"The book was better" — it’s the anthem, the rallying cry that has brought book lovers together since the beginning of time:
"Oh you love Harry Potter but haven’t read the books? Guess you’re not a real fan, the books were better."
"Oh the Godfather won some Oscars? The book was better."
"Clueless is your favourite 90s comedy? It’s cute but the book was better."
Book lovers have had to get off their high horse recently however as television shows have taken the written word as their main inspiration. This is not necessarily new. In the past the successful miniseries/cultural phenomenon Roots was originally based on a book, as was the long-running sitcom M*A*S*H. In this modern age of "Peak TV," many more TV shows are looking to books to provide them with stories. Books can sometimes translate better to TV than film, and there are reasons for that.
One of the things that TV allows for is the full exploration of different characters. This is much easier to accomplish in say 10 hours rather than 2. Think about All The King’s Men, this political novel full of complicated characters became a boring movie caught up in details. #HouseofCards doesn’t have the same kind of problem. Great Gatsby, while being a short book contains all the nuance of a thousand page novel and as talented as Leo is, his portrayal of Gatsby was a tall order and came off as half-baked.
With a show like #OrangeIsTheNewBlack which normally devotes an entire flashback to a different character allowing the audience to gain a further understanding of the characters. The show takes the real people mentioned in passing in Piper Kerman’s memoir and fully fleshes them out making them fully realized characters in a way that a movie would not be able to.
#Riverdale is another example of a TV show that is taking the characters above and beyond the ones in the comic books. Despite it being a very campy teen drama, the show is taking very two-dimensional characters and making them interesting people.
Another thing an extended format allows for is a more extensive opportunity to build worlds and entire universes, especially when it comes to fantasy and science fiction shows. #AmericanGods premiered earlier this year and has been met with critical praise. The sprawling story with multiple settings and time periods would be quite confusing in a condensed format, but the television show can take its time and devote itself to fleshing out the world where everything takes place.
No where is this more apparent than with #GameOfThrones. While book readers will know how easy it would be to get bogged down in detail and lost in transitioning from place to place, the TV show succeeds in making the world of Westeros a little less complicated. While I will admit that sometimes even watching the series I can get a bit confused when it comes to keeping all the families and kingdoms straight but normally the is pretty good with their exposition. The first episode of Season 7 is an example of making sure the audience is caught up with all the developments.
Game of Thrones on HBO also thrives because as of right now it’s moved past the books; it’s answered the questions that have left readers wondering and proven the legitimacy of a number of fan theories that have been thrown around for years now. Fans who have anxiously awaited for the publication of the next book in the series (which may or may never come) finally have some answers and can look forward to some epic battles now that winter has finally arrived.
Hulu’s adaptation of The #HandmaidsTale followed Offred and her life in Gilead as detailed in the book. The fact that the series has been renewed for a second season however means that readers will get some more answers. What happens to Offred/June after she gets into the van? Where do Nick’s alliances truly lie? What role will Luke and Moira play in Offred/June’s fate? How is Emily still alive?
There are of course exceptions to every rule, not all TV shows inspired by books are going to be outstanding. I loved Lev Grossman’s #TheMagicians but am having such a hard time with the television series. For the most part however adaptations seem to fare quite well when adapted for television.
What are your favourite television series based on books?