So if you’re celebrating your birthday today, you share it with Charlaine Harris, she who gave the world the insanely successful Sookie Stackhouse novels and thus, indirectly, also the joys of True Blood. As you’ve probably noted if you read Flavorwire at all regularly, we’re borderline obsessed with True Blood, and its success got us thinking of the slew of TV shows based on books that have emerged in the last few years — and, in particular, those that have defied the old adage that the book is always better. We’ve collected a bunch of shows that we reckon have transcended their literary origins — can you think of any other shows that are better than the books they’re based on? (And before you go all crazy in the comments, a disclaimer: we said “better.” We’re not necessarily claiming the books in question are bad — although some most definitely are — just that the TV series they spawned was/is better. OK? Carry on.)
So, yes, we’ll be honest and admit straight out that we’re huge suckers for True Blood the TV show in all its absurd, camp glory — the accents, the supernatural silliness, the blood-soaked Lilith running around naked. We love it so much, in fact, that Harris’s books can’t help but pale in comparison, especially as they kill off our favorite character (we’re not saying who, in case you haven’t read them) relatively early on. The fact that Harris’s prose is kinda horrible — a problem we’ll encounter repeatedly on this list — doesn’t help matters any.
The Vampire Diaries
There must be something about vampire novels, eh? And actually, we reckon we know what that something is — contemporary vampire novels are often home to compellingly trashy plotlines masked in uncompellingly trashy prose (cf. Twilight, for instance), which makes them perfect mining material for clued-in TV execs.
The ongoing success of Dexter is a fine example of switched-on producers cherry-picking the best part of a novel — the idea of a serial killer with a social conscience of sorts — and running with it, at the expense of extraneous plotlines/characters/general fidelity to the book. This is something that HBO has been good at in recent years, and it’s actually quite startling to contrast Dexter with Jeff Lindsay’s books, which are at best, y’know, OK and at worst genuinely unreadable (the start of the second novel, for instance, which gave us nightmares for weeks and of which we will never speak again.)
Sometimes a show simply transcends its literary origins. So it went with M*A*S*H, which we’re guessing most people don’t know was a based on a book in the first place. We’re not suggesting that Richard Hooker’s MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors was bad, just that the glory of the TV show it spawned was so great that it couldn’t help but overshadow the book. So it goes, we guess.
Likewise Boardwalk Empire, which is based on Nelson Johnson’s historical study Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times, and Corruption of Atlantic City. The story of the era is fascinating enough to make for compelling reading, but the TV series really brings it to life — helped, of course, by a fantastic cast, remarkably good production design, etc.
Friday Night Lights
And one more in a similar vein: Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream, a fantastic sports book that spawned a similarly excellent TV series (and film, for that matter.) On reflection, we’re calling this one a tie in terms of quality, although the TV series probably wins out in terms of sheer scope.
Good things are happening at FX at the moment — we are hopelessly addicted to Sons of Anarchy, and they’ve also done a great job of adapting Elmore Leonard’s novels Pronto and Riding the Rap for TV. We rather prefer the series, to be honest, although it’s ultimately a personal preference rather than any reflection on Leonard’s pleasingly pulpy novels.
Sex and the City
Hey, we didn’t say “good.” We said “better.”
Hey, we didn’t say “good.” We said “less entirely loathsome.”
Game of Thrones
No, come on, wait. Are the books any good? Sure. Are they as hideously addictive as the show? No. And anyway, look, it’s not just us.