Thursday Thoughts – Is it time novel adaptations moved solely to television?

At the beginning of the last week, quite possibly the greatest TV show to grace our screens this year came to a knockout ending. Sharp Objects could very well seize the title of THE show of 2018 following HBO’s adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s debut novel. The scintillating performances from the show’s three female leads especially, plus Flynn’s usual spot-on writing makes for a whole eight hours where the viewer is barely allowed chance to breathe.

The show was directed by Jean Marc Vallée too, who we know has previous form with these TV novel adaptations following the Emmy success experienced by the last project he worked on before this, which was Big Little Lies.

That’s two major television series lining up consecutively in his filmography. One won pretty much all the Emmys. The other one will surely do the same?

Now, the success of both of these series are phenomenal, but that’s not really what I want to talk about here.

What occurred to me whilst watching Sharp Objects was that it is just one show in quite a long line-up of high profile television programmes to have been inspired by a novel. From HBO alone we have this, the also aforementioned Big Little Lies, plus Game Of Thrones that I know of. Across so many other networks there’s also the likes of The Handmaid’s Tale, Mindhunter, House Of Cards, Bosch, War And Peace, Hannibal, plus Lucifer and The Walking Dead (it was good once) if we throw graphic novels into the mix as well.

There’s definitely a trend for taking narratives from page to screens of a smaller kind of late. And personally I can’t fault that. From pretty much everything that I’ve seen up to now, books of any kind translate far better when not confined to a run time of 3 hours or less. That’s not to say books can’t be adapted for the big screen – there have definitely been some fine films harvested from books. It just seems to me that a higher proportion of TV shows are hits compared to the mountains of films that have managed to turn out just average despite having some of the finest page turners ever written. And following shows such as Sharp Objects, I can’t help but think on how much even some of the best film adaptations could’ve been improved if they’d have been made for TV instead.

A prime example of this would be Gone Girl. Another adaptation of a Gillian Flynn novel, this film was met with great critical applause back in 2014. I was a big fan of the film, and my viewing of it prompted me to read the book, which further blew me away. The hindsight that shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies have given me suggests that Gone Girl could’ve been even better as a TV series. The detail that the book boasted, but that unfortunately had to be cut from the film for the sake of the run time really would’ve been something else if made as a four or six-part TV show. You got more of a feel of how much of an evil woman Amy really was in the book, and I just know that Rosamund Pike’s performance would only have been even greater is more of this material had’ve been put to use.

Of course, it’s very easy to say this for good adaptations of good stories. If we were to be talking about some of the novels that would struggle to be defined as high art (Fifty Shades does come to mind, thanks to a friend on Twitter). I’ve not had the pleasure of experiencing any of the full versions of either forms in which this franchise was brought to audiences, however from what I’ve heard, none of it was great. Would we really want 6+ hours fo that delightful tale? Most likely not.

So, really, the question is, should we just save the good adaptations for TV? Because let’s face it, the bad books will still get made into something if enough people read them. How about we banish those to the movies where they can be limited to two hours or less, and then allow ourselves to savour the good stuff during a run on TV? They don’t have to be long series – some might only need to be four episodes in some cases. But with those stories where every minute detail adds quality, I think we should be allowed to enjoy it all.

Review – Big Little Lies Season 1

The perfect lives of three mothers of first graders unravel, resulting in murder.

When Jane Chapman (Shailene Woodley) moves to Monterey with her son Ziggy to escape her past, she is quickly befriended by Madeleine Mackenzie (Reese Witherspoon), who introduces her to Celeste Wright (Nicole Kidman). Together, the three become a formidable trio amongst the rest of the mums at their kids’ school, especially in the wake of a playground incident after which, Ziggy is witch hunted by the other children and parents. What unfolds is a tale of ex-husbands, second wives and school yard scandals, all in between the little white lies that they all tell to uphold the fronts each of these women present to the world.

I’d heard a lot about Big Little Lies following it’s premier in the U.S. a couple of months ago, and seeing it would be shown soon after on Sky Atlantic, I thought I too would give it a spin, although I hadn’t expected it to be my thing at all. I was, however, proven wrong, and thankfully so, because here I am now sharing what a wonderful show it was with you.

The three lead performances here were tremendous. Woodley, Witherspoon and Kidman were all as brilliant as each other in their own special ways, but I have to say that the latter name mentioned just pipped the other two for the title of best performance in this series. If there is a god, or any sort of higher power in existence, Kidman will be nominated for an Emmy for her portrayal of Celeste Wright. Celeste was such a complex character, and in each of the seven episodes that made up this mini-series more and more was revealed about her. There were so, so many layers to this particular character, and for her alone I was willing to return for the next instalment each week.

The story was very simple, yet also very complex, if that makes any sense at all. If you strip the story back to the very basics, it is essentially a whodunnit, only the thing here is we don’t know a) who the killer is or b) who the victim is, so already it’s a small twist on the traditional. Add then the numerous points of conflict that arise throughout the course of the seven episodes and you struggle to come to a definitive conclusion on what the motive might be as well, which scuppers any chance of you being able to come up with a very shortlist of suspects. It was very refreshing to see the story told in this way, and while I had my guesses at who had ended up dead as a result of the many chains of events shown in the series, I was never exactly sure of who, how or why until the dying moments of the finale.

So, despite my initial scepticism, I have to say that Big Little Lies may very well be one of the best new shows of 2017, if not the best. I am going to be keeping my eye out for the book from which the story was adapted for the screen, because while I was very impressed by this series, I have an inkling that there is even more to be taken from the book, which is the case more often than not. What makes this so intriguing is the way the story is told, but just as important are the performances that deliver us this story. If you’ve not seen Big Little Lies, I would urge you to watch it, as it may very well be one of the greatest things you’ll watch this year.