A decade ago, the idea of a TV adaptation/spin-off of a film was a traumatic thought for fans. But over the past few years, there have been several shows that have broken the mould and shown that a beloved property can have a new life once its credits have rolled. Three in particular stand out, acting as different paths that creators can go when approaching an existing film. These three? Fargo, Hannibal and What We Do in the Shadows.
Taking Thomas Harris’ iconic antagonist Hannibal Lecter, the show loops back to the events before Red Dragon (the character’s first literary appearance). Hannibal, in the show, is a much-admired psychiatrist, his extra-curricular activities unknown. What could have been a mundane procedural running on the fumes of an iconic character, here in the hands of Brian Fuller becomes something more complicated, stranger and interesting to watch. The focus of the show is, initially, less focused on Hannibal and more on Will Graham and the psychological trauma of his gift to see from the perspective of a serial killer.
Over three seasons, the show twisted and turned, steadily moving away from the kill-of-the-week format that marked the first season and instead turning into a sort-of love story between Will and Hannibal. Certainly the show peaks and troughs over its run, with the highlight being the climax of season 2 and, perhaps, this writer’s favourite episode of a television show ever.
As well as the refreshingly odd creative choices Fuller makes (at times it feels like Hannibal is working to be cancelled), the show has one of the best ensembles of the past few years. Mads Mikkelsen is stunning as the eponymous cannibal, perhaps better than his Oscar-winning forerunner. Oscillating between a wicked sense of humour and a glimmer of human frailty, Mikkelsen has never been better than he is here. He’s surrounded by a terrific cast with the likes of Hugh Dancy, Laurence Fishburne and Gillian Anderson all leaving a lingering impression.
Where Hannibal finds success by setting its narrative, mostly, before the works it’s based on, Fargo’s spark of genius is to take the original as a starting off point only, sprawling out to craft a dense world around it.
The Coen Brothers’ film is one of their finest achievements and, again, doesn’t feel like it warrants a move to television. The creative duo’s style feels perfectly attuned to the containment of a cinematic narrative. And yet what the TV show of Fargo brings are touches of Coen Brother to them, while grounding the narrative, preventing the show from running away from creator Noah Hawley.
Each series focuses on a different period, with only a smattering of links beyond a shared location. And each begins with an accidental murder, weaving a delicious thriller, taking in a wealth of well-drawn characters as things spiral further and further out of control. The show also brings several agents of chaos, often in the mould of Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh, into the mix, prodding and pulling the narrative in various directions.
It’s a perfect show for right now, with each series a contained series. Series 2, as with Hannibal, is the high point, a period piece that manages to almost entirely break away from its source material. You might not think the Coen Brothers needed essentially a televisual fan tribute, but Fargo makes an exceptional case why such an idea should be embraced.
What We Do in the Shadows (2019)
The television show that most closely hues to its movie basis.
Transporting proceedings from New Zealand to New York and focusing on a new roster of vampires, the show essentially keeps things the same. A style that rarely works; it’s a perfect fit for What We Do in the Shadows, given the comedy’s more intimate, domestic nature of a mockumentary.
The film’s set pieces are simple: a night out at the club, dinner with potential victims and a masked ball of vampires. These are easily grafted onto a television series, with even the quieter moments being suitable. Plus the new characters are as endearing as what preceded them. Matt Berry’s brash Laszlo pairs nicely with Kayvan Novak’s more restrained Nandor. Natasia Demetriou, Mark Proksch and Beanie Feldstein all play endearingly strange, immediately likeable figures. But it’s Mark Proksch’s Colin Robinson who exhibits the show’s creative genius, with the idea of an energy vampire proving a wonderful distinction from what has come before.
And the great thing about all three of this series? They’re all available to you right now.
Hannibal and Fargo can currently both be found on Netflix, while What We Do in the Shadows is available on BBC iPlayer. You have the time now, so why not dive into this trio of gems? You won’t regret it.