Thursday, January 25, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks - Television Edition: Book to TV Adaptations

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. You can take part too - all you have to do is pick three movies that fit the week's theme and write a bit about them!

Well. Here we are again, back in TV Land for this week's Thursday Movie Picks. And we're talking about one of my favorite things: Adaptations of books! Novels actually lend themselves better to TV mini-series than they do to movies, in my opinion. The extra time allows you to include the full scope of the novel and paint in all the little details of the world. Films can be good for getting to the heart of a novel, but for my money, I'd nearly always prefer a TV mini-series. This week, I've picked one great mini-series, one great short-lived full series, and one absolutely terrible clusterfuck of a full series.

Big Little Lies (2017) What is there to say about Big Little Lies that hasn't already been said? I devoured each episode at least twice by the time the thing was over, and it was worth every second for these richly drawn, beautifully performed characters. It barely even needed the murder mystery framework, even if that was the supposed hook of the series. I can't believe they're doing a second season, let alone that they now have Meryl Streep(!!) and Andrea Arnold(!!!!) involved. This was so perfect as it is, I really hope they don't tarnish it with the next installment. I could heap praise on this for days, but in the interest of time, I'll just say this: Nicole Kidman's character arc, ESPECIALLY the therapy scenes, is the most compelling thing I've seen on TV in a long time. She deserved every award for it - and actually got them!

The Leftovers (2015-2017) The show that introduced The Great Carrie Coon to the world, The Leftovers is based on the novel of the same name by Tom Perrotta - or at least the first season is. The second and third seasons were written by Perrotta and series co-creator Damon Lindeloff as expansions of the world that Perrotta created in the novel, and holy WOW is this show tremendous. I get why people didn't want to watch it or stopped after the pilot episode: The premise and execution are downers: 2% of the world's population just up and vanished some time ago, and the people who remained are having a hard time dealing with it. Some go about their business like everything is fine. Some have a newfound death wish. Some are just doing their best to get through each day. And some have rebelled by refusing to speak, wearing only white, chainsmoking cigarettes, and accosting people as living reminders of what happened. And yes, the show is pretty depressing. But it is also utterly fantastic, producing several all-time great episodes. View each episode of the show as a short story set in this world, and its brilliance becomes more clear. I can't recommend it enough. Get past the first two episodes and OH what riches of writing and acting await you!

The Magicians (2015-Present) OH what wasted potential! Lev Grossman's Magicians trilogy is stunning: Imagine if Harry Potter was an American high school student and Hogwarts was a college, and that gets you about halfway there. Grossman brilliantly deconstructs every single fantasy trope, making for a decidedly adult version of books like The Chronicles of Narnia. After the success of Game of Thrones, this could have been another great adaptation. But instead, it's listless, and most of the changes they've made to the novels make no sense and bear no fruit. I hate-watched three-quarters of the first season on Netflix before giving up because life is just too short to spend that much time watching something you don't like. Any fans in the house? Does it get any better? Or did I do the right thing?


  1. I also chose Big Little Lies! I watched the Leftovers pilot and gave up, but from what I've read I should've kept with it. I think it's something I'll revisit some day.

  2. I don’t have Netflix or HBO so I haven’t seen Big Little Lies but I want to. I haven’t heard of the second one but I have heard of the third and thought it looked bad from the start so I didn’t bother to watch it.

  3. Big Little Lies is a popular pick today and with good reason - loved it, too! Kidman's storyline was my favourite too, she and Skarsgard were amazing in this. I didn't know Andrea Arnold was on board for the second season, that's exciting. Fish Tank is a favourite of mine!

  4. Not having HBO I haven't seen Big Little Lies but I plan on it when it becomes more accessible. I haven't seen the other two, it sounds like that is unfortunate for the first and a lucky break for the second.

    Mine reach back a piece but are all based on books I absolutely love and that all turned out well.

    East of Eden (1981)-Comprehensive telling of the John Steinbeck masterpiece itself a twist of the Cain and Abel parable is effectively rendered if slightly weakened by a mushy performance by Timothy Bottoms as main protagonist Adam Trask. But it is entirely worth seeking out for Jane Seymour’s virtuoso turn as one of the most venal females in literature. Her work as the soulless Cathy/Kate is a revelation-she is by turns vindictive, coy, feral, enchanting and chilling. It is one of THE best pieces of acting in television history. For her work alone this is a must see but it is a very effectively told tale with many other fine performances especially Lloyd Bridges as a version of the author’s own grandfather Samuel Hamilton.

    Tales of the City (1993)-Based on Armistead Maupin’s first book in his Tales series this is a bittersweet look at the denizens of the bohemian apartments of 28 Barbary Lane in swingin’ 70’s San Francisco whose owner Anna Madrigal (Olympia Dukakis) is the freest of spirits. Full of wonderful period detail and fine acting from at the time rising performers such as Laura Linney as na├»ve new girl in town Mary Ann Singleton and Chloe Webb as nonconformist Mona Ramsey as well as Parker Posey, Paul Gross, Thomas Gibson and a wealth of others. Followed by several sequels.

    The Stand (1994)-Solid rendering of Stephen King’s chronicle of a nearly annihilating plague followed by a battle of good versus evil features an excellent cast (Gary Sinise, Laura San Giacomo, Ruby Dee etc.) and involving story telling though it does have some ill-conceived special effects even for the time. Outside of that misstep this is about as good a version of the story as can be had.

  5. I also went with Big Little Lies this week, it's a fantastic show!

  6. My daughter is into The Magicians so I've seen a few episodes of that one. Not bad. Haven't seen any of the others.

  7. I loved Big Little Lies, both the book and the show.

  8. I agree...I think most novels are much more satisfying when adapted as mini-series rather than a movie.

    I haven't seen any of your picks, but do want to watch them. Lev Grossman's Magicians trilogy is one I've been wanting to read, a pity the TV series is not as good as you say.