H (1972-1983)
Based on MASH (1970) and the book “MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors” (1968)
The 5th place spot was a tough call between M*A*S*H and The Dead Zone (I’m a big Stephen King fan like many people are) but M*A*S*H pips it to the post for me for the incredible cast who solidified the characters the film introduced us to and made them more sustaining than the original film casting. We will never forget Alan Alda as ‘Hawkeye’ and I personally struggle to associate the role with its original actor, Donald Sutherland. M*A*S*H enjoyed record breaking viewing figures with its finale being watched by 125 million and the place it holds in its fan’s hearts is undeniable. It is satire done right as it follows the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital in Uijeongbu, South Korea during the Korean War yet is an allegory of the difficulties being faced contemporarily to the show in Vietnam.
1. Parenthood (1990)
Based on Parenthood (1989)
The only entry to make it on my best and worst lists this refers to the one season wonder NBC put out in 1990 that was executively produced by Ron Howard, but even more direct involvement from him couldn’t improve a mess that missed the point of the film. Wikipedia points out that in 1990 there were many failed film to TV adaptations including Uncle Buck (?) and Ferris Bueller! (More on that coming up…)
2. Ferris Bueller (1990)
Based on Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
This was a weird one to say the least as it went a bit po-mo and didn’t follow on from the film but attempted to be the real life of Ferris Bueller, ie the story behind the film. This is exactly what noone wanted and never made it to the end of the first season.
3. Manchester Prep (2000)
Based on Cruel Intentions (1999)
Cruel Intentions (1999), with Sarah Michelle Gellar, Reese Witherspoon and former Mr Witherspoon Ryan Phillippe was a great teen movie with a great soundtrack. Manchester Prep was meant to be the spin off that put more horny, devious teenagers on our screens. However, the pilot was so poor it ended up being rehashed into the very very unacceptable Cruel Intentions 2.
4. My Big Fat Greek Life (2003-2003)
Based on My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002)
Talk to anyone of Greek descent and they will tell you how happy they were to watch My Big Fat Greek Wedding. They were grateful to Nia Vardalos for connecting the mad traits of their extended family with their cultural heritage. It celebrated Greek-ness. The TV show had no such impact. Whilst retaining Vardalos it’s biggest sin was that it lacked the charming smoothness of John Corbett. No surprise it was a one season wonder.
5. Dirty Dancing (1988/2007)
Based On Dirty Dancing (1987)
You find when looking through the archives of failed TV adaptations that many iconic films, such as Dirty Dancing, have been revived for the small screen more than once as producers try to squeeze every last drop of value out of the popularity of the original. The 1987 film was first realised into a series in 1988. Only lasting 11 episodes before being pulled the formula was untenable without Grey and Swayze. The second time Dirty Dancing was rebooted for TV was as a reality dancing show for the film’s 20th anniversary. This could have worked as the plot of the film lends itself nicely to a reality format with people competing just as Johnny and Baby were, but left a stale taste. Hosted by Cris Judd, former Mr J-Lo, it outlasted its predecessor, making it to season 2.
What are your best and worst TV adaptations?