It’s a glorious time for TV adaptations. Sure, there are a few too many TV streaming services trying to get in on the action, but with the likes of HBO’s Watchmen, BBC’s His Dark Materials, Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and Amazon’s upcoming Lord of the Rings TV show, these online platforms are bringing hallowed books to a wider audience than ever before.
Sure, adaptations can be a tricky business, what with rights, optioning, and the not-do-fondly named ‘production hell’ that so many film and television projects can get mired in – not to mention the issue of making a show that both appeases an IP’s existing fanbase and manages to be accessible to others.
We’re bound to see some stinkers in the coming years, but there’s every chance we’ll see some exceptional adaptations too, with television series that give a story time to develop over 10 or 20 hours, rather than the tight constraints of the 90-minute blockbuster.
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1. Mortal Engines
Wait, didn’t we just have a film adaptation? There was a Mortal Engines movie back in 2018, produced by Peter Jackson and starring Misfits’ Robert Sheehan, but no one was much impressed by it. The four-part book series, by Philip Reeves, offers a thrilling, bleak, and immense post-apocalyptic dystopia, in which giant lumbering machine-cities chase each other across ravaged plains for spare parts.
It’s a story of risk, robots, romance, and rollicking adventure – with a good dose of enthusiasm (and scepticism) for the wonders of engineering, especially in times of war. While you’d need the budget to do it justice, there’s certainly a high-impact TV series waiting here to be made.
Kurt Vonnegut’s anti-war novel is as timely, and curious, as when it was first published in 1969. It follows the fortunes of Billy Pilgrim, an American soldier caught up in the horrors and absurdities of World War II – including the bombing of Dresdent that Vonnegut himself witnessed in his time in the military.
With a narrative that jumps back and forth in time and place – with some surprising sci-fi elements that include actual time travel – it’s perfect for TV serialization, and with some smart screenwriting could have something highly relevant to say about modern-day warfare. Your move, HBO.
3. The Inkheart Trilogy
The daughter of a book-binder isn’t the most obvious heroine, and being able to read fictional characters to life isn’t the most obvious superpower either, but that’s what author Corenlia Funke spins into the Inkheart trilogy. Full of surprises, and with far larger worlds than a library at its disposal, Inkheart has plenty to offer a TV adaptation.
There’s three books worth of ink to adapt, and plenty of heartbreaking moments to commit to screen. And please: forget the 2008 film ever happened.
4. 10 minutes 38 seconds in this Strange World
Sure, you’d probably need to change the title for television – especially as it might seem like quite a misleading reference to the runtime – but this substantial book from Turkish writer Elif Shafakis is well worth consideration.
Shortlisted for the Man Booker 2019 Prize for Fiction, the novel is a deep-dive into the life of an Istanbul sex worker, Tequila Leila, who looks back on her life in her final moments before her brain shuts down for good. A tale of friendship, and struggle, that puts sex workers front and center – and which would make quite a statement in a TV landscape that usually relegates them to statistics in CSI case files.
5. The Bridge Trilogy
Not got enough cyberpunk in your life? A TV series based on William Gibson’s trilogy of novels should certainly scratch that itch, and could fill in the gaps nicely between seasons of Altered Carbon on Netflix (even if Cyberpunk 2077 may keep us busy for much of the next year).
Set in a bright, brash, colorful world – with plenty of visits to cyberspace in between futuristic versions of California and Tokyo – The Bridge Trilogy could be a new sci-fi hit in the making.
6. V for Vendetta
But what of comic books? Watchmen showed us the path towards adaptations of Alan Moore's work that are in the spirit of the source material but not exactly the same story.
Moore has fair reasons not to support people profiting off of his work, but HBO's show does lead you to wonder what high-end, fresh takes on his work could look like. V For Vendetta, co-created with artist David Lloyd, is an 80s comic of blatant anti-Thatcherism.
What would an adaptation about the story V look like in an age where people genuinely wear the character's mask as a sign of protest? We'd love to find out. V For Vendetta had a perfectly fine movie starring Natalie Portman in 2006, but it was a little bit too glossy, and felt strangely un-British in its portrayal of the country. A modern TV adaptation could be a big deal.
7. From Hell
On that same note, Moore and artist Eddie Campbell's From Hell graphic novel got a pretty terrible movie adaptation back in the early 00s. The book is pretty dense, and would make much more sense as a TV show. In fact, in 2014, it was even announced for cable network FX, but clearly the project never went ahead.
From Hell, though, is still one of the best works of fiction based on the Jack the Ripper killings, with a conspiracy theory-level story that turns the murders into a harbinger of the dark century to come. It would make an amazing TV show if adapted faithfully.
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