Is anyone watching 13 Reasons Why on Netflix? It’s a series based off of Jay Asher’s young adult novel of the same name about 17-year-old Hannah Baker who leaves cassette tapes for the people she feels are complicit in her suicide. The Netflix series is very well done, and is reaching a lot of fans, particularly a whole crop of people who never read the book (including my husband). There’s been some controversy in the depiction of suicide, but I’m not here to talk about that. Instead, I want to discuss literary adaptations, specifically for television.
How often do people bemoan films not being as good as the books? All the time. The major outlier, in my opinion, being Brokeback Mountain. The film is far superior to the novella its based on. Anyway, movies don’t offer adequate time for rich character development, and certainly never at the expense of interesting plot twists. But, TV… ah, that’s where things can get interesting.
Television series give books a healthy dose of time. A thirteen episode season, as in 13 Reasons Why, allows the writers to explore heavy themes and characterization in greater detail. It’s been ten years since I read the book, so bear with me, but the story is only told through Clay’s first-person narrative. But in the TV series, the audience is privy to the aftermath of Hannah’s death, through peripheral characters, including her grieving parents who must grapple with the mystery that is their daughter (How did they not suspect she was so unhappy?) and the 13 people, who contribute to Hannah’s suicide. While Jay Asher is an incredible writer, the TV series becomes something more layered and nuanced than the book. Also, the show provides for a more suspenseful, almost noir-like tone, which, again, I don’t recall in the book. Eventually, the book and the series become two of a piece, and they’re not really the same.
There are lots of other examples of successful TV literary adaptations. Gossip Girl. The Vampire Diaries. Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, although the books are excellent. But we don’t get the sexual chemistry between Phryne and Jack in the books that we do in the show.
I just found out my favorite book series, The Raven Boys, will be adapted for television and I am so excited. I’m grateful though, that a pilot is being made, and not a film. A movie would just ruin it.
What are your thoughts? Do you enjoy TV adaptations of books?