Successfully transforming a standalone feature film into an ongoing television series is no easy feat, particularly in this present age of adaptation-happy television. The heftier the thematic and narrative weight of the original work, the stronger is the case for fleshing it out into a fully fledged series.
The slick sci-fi mystery 12 Monkeys, based on the cult 1995 Terry Gilliam film of the same name, has managed to defy expectations and translate from the big to the small screen. Increasing in confidence and effectiveness by the season, the show benefits from its sprawling, time-traversing world and its mineable conceit of course correcting the past for the betterment of the future.
Season three is about to hit SBS VICELAND and it got me thinking – how many film-to-TV adaptions have I stuck with? How many of them have I bailed on? And in each case, why?
Friday Night Lights (2006-2011)
Peter Berg’s 2004 film boasted an impressive combination of on-field excitement and off-field drama, but it wasn’t until we moved from the real town of Odessa to the fictional town of Dillon that the idea really entered transcendent territory. Running for five wonderful seasons, Friday Night Lights established a rare, lived-in atmosphere that made devoted viewers want to pack up and move to small-town Texas.
While high-school football was the series’ spine, it was the intimate, relatable plights of these likable students and their parents that ensnared our clear eyes and full hearts, particularly the enviable union of co-leads Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton as Coach Eric and Principal Tami Taylor. Damn, now I have to re-watch the whole thing.
Fargo (2014- )
A few years back, if you were asked to write a list of films that should remain untouched, no doubt the Coen Brothers' award-winning classic Fargo would have sat close to the top. Boy, were we all made to swallow our assumptions when Noah Hawley’s anthology series ended up masterfully combining the Coens' unique sensibilities with the premium cable drama format? Each season has offered up a self-contained tale that’s locked us in a vice and tightened the screws by the episode, and enabled fantastic performers such as Martin Freeman, Allison Tollman, Jesse Plemons, Kirsten Dunst and Ewan McGregor to take their careers to new and exciting heights. Bring on season four.
Westworld (2016- )
Based on Michael Chriton’s novel, the original film was decent and full of potential, and gave way to a gloriously flawed first season of mindbending television. Yes, the show was arguably bogged down by the machinations it employed in order to get to big twists or reveals, but when it successfully pulled the rug out from underneath us, particularly in the case of Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) and his true nature, we were all left catching our breath. The idea’s ingenious engine deserves kudos, as does Thandie Newtown’s star turn as android escort Maeve Millay.
SPECIAL MENTIONS: M*A*S*H and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Taken (2017- )
You’d think the fact that Taken’s film sequels were overloud, overplotted yawns that almost made us forget the visceral thrills of the original would be enough to quash any renegade’s plans for a TV adaptation. No dice. Sure, some of us may have been interested to know how Bryan Mills acquired his “unique set of skills”, but it turns out his origin story was more powerful when left to a one-liner and the imagination. The primary reason Taken was such an unmitigated disaster, however, is easily summed up with three simple words: no Liam Neeson.
My Big Fat Greek Life (2003)
Yes, the original film is still the highest grossing romantic comedy and independent film of all time, but that doesn’t mean it deserved the series treatment. Part of the original film’s appeal was the clash of cultures leading up to the finite event of a romantic wedding, but when transposed to a weekly sitcom, the romance aspect was forced and the cultural aspect repetitive. Rumour has it Nia Vardalos, the creator behind all things big, fat and Greek, was never overly enthused about playing the same character, which makes us wonder why she went back to the well last year for the universally panned My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 (2016).
What? You’ve got something against the high-concept Bradley Cooper/Robert DeNiro thriller? A pox on your house. OK, so admittedly, the feature film version of Limitless was a trifle preposterous, but there was something compulsively watchable about a slacker who takes a drug that enables him to utilise a much higher percentage of his brain. Good, solid fun. Unfortunately, the ignorable logic holes in the feature widened into caverns by the end of the series’ pilot. After a few more episodes, I no longer craved a wonder drug and longed for any substance that would erase my recent memory.
SPECIAL MENTIONS: Snatch and both versions (!!) of Uncle Buck.
12 Monkeys season three starts Friday 10 November at 10:20pm on SBS VICELAND.