Welcome back to AVQ&A, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. Consider this a prompt to compare notes on your interface with pop culture, to reveal your embarrassing tastes and experiences, and to ponder how our diverse lives all led us to convene here together. Got a question you’d like us and the readers to answer? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What would you name as movies that should have been TV shows? Movies with amazing premises, characters, or settings that hinted at way more story, which could have benefited from a longer-form, serialized format.
- The 2006 Canadian zombie rom-com Fido, about a small idyllic town sealed off from undead America.
- The Matrix, which had atmosphere and intrigue to burn, but devolved into messianic action-movie nonsense.
- Michael Mann’s Public Enemies, which trotted out easily two dozen compelling characters (J. Edgar Hoover! Lillian Holley! Pretty Boy Floyd!) who got about three minutes’ screen time each. —Graham
I suspect that Matrix: The TV Show would have essentially been like The Sarah Connor Chronicles (a.k.a. Terminator: The TV Show): less messianic than the movie, but still action-movie nonsense, with the characters fighting the same battles over and over, trying to gain a little ground, but not so much ground that they were ever in danger of wrapping up the show. Still, I get where you’re coming from, Graham—it’s hard to see a setting that rich and detailed squandered on a rushed action-movie dynamic, where everything has to boil down to one big fight in the end. I felt the same way watching last year’s Push—no, not the novel by Sapphire, or the movie based on it, but the psychics-vs.-psychics action movie that was in fact meant to spawn a franchise, but likely won’t, due to so-so box-office. The film crammed a ton of concepts and characters into a rich, complicated world, and it even managed to do some interesting things with that world, but it all boiled down into one big fight and a fairly ridiculous contrived conclusion. None of which would be necessary in an ongoing TV show, which could develop some of the many characters and concepts. (Yeah, chances are excellent that it would have been Heroes all over again, but there’s so much margin to do that show right…)
This one’s so obvious, it probably seems like a ringer, but The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension was practically begging to be a TV series even before Fox made a botched attempt at creating one in the late 1990s. Buckaroo’s creator, Earl Mac Rauch, wrote dozens of versions of the script before it finally hit the screen, and during filming, had a 300-page character bible containing massive amounts of background material on the main character, his team of Hong Kong Cavaliers, and even villains who didn’t appear in the movie. Although it had the bad luck to debut during a period of television where there wasn’t much good work being done in the medium, it would be perfect for TV today, when networks are willing to spend more money on the kind of wild science-fiction effects a Buckaroo Banzai series would require, and when actors and audiences are more accustomed to the delightful blend of pulp action and high camp that gave the movie its flavor. Although the film’s sequel, Buckaroo Banzai Vs. The World Crime League, never arrived, the character lives on in comics and other material by Mac Rauch; now would be a perfect time to give the rich character histories and endless story ideas he constantly churned out a chance to develop in an ongoing series.
I’m sure we’re going to get a lot of action and science-fiction films as answers, but why not plunder the arthouses? Wouldn’t The Wages Of Fear make a fantastic series? Every week, our downtrodden truckers could drive explosive cargo to a new destination. Or how about Au Hasard Balthazar? Come to think of it, Robert Bresson’s original film, which follows the downward-sloping life of a donkey as he’s passed from owner to owner, is already structured a bit like a TV series. The material would need some cheering up, of course, but swap in a few uplifting stories and remove the donkey abuse, and the kids will eat it up. (Suggested title: Here’s Balthazar!) No? How about a Bernardo Bertolucci-inspired dance-and-dating reality show: So You Think You Can Last Tango In Paris? Am I getting close?
It’s no masterpiece or anything, but I’ve always had a big soft spot for Palookaville. And now that I think about it, the vaguely Coen brothers-esque heist-comedy from 1995 would make a great TV show. Even without the winning original cast of Vincent Gallo, William Forsythe, and Frances McDormand, the premise of a few small-town, big-dreaming friends trying to make it as bumbling thieves is practically a self-renewing resource of bathos and charm. Picture it as a some kind of cross between Breaking Bad and It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. Of course, I’d also be more than happy if the show retained the movie’s Paul Westerberg-quoting tagline: “One foot in the door, the other one in the gutter.”
If we lose the “instead” from this question, I think Boogie Nights would make an awesome HBO series. The ups and downs (and ins and outs!) of porn stars would be pretty awesome as a weekly dramedy. I realize that Cathouse is already an HBO show, but that’s gross and depressing because it’s a little too real. (And of course, those are prostitutes, not porn stars.) But the world Paul Thomas Anderson came up with in Boogie Nights is vast enough that it could be explored weekly pretty easily—and the porn world itself seems to offer so many highs and lows that it couldn’t help but be intriguing if done right.
I was talking about this with some folks on my Twitter feed a few weeks ago, and it’s something I like thinking about. It’s usually pretty easy to think of TV shows that should be movies in this age of serialized dramas with limited reasons to tune in week after week. (For example, FlashForward really could have gone either way, but ultimately probably should have been a movie.) But movies where it feels like the world is cool but underdeveloped, big enough to support many, many different stories? Those are a lot rarer. All that said, my pick is The Village, M. Night Shyamalan’s 2004 disappointment, which honestly had some pretty cool political commentary and gorgeous images amid its storyline, but got bogged down by the twist storytelling and inept dialogue writing. (It’s also buoyed by a fantastic score and a Bryce Dallas Howard performance I continue to really like, enough I seem to be the only one in the world who does.) The Village is the epitome of an interesting failure, but I see in its spine something that would make the great introductory season of a TV show. Imagine that arc plotted out over a 22-episode season, and you have a pretty solid idea for a show (admittedly, one that sounds a lot like Lost). Make it about how these villagers get by, combined with how they keep the monsters at bay—Little House crossed with Lost—and you have a fun idea, potentially. And then take the plot of the movie and sprinkle it throughout that first season, and you have something that would keep people coming back for more. And when the blind heroine is picked up by a (SPOILER ALERT!) truck driver at the end of the first-season finale? You’ve got a twist, sure, but one that doesn’t feel cheap, because you know renewal is coming, and at the very least, the writers won’t be able to half-ass the explanation. I’m pretty sure I’ve spent too much time thinking about this.
Just about any movie by John Sayles. The other day, I was thinking about how much I liked Sayles’ ’90s films (City Of Hope and Lone Star especially), and how his work over the past decade has been overstuffed and unfocused. Even at his best, Sayles has always been a novelist working in cinema more than a born filmmaker, and with the room to breathe that TV provides, recent movies like Sunshine State and Silver City could’ve really been something. (Older Sayles classics like Return Of The Secaucus 7 and Matewan wouldn’t be so bad either.) Television is a medium ideal for Sayles, but outside of the short-lived 1990 legal drama Shannon’s Deal (and the still-in-development Anthony Kiedis HBO project Scar Tissue), he’s largely steered clear of the place where he’d be most at home.
One I love and one I don’t. Love: Radio Days, Woody Allen’s marvelous nostalgia piece from 1987, my favorite movie of his, not least because I share a fascination with the period. It’s completely episodic, the members of the narrator’s family are sharply drawn, and there’s so much material to work with, between the backstage shenanigans of the radio shows Woody’s kid doppelgänger is obsessed with, the south-Brooklyn neighborhood it takes place in, and the ’30s and ’40s themselves. Don’t: Mrs. Parker And The Vicious Circle, Alan Rudolph’s 1994 biopic about Dorothy Parker and the Algonquin Round Table, which flew past so many ’20s legends in drive-by fashion that it seemed in too much of a hurry. Expand it to a miniseries, let it breathe, and I bet Rudolph would have something.
I already got MY wish: http://www.tbs.com/shows/arewethereyet/