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October 22nd, 2010

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05:30 pm - TV shows being better than books and an anti soap opera show
It's fairly obvious to everyone who has encountered both Charlaine Harris' "southern vampire series" and the HBO TV adaptation, True Blood, that True Blood is far superior. However, I didn't expect the same thing of network TV. Last year, teaotter, and then she and I, and then all three of us, started to watch The Vampire Diaries. It's based on a teen vampire series from the early 90s that I've never read, but which Becca says was fun, but quite trashy. We started watching in the middle of last season, and it was good, and was also clearly the right choice, since we went back and watched the first 6 episodes, and they ranged from terrible, to decidedly mediocre – the series seemed to really turn around once the female love interest learned her boyfriend and his older brother were vampires, and the older brother went from being a murderous villain to a far more ambiguous anti-hero.

The show literally defies expectations – it's clearly trashy high school vampire soap opera – and yet there is some excellent acting. In addition to being utterly gorgeous, Ian Somerhalder (who plays the antihero older brother) is an excellent actor, and the female lead, Nina Dobrev not only does a good job with her character, but she also manages do a really impressive job playing both her character and her character's evil double as clearly different people. Also, it's a series where the characters not only aren't stupid, they don't have to be stupid to make the plots work. As I mentioned, the female lead has an evil double, and has at several points foregrounded this fact and is clearly very curious as to why the primary antagonist looks just like her, rather than simply accepting this. While it uses many soap opera tropes, it subverts many of them in interesting ways.

When one of the characters sees the evil double kissing someone and tells the female lead's boyfriend, the boyfriend immediately figures out that the person saw the evil double and not the female lead and thus there was no idiotic mistaken identity/jealousy subplot. Similarly, after listening to a seemingly heartfelt speech by someone who has previously worked to kill all vampire about how she has accepted that not all vampires must be evil, the vampire listening to this speech is clearly touched, but still removes the person's memory that several people she knows and trusts are actually vampires, because trusting this person would obviously be insanely foolish and risky. Add in the fact that it at least occasionally mentions queer characters (one character has a gay father), avoids almost all of the misogyny found on TV, always has at least one major character of color, and where every episode passes the Bechdel test, and you have a show that I quite like.

While remakes of TV and movies are often better than the original (one obvious example is that the US film Vanilla Sky is world's better than the Spanish film Open Your Eyes), I'm not at all used to the idea that film or TV can be better than the book it's based on. So far, I haven't ever seen this be true with movies (and honestly don't expect to) but I've now seen two TV shows that are considerably better than the books they are based on.
Current Mood: pleasedpleased

(6 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:October 23rd, 2010 07:19 am (UTC)
The movie version of The Firm is way better than the book. The book sets up a situation where the character's under immoral pressure from all sides and decides, okay, the hell with it, and works purely for his own gratification and the benefit of a chosen few people he cares about. The movie has him agonize over his duties even though others are being scummy, and look for (and find!) a way to discharge the commitments he chose to enter into without becoming anyone's victim.

Yes, all this with Tom Cruise. But then Vanilla Sky brought out some good stuff in him too.

[User Picture]
Date:October 23rd, 2010 07:23 am (UTC)
Interesting, I quite liked the film of The Firm, but never read the book. I was really impressed with Cruise in Vanilla Sky, in part because someone whose career largely started because of his looks dared to play someone who for most of the film was realistically ugly.
[User Picture]
Date:October 23rd, 2010 09:42 am (UTC)
Cruise has chosen some very good roles in his time. He's magnificent in Magnolia, for instance.
[User Picture]
Date:October 23rd, 2010 08:33 pm (UTC)
True. He was also quite good in War of the Worlds.

Oh, here's another that's better than the book: Presumed Innocent, for a specific reason. In the book, we learn at the end that Harrison Ford's character learned something crucial about the murder he's accused of halfway through the book, and concealed it. In the movie, he only makes the discovery at the end. There are times when a concealed bit of important information can work fine - Emma Bull does it in Bone Dances, for instance. But usually not, and it's the kind of mistake that Turow hasn't repeated in his later books.
Date:October 31st, 2010 01:57 am (UTC)
Hi hon, thanks for the tips!

So, if I were to watch the Vampire Diaries-- where should I start?


[User Picture]
Date:October 31st, 2010 03:25 am (UTC)
Episode 9 of Season One ("History Repeating") is a good place to begin, that's around when the show goes from drearily mediocre to moderately good (and it goes up from there). Alternately, you could start at the beginning of this season, which has been consistently good. One of the useful things about this series is that it's very easy to catch up on. The plots are often formulaic and fairly obvious plots, but they are also done exceedingly well.

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