Three novels adapted into TV series, and even though “The Circle” demonstrated the downsides of movie adaptations that diverge too far from their source material, these shows may demonstrate the strengths and weaknesses of source-novel devotion for TV.
The Leftovers…Longtime readers know that I hated the first season of HBO’s adaptation of the Tom Perrotta novel—which stayed somewhat true to the book’s plot, but diverged wildly from the novel’s comedic tone into a self-seriousness that felt forced—but loved the second season which had an entirely new plot and mostly new cast than the book. Go figure. This third and final season has shifted some of the action from the theocratic Texas town of Miracle to the wide-open doubt and wonder of Australia only a few days before people think the world is ending. As always, this is a mystifying series that is equal parts interesting and annoying, and viewers that felt manipulated or unsatisfied with Damon Lindeloff’s last series “Lost” will really feel confounded by this show. That is, until you realize this show is a metaphor for the unknown aspects of religion. By putting us inside confusing situations that may or may not be supernatural, the series is doing its best to simulate what it must be like to feel God is talking to you, even if you have no clue what God is really saying. But how will that shake out in the series finale? Will Damon really not answer basic questions about the departing? The novel didn’t, and this may be one case where sticking to the novel isn’t the way to go. Beyond just plot dynamics, Justin Theroux makes for a somewhat bland lead, but an episode involving just his father in the Australian outback was terrific, building to a moving climax with Lindsay Duncan giving a speech that will break your heart before it uplifts you. Grade for Season One: C…Grade for Season Two: A…Grade for Season Three (So Far): B+
The Son…I loved the novel this series is based on so much that I selected it as Alabama Liberal’s “Best Novel” the year it came out. However, the series does a poor job of adapting Meyer’s work and I’m not encouraged by AMC’s decision to renew it for a second season. The TV adaptation just can’t translate the book’s dry humor and hilarious scenes, and it doesn’t even attempt one of the three main storylines. And characters that come off as conscientious on the page often seem prudish on the screen. Plus, Pierce Brosnan can’t quite pull off the Texas accent, but he’s masterful compared to Henry Garrett as his son, an actor so misplaced I literally said “This guy’s gotta be British” in the first few scenes, and sure enough I was right. Grade for Season One (So Far): C
American Gods…So far this is the most loyal series to its source material, but that’s not necessarily a good thing as I found the novel to be a somewhat mixed experience. [I’d probably give it a “B” grade whereas “The Leftovers” is closer to an A- and “The Son” novel is a straight A-grade.] Neil Gaiman’s contemporary fantasy epic about Old Gods struggling to stay relevant in the age of New Gods like Media and Technology would have long set-ups that ultimately pivoted towards anti-climax. So far, the series seems to be laying the groundwork for the same tedium and for every inspired casting choice (Ian McShane may not have blonde hair, but he’s perfect as Odin/”Mr. Wednesday”) there are other characters shown in the trailers that we haven’t even met three episodes in. “Hannibal” co-creator Bryan Fuller has carried too many trademarks of that show over to “Gods”—the lavishly baroque ultra-violence, the moody color palette and gothic score—in a way that suffocates the fun we should be having. Although some sequences have stood out–Bilquist’s legendary sex “offerings,” Media’s introduction to Shadow, the Vikings ill-fated journey to America–these were all covered better in the novel’s best passages. Grade for Season (So Far): B-