Adaptations of any kind are always met with a level of skepticism. Whether it’s book-to-film or film-to-television, fans of the original source material watch these adaptations with nothing less than a magnifying glass. And as a result of what is often an overzealous analysis, adaptations usually carry more pressure to satisfy viewers when compared to any type of original content. This scrutiny is slated to land on the SyFy channel thanks to its new TV series 12 Monkeys, based on the popular 1995 film of the same name.
TV shows adapted from films have a long history of being lackluster. And while the list of flops is long, television seemingly has yet to learn from its past; recent examples include such monumental failures as Napoleon Dynamite and Bad Teacher. Yes, there were in fact TV shows made of those.
Upon close examination, it’s clear why these shows were such a mishap. In the case of Napoleon Dynamite, the material underwent a complete transformation from live-action to animation. This visual overhaul was partly to blame for the lost appeal of the show. Bad Teacher on the other hand, did something even worse. Not only did it lose its iconic movie stars Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel, but it also restricted itself from the raunchy themes that made the movie so memorable by joining the small screen and its strict parental guidelines. At least Napoleon Dynamite had all the original actors doing voice-overs.
However, if you dig deep enough past all the mediocrity, you may find yourself with a true master adaptation. Enter Fargo. Last year, we were treated to the television revival of the Coen brother’s masterful film of the same name. Despite not featuring the talents of Frances McDormand, William H. Macy, and Steve Buscemi, the show, written by Noah Hawley, is not lacking in star power. With the likes of Academy and Golden Globe Award-winner Billy Bob Thornton alongside Emmy and BAFTA Award-winner Martin Freeman, the show is brilliantly acted, and aesthetically jaw dropping. If you haven’t yet seen it, be sure to watch the movie and then the show, for there are minor yet key connections to the film itself.
This brings me to an important aspect on the success of film-to-television adaptations: its relationship to the source material. When it comes to watching a television show based on one of our favorite movies, one thing we don’t want is a complete retelling of the story. That’s what the movie is for! Instead, what fans crave is a new story, set in the same universe with compelling characters. Put in some minor references to the original content, and you’ll be sure to have fans raving.
But, do we really need these adaptations? Aren’t movies enough? My personal opinion is that movies have an amazing ability to set the stage, but television has the capability to unleash the true potential of a story. Just look at Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
What was first a mildly successful and largely mediocre movie turned into one of the most popular cult television shows ever. One of the interesting things about this adaptation in particular is that the original writer of the movie became the creator of the show. Joss Whedon, who has been part of ultra successful projects such as Toy Story and The Avengers, was reportedly unhappy over how his movie about a teenage vampire slayer turned out. So, he set out to do things right, and boy did he do it.
So now, we’re left with the question: will SyFy’s 12 Monkeys work? Well, the 1995 movie set the stage. In the original, a virus has wiped out most of humanity and forced society to live underground. The solution? Send Bruce Willis back in time to save the world! However, this show is apparently retelling the same story, just in a different way. So, we have a Bruce Willis-less show that apparently has no input from the original creator. On paper, this might sound like a recipe for disaster, but for adventure/time traveling junkies out there, there is still hope. So far, it looks like critics have plenty of praise for the series. Still, only time will tell whether this adaptation will improve and expand upon its original content, or merely be another in a history of flops.