Variations on a Theme

Thursday, February 16th 2017 · ·

Because the title I'm using for this article isn't exactly descriptive, I'll be writing herein about book-to-television adaptations and how the TV shows may vary from the movie. This came to mind for me specifically when I was thinking about the two shows I'm presently watching, The Magicians, and The Expanse.

I first took note of this when watching Game of Thrones. Yeah - that one has a lot of variation between the books and the TV show, and I've got a feeling that the two may diverge even further. While I've given up on the Song of Ice and Fire series, the jury is still out on the Game of Thrones TV show.

But the point in which I'm taking interest here is the ways in which the TV show diverges from the books. Generally, when television or movies have elements that differ from the books, I've always complained about how those specific elements ruin things. But specifically with The Expanse and with The Magicians, the changes work. As I learned from this article about The Expanse, it's becoming increasingly normal for a book's author(s) to be directly involved with the writers of the television adaptation.

Now, though, Franck and Abraham are there in the room, working among the Expanse writers, which has some key benefits. They’re at work on the saga's seventh book, while the show is still grappling with the first two; if a writer's plot undermines something they have planned for later, they can speak up. They also represent a lobbying bloc: In the show's first season, they helped to push for more accurate science, including communication delays across the solar system, inconsistent gravity, and slow travel times-and eventually, the other writers started to see how those constraints helped add suspense and make for better stories.

The ways in which the TV show The Expanse differs from the book Leviathan Wakes are minimal. I'm guessing that the politicians on Earth which appear in the show that were never in the first book are elements added from later books in The Expanse series. But in shifting to the other show, The Magicians, I can tell you that the ways in which The Magicians books and the TV show differ are massive. Characters who die or are dismembered in an encounter at the end of the first book which also happened in the season one finale are miraculously okay shortly thereafter in the TV show because magic.

But this all works! And why? Because the concept of alternate realities is plainly laid out via the use of a time loop. In her efforts to destroy the villain known as "The Beast", one magician has created a time loop. Each time the characters fail, she restarts the loop. "This time around" is referenced more than once, giving life to the idea that this has all happened before, or may happen again, but slightly differently. And so the TV show differs from the book in many ways.

If you're considering watching The Magicians, I'll advise you on two primary points. Firstly, the first season isn't really that great. It's okay, but the show doesn't get good until right at the end of season one. Secondly, this is not a show for children, or even maybe some adults. There are references to child sexual abuse, a disturbing rape scene, heavy drug use, and lots and lots of sex. But as heavy as some of those elements gets, the show has moments that are hilarious.

And this brings me to my favorite character: Eliot. Wired put it beautifully.

And the show's funniest character is also now its most tragic. Hale Appleman runs away with the season as the flamboyant Eliot, whose commitment to posh hedonism conflicts with his duties as the High King of Fillory, where he has to deal with the problems of governing a magical country where no one remembers what it's like to have to do anything. Also, Eliot, who is (mostly) gay, now has a wife, who he has been forced to marry in an arrangement that means he can never return to Earth. It may take place in a saturated, silly world, but Eliot's predicament here feels incredibly real-and surprisingly affecting.

He's a horribly unhappy alcoholic, but he's a great character, and he's hilarious. From his Dirty Dancing monologue to his comment about how his new crown feels as natural as underwear, he's got some fantastic lines. I'm only a single episode into season two, but I'm hooked.

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