Turning beloved movies into TV shows has never been a sure thing. For every M.A.S.H. and In the Heat of the Night, there are six Teen Wolfs, two Casablancas, and a Time Cop. Occasionally a completely forgettable movie will spawn a much more popular show, as in the case of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and sometimes the show based on the movie will grow in popularity so much it crawls back across to the big screen and becomes a movie adaptation of a TV adaptation of a movie, as in the case of Highlander.
But usually you get completely forgettable garbage like Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. or Police Academy: The Series.
So it was with a fair amount of trepidation that I tried two of the current crop of big-to-small screen transfers.
I was immediately skeptical of this continuation of Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lecter story that was started in the movies with Michael Mann’s brilliant and underrated Manhunter (1985) and made most popular by the 1991 film The Silence of the Lambs. For one thing, it’s on NBC. And NBC is mostly terrible. Worse than that, NBC is network TV. It’s not a premium channel, or even cable, so there was a strong concern that the series, which follows a young Hannibal Lecter as he makes friends with and manipulates a young FBI genius named Will Graham, might be conspicuously missing the gore and violence of the source material.
Well, there’s good news and bad news. The good: network censor limitations don’t seem to be an issue. The bad: you may never have a nightmare-less sleep ever again.
Bryan Fuller, the show’s creator, has crafted a visually mind-bending thriller that meticulously manages to keep the story pushing forward to its inevitable conclusion: Hannibal’s capture. It also is the most creatively gory thing ever to air on TV.
The show is rich, detailed, dark, oddly funny, and always enthralling. It may be the best thing currently on.
From Dusk till Dawn: The Series
Robert Rodriguez brings his classic vampire film to the small screen, and I can’t for the life of me figure out why. The original is an underappreciated classic of the vampire genre, and deserves more credit than it gets for jumpstarting the grind-house film craze that we’ve been living in ever since.
It’s also just not a great story to be adapted into a series. It’s a short compact story: a pair of bank robbers on the run kidnap a family to get them across the border, and then mistakenly choose to hole up in a Mexican bar that turns out to be a nest of vampires. How you stretch that into an ongoing series is beyond me.
Still, Rodriguez surprisingly mostly succeeds. The show is a retelling of the events of the film, but it adds some things: most notably a Texas Ranger out for blood and a subplot about a blood cult. The action is tight, the direction and script pop with the same humorous foreboding of the movie, and the young actors tasked with stepping in for Quentin Tarantino and George Clooney do a mostly serviceable job.
It’s not high art, but Rodriguez never specialized in that anyway. It’s drive-in theater for the living room, and it more than succeeds at being that.
I’m not going to sit here and advocate more movie-to-TV adaptations, but the current crop has certainly inspired hope. So if you Hollywood guys want to make with the Dirty Dozen TV show already, I won’t stop you.
By Ygal Kaufman