TV Derivation

So a good 17 years after Guy Ritchie’s influential crime caper, Snatch, took to cinemas it appears to be being reimagined for the smaller screen. The streaming-service boom has seen the viewership and quality of TV shows grow exponentially and forced other networks such as HBO up their game considerably. But do we really want to see a rehashing of an already great film, starring Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) from Harry Potter? Of course, this isn’t an entirely new phenomenon – for the last few years the big-budget TV studios have wheeled out various ‘reimaginings’ and ‘spin-offs’ of much loved films. Michael Crichton’s sci-fi western was brought to new audiences with last years hugely popular Westworld, alongside the likes of Bates Motel acting as a contemporary prequel to Hitchcock’s seminal Psycho. There also seems to be a current trend for returning to nostalgic British 90s/early 00s films, as seen by the recent Trainspotting 2, a mere 21 years after Danny Boyle’s enigmatic and stylish original.

Has the Hollywood dreams factory run out of steam? It does appear that way, with many of the big studios looking to feed into these already existing worlds (often created first on the screen) rather than take the risk of investing in something new and original. With endless sequels and prequels plaguing the cinema box offices and sucking the originality out of the long tradition of the ‘summer blockbuster’, is the land of TV heading in a similar direction?

Having never seen Westworld nor Bates Motel it’s hard for me to comment on their merits, other than to state that both shows have gathered positive reviews and accrued large audiences. One I can talk about with more authority however is the recent TV reinvention of one of my favourite films, the Coen Brothers’ 1996 classic Fargo. Whilst at first apprehensive, this series really grabbed me to such an extent I’d even openly admit I preferred it to the original film. Upholding that dark sense of humour and hosting some of the finest, most stylish cinematography I’ve seen in a television series, Fargo was mesmerising. Its casting was on the nail in both its seasons, with some stunning performances from big screen heavyweights Martin Freeman, Billy Bob Thornton and Kirsten Dunst. For anyone with doubts as to whether these ‘indulgent vanity projects’ preserve the legacy of such classic films, I urge you to watch Fargo.

That’s also not to deter from the merits of TV studios that have brought us some great original TV shows in the last year. Charlie Brooker’s haunting and intelligent Black Mirror series was original small screen filmmaking at its most poignant, whilst Netflix’s Stranger Things won the hearts of millions with its nostalgic nod to 80s era pop culture, whilst still maintaining an original and engaging story. Even in terms of lower-budget TV-offerings last year saw the BBC take a punt at Edinburgh Fringe Winner, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s off-the-wall black comedy Fleabag, which garnered great critical acclaim. Prompting the question what is the need for such TV derivation? Especially when there’s already such a rich abundance of ideas out there, waiting to get its shot at the big time. Is it really about a return to worlds and characters we loved the first time around or is it more studios looking to ride another big paycheck off of the back of something they already know to be popular?

Instinctively, I am inclined to believe that originality should prevail over sequels, prequels and reimagined interpretations. However with the likes of Fargo and Westworld raking in awards nominations and the hearts of many a critic, perhaps this method of transferring films to the small screen is an effective way of allowing new writers to give these worlds a fresh lease of life. Although in the case of Snatch my expectations are very low, with the trailer looking more like a rough night down the Queen Vic than the cockney capers Guy Ritchie used to champion, but I’m prepared to be surprised.

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