Ian McShane & Neil Gaiman, Amy Adams & Gillian Flynn, Elizabeth Moss & Margaret Atwood —TV is about to have a very literary year
It’s time to re-stock your shelves, fire up the old cable (or streaming device of your choice) and settle in for another copascetic year of books on TV.
Peak TV’s appetite for established “IP” is borderline insatiable, so there’s a decent chance that by around 2020, FX and Amazon Prime will be battling over the rights to your middle-school diary entries, but for the time being big names and big books still dominate the small screen adaptation racket.
2016 saw some notable successes. FX hit paydirt with Ryan Murphy’s take on Jeffrey Toobin’s Ride of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson. With any luck AMC will keep working through the John Le Carré oeuvre after its success with The Night Manager. Luke Cage added to a complex and socially relevant Marvel/Netflix universe, and AMC’s Preacher was one of the strangest and most enjoyable things on television. Failure might not be the right word for Fox’s Neil Gaiman adaptation (Lucifer) or Hulu’s foray into Stephen King-land (11.22.63), though you’d be hard-pressed to find many people singing the praises of those particular shows. In any case, that’s all old news.
2017 is here. With it comes a new crop of shows ripped-from-the-endsheets.
This year we’ll see more Neil Gaiman and more smart comic book stories, but don’t worry, there’s going to be something for everyone: the kids, the crime fanatics, the vampire devotees, the historical fiction nuts, the book-ish liberals wondering what’s become of their country, and the Ian McShane lover residing in all of us. Is 2017 going to redeem the year that just passed? No, almost certainly things will get worse. But the marriage of good books and good television holds strong. High quality, thoughtful entertainment is a daily event now, and dammit, even the bookish people need their opiates.
So, here they are, TV’s most anticipated literary adaptations for 2017.
1. A Series of Unfortunate Events (Netflix)
Premiere — January 13, 2017
Did the world need more from Lemony Snicket? (long pause…) In any case, Netflix has been trumpeting their newest adaptation for quite some time, and while the unfortunately twee trailer struggles to hold any kind of interest over the course of its 2 1/2 minute run time, Neil Patrick Harris looks like he’s having fun, doesn’t he? The man has charm and charisma, there’s no denying it. So, maybe tune in next week? The show might have some early-Burton, recent-Wes Anderson upside, if that’s your cup of tea.
2. Legion (FX)
Premiere — February 8, 2017
After a well-received screening at New York Comic Con back in October, Legion is one of the most eagerly-anticipated shows on the calendar. For those suffering superhero fatigue, yes, we know it’s part of the Marvel universe (the show’s exact placement vis-à-vis X-Men is still unclear), but there’s reason for optimism. First, Legion has long been one of Marvel’s most complex characters — the mutant son of Prof. Charles Xavier (no word yet whether this plot strand will be adopted by the show), Legion suffers from various mental health conditions. Different aspects of his (very eccentric) personality control his many, many superpowers. Second, and even more important here , Noah Hawley, creator of FX’s Fargo, is at the helm. That means 2017 will see Legion, a new season of Fargo, and the continued success of Hawley’s most recent 400-page novel, Before the Fall. The man is cut from a different cloth. Dan Stevens — aka Cousin Matthew — is set to star in the show’s title role. Legion promises to be smarter and — this is key — weirder than any comic book adaptation we’ve seen in quite some time.
3. Big Little Lies (HBO)
Premiere Date — February 19, 2017
Liane Moriarty’s story of female friendship, cheating, bullying and seaside murder was a breakout hit in 2014, and in 2017 it promises to be the most pedigreed production on television. Created by David E. Kelley (of Picket Fences fame, and probably other stuff…) and directed by Wild’s Jean-Marc Vallée, HBO’s newest limited series has a hell of an impressive cast, too, with Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman and Shailene Woodley at the top of the sheet and Alexander Skarsgård, Laura Dern, Adam Scott, and Zoë Kravitz right behind them. The premiere is only weeks away now. Steel yourselves.
4. The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu)
Premiere Date — April 26, 2017
Margaret Atwood’s dystopian classic The Handmaid’s Tale was already enjoying a resurgence in the pop culture thanks to the rise of Donald Trump and a wretched brand of American fascism. In 2017, the story is coming to Hulu in a 10-episode series starring Elizabeth Moss, Samira Wiley and Joseph Fiennes. The story is set in a near-future New England fallen under the thumb of a misogynist theocracy that has overthrown the U.S. political order. The show’s premiere is set for April, and all signs point to a high quality product, possibly the star Hulu has been waiting for, but let’s be frank: there’s no way it can outdo the 1990 movie poster, a work of art in its own right, featuring Natasha Richardson, Faye Dunaway, and Aidan Quinn.
5. Midnight, Texas (NBC)
Premiere Date — April 30, 2017
Author Charlaine Harris is back with another hot-and-steamy supernatural series for all those True Blood fans jonesing aftewr a fix since the finale in 2014. This time it’s Internet-beloved Quebecer François Arnaud filling the lead role as the spectacularly named “Manfred Bernardo,” a medium who moves to Midnight, Texas, where all manner of vampires and other (vagely erotic) creatures are running wild and in need of a hero. Who knows, NBC did a pretty decent job with Grimm, but let’s be honest — we’d all be a lot more excited about this show if it were on, say, Netflix, instead of broadcast.
6. American Gods (Starz)
Premiere Date — “early” 2017
Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, rumored to be in pre-production almost since the book’s release in 2001, is finally coming to our screens in 2017, and damn if the trailer doesn’t look promising. Here’s the basic story: Shadow Moon, a recently widowed ex-con is recruited by a mysterious con-man who turns out to be a Norse god gathering up all the old deities hiding in plain sight in modern America. Not bad, huh? With Ricky Whittle and prestige-drama-icon Ian McShane playing the leads and a couple of sure hands running show (Bryan Fuller and Michael Green), American Gods has break-out potential. Add this program to the lineup of Outlander and The Girlfriend Experience, and 2017 might just be the year you get a Starz password of your own.
7. Sharp Objects (HBO)
Premiere Date —TBA 2017
Here’s what you need to know about Sharp Objects: it’s going to be on HBO; thriller superstar Gillian Flynn wrote it (the book and the show); UnReal’s Marti Noxon is signed on as showrunner; and Amy Adams — queen of the prestige literary adaptation — is set to star as a reporter fresh out of the pysch ward and returned to her hometown to investigate the murder of two girls. This is shaping up to be the year women took over hard drama at HBO.
Amy Adams reads manuscripts. Amy Adams reads symbols. Hiddleston goes rogue. The OJ Trial dominates water coolers again…electricliterature.com
8. The Terror (AMC)
Premiere Date — TBA 2017
AMC’s newest one hour stalking-monsters program is adapted from Dan Simmons’ 2007 novel, which imagined life within Captain Sir John Franklin’s doomed expedition across the Arctic, in search of a Northwest Passage. The HMS Erebus and HMS Terror were locked into the ice near King William Island in 1845 and the crew was never heard from again. (A little inconveniently for AMC, the HMS Terror was found in September at the bottom of the Arctic Bay. All 129 crew members are believed to have died.) Simmons’ version of the story was never purely fact-based, though. In the novel, and the AMC show, a mysterious monster trails the expedition across the ice. The usual — in-fighting, betrayal, cannibalism — ensues. Tobias Menzies and Jared Harris star. No word yet on the premiere date.