Saturday, September 25, 2010

Television Novels

Here are my choices for the best "Television Novels" a genre I might well have just made up, though it is presaged in this Lorrie Moore review of The Wire in the New York Review of Books.  It's a television series that transcends the genre and approaches or achieves the status of literature - not coincidentally a couple of the entries are adapted from excellent novels.  Unhappily very similar sounding, but on rather the opposite end of the spectrum, is the Telenovela, a Latin American soap opera, ordinarily devoid of literary aspirations. 

1. The Wire is the best thing ever made for television. This Baltimore of drug dealers and the po-lice perhaps may be how the early third millennium will be remembered in the centuries to come.
2. I Claudius:   Siân Phillips scheming depiction of Livia, the wife of Roman Emperor Augustus, is mesmerising. We are all rabbits and she is the snake.
3. Middlemarch the 1994 adaptation of the George Elliot novel. There's a film adaptation that's supposed to coming out soon, also by the screenwriter Andrew Davies.

Lost, Battlestar Galactica, Rome and Twin Peaks were all brilliant as well. I suppose The Sopranos should also be mentioned - James Gandolfini was tremendous but the pseudo-psychoanalytic intrusions put me off. Possibly the greatest work (after The Wire) made for television was The Decalogue made for Polish TV in 1988 by Krzysztof Kieślowski but it's a sequence of novellas as opposed to a single novel.

A couple of other of my favorite television series are rather more episodic than novelistic, so they don't quite fit the stated genre, but still excellent: a horse opera in outer space Firefly;  and the ferociously hilarious Australian comedy Summer Heights High.

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