A ridiculously prominent current trend is networks snatching up movie properties and turning them into TV shows. It’s hardly a new phenomena nor a formula for success, but it’s never been more prevalent, since it feels like nary a week passes without some form of announcement or premiere in this category.
Just this year, several came and went without much celebration (“Rush Hour”, “Frequency”, “The Exorcist”), most with the unnecessary purpose of hanging onto its source material’s coattails and little else.
This doesn’t mean that there haven’t been some stunning examples of the concept done right, or that these shows can’t completely surpass its source counterparts. Let’s examine the finest shows that stand high and tall above the quantity.
10. 12 Monkeys (2015 -)
While the 1995 movie is likely Terry Gilliam’s most mainstream movie, it’s also his most effectively gripping film. It’s a mind-twisting time travel thriller with a clever script and two fantastic ‘against-type’ performances by Brad Pitt and Bruce Willis, making it a worthy splash in its heyday and one that’s still highly regarded.
The idea of mapping its plot’s lean structure into episodic storytelling never boded well, especially due to the SyFy network’s involvement (who consistently stumbled after the “Battlestar Galactica” reboot had wrapped).
Surprisingly, the show has managed to shed its negative connotations in the long haul. In its early days, it worked as a subpar retread of it’s superior source, making for watchable if not vital viewing, but over its run, it has managed to go completely in its own direction, becoming one of the more consistent and elaborate genre shows ever made.
The second season excised any endgames borrowed from the movie for a loopy original plot that was constantly re-inventing itself, and showcased some impressively strong time-traveling mechanics. An extra bonus was the movie’s actress Madeleine Stowe featured in a fun, pivotal role giving proceedings a semblance of passing the mantel.
It will never truly top the film, but at least currently, it isn’t trying to do so. Despite the occasional plot stumble, this has turned into a clever sci-fi show that can proudly stand on its own two feet.
9. Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Summer (2015 -)
Any hunger for a follow-up to David Wain’s 80’s spoof “Wet Hot American Summer” (2001) grew more impossible considering several cast members (Paul Rudd, Bradley Cooper, Amy Poehler, etc) blew up and grew highly in demand over the years. With a 14-year gap, this teetered on being one of those unnecessary follow-ups to a cult comedy that came too little, too late (e.g. “Anchorman 2”, “Dumb and Dumber To”).
The Netflix-financed follow-up somehow leaped over those hurdles, with every single cast member signing on for its return, in a product that is more than worthy to its predecessor. The show is less remake and more long format prequel, as it nonsensically yet hilariously plays out events with the 15-years older cast members, who surprisingly the majority don’t look a day over 25 (asides a haggard Michael Showalter).
“Summer” is one of the rare occasions where a long-in-the-making cult sensation comes back and knocks it out of the park. Wain’s individual brand of laughs are in top form, the cast are fully game, and the longer episodic format suits the random nature of its breezy structure (more so than the feature-length film).
Dare it be said, but the second go-around is better than the first. Still, if the original “Summer” wasn’t your cup of tea, this show won’t win you over, but it’s a rare occasion where the transition to TV is the genuine article with even more bang for your buck (plus Chris Pine with silly facial hair).
8. Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (2008 – 2009)
It’s common knowledge that the first two entries in the “Terminator” franchise are cutting edge sci-fi cinema; everything that followed, not so much. That is, except this clever yet sadly underappreciated sojourn on the small screen.
It picks directly up after the first sequel; the show has a pre-”Game of Thrones” Lena Headey taking up the Sarah Connor mantel in worthy and involving fashion as she struggles to fight pesky cyborgs just as much as she connects with her troubled teenage son, John (Thomas Dekker). Oh yeah, and there’s an adorable yet deadly Summer Glau (Serenity) as John’s loyal cyborg bodyguard/best friend, which makes everything infinitely more watchable.
Conceptually, where this show really succeeds over the subpar sequels is by never attempting to retread things that James Cameron’s entries did better by prioritizing complex time-traveling thrills over bombastic action scenes. This smart move leads them to reinventing the “Terminator” mythos into a cracking heady sci-fi show that really should receive its due already.
Unfortunately, the fan base just was not there as it was terminated after two seasons, leaving things on a killer cliffhanger that will sadly never be paid off. Still, it’s one to seek out for its gripping run that continued the saga in an organic manner that results in the franchise at its best since Cameron left it in his rearview.
7. Stargate SG-1 (1997 – 2007)
Roland Emmerich’s 1994 sci-fi/adventure movie “Stargate” was a decent hit for its time, with cutting-edge special effects, a strong premise, and the solid duo of James Spader and Kurt Russell as the leads. Still, it was never considered a milestone, with its flaws too apparent to shrug off, aping heavily from maestros Cameron and Spielberg and never fully paying off its inventive ideas. The good news was that there was plenty of room to explore its intriguing mythology and plot devices with a move to television.
Showtime took advantage of the waning interest in “Star Trek” as an oversaturated presence on the small screen, and decided to give large genre audiences something a little different if familiar, blending Trek’s fascinating alien races and worlds with a gung-ho sense of adventure, mixed with modern military action. It quickly caught on like wildfire, running a full 10 seasons and kicking off two spinoffs.
Regardless of its lesser quality in its later seasons and repetitive plots and resolutions (what show that runs longer than six doesn’t suffer those?), “SG-1” stands as one of the landmark sci-fi shows of the 90s, which has held up stronger than most of its contemporaries, and has easily overshadowed its source film in all aspects.
6. Ash vs Evil Dead (2015 -)
For more than 20 years, horror buffs had been holding out for a smidgen of hope that Sam Raimi’s epic horror/comedy “Evil Dead” series would get a fourth entry. Yet after numerous teasing and false starts, it felt like a pipe dream, especially in today’s PG-13 blockbuster climate. Was there any room in cinemas for a crass, hard-R horror sequel starring an aging cult actor?
The answer was a straight ‘no’, but audiences got lucky in other ways; Raimi and co. had been enjoying a prosperous relationship with the expanding network Starz (their former blood and boobs epic “Spartacus” being a massive hit) and cooked up the ingenious concept for Ash (Bruce Campbell) and the Deadites to find a new home on TV screens.
The results have been highly successful with a product that clearly has a finger on the pulse of what made the film’s great (off-the-wall humor, severed limbs, and over-caffeinated visuals), plus premium cable’s heavily adult-orientated mandate making sure the product is hardly watered down (in fact, its blood and sex aspects might’ve actually been upped!).
All the leftover ideas for that fourth movie morphed into the pleasing first outing, yet season two has been even stronger. Talented genre writer Mark Verheiden (“My Name is Bruce”) came on as showrunner, and embraced the serial format with a penchant for exploring and expanding Ash and the monsters mythos in meaty and inventive ways.
Sure, in an ideal world, Raimi would direct every episode (unfortunately he’s only done the pilot so far) and the splatter wouldn’t use so much CG, but there’s no point in nitpicking when so much is done right. This is a lovingly made continuation of the franchise, and luckily due to its popular ratings, it also shows no signs of slowing down. Hail to the king, baby!