6 TV Adaptations That Were Clueless About Their Source Movies
When sequel paths get blocked, successful film properties take to another road to milk the cash cow. Television. But for every Buffy the Vampire Slayer a dozen more Delta Houses spawn out of network pitch meetings, confusing and alienating fans.
For those who weren't actively repressing these shows, allow us to dredge the creative cesspool ...
Somebody Thought Beetlejuice Would Work as a Wholesome Kid's Cartoon
Tim Burton's Beetlejuice's perfect balance of black comedy and horror became a sleeper hit, mostly due to its sleazy titular character. Limited to a tiny sliver of screen time, Beetlejuice had the audience eagerly anticipating his every scene:
Oh, shoot, that was three.
So what better material for a kid's show than a suicidal preteen with a sidekick who was initially intended to be a murderer and rapist? The first thing the show did is make it all about him and a bland Lydia Deetz. Only now Lydia needs a Valium, and Beetlejuice is needy and whiney:
The resulting animated series was creepy and off for anyone who saw the film, which culminates with a blackmail plot where Beetlejuice tries to force an underage girl into a marriage.
Giving an amoral pedophile his own TV kids show doesn't quite work. Watching it as an adult, thirty years later, makes for some surreal viewing, Beetlejuice updated as the platonic BFF watching her in her room as she sleeps:
The show ran its course after an impressive ninety-four episodes, beloved by kids who clearly did not understand all the inappropriate groping, depression, nods to paraphilia, and jerk off gestures in the movie.
Canadians Tried to Make their Own RoboCop Without Gore or Satire
RoboCop was a one-in-a-million violent R-rated '80s social satire that is impossible to replicate. And the mid-90s TV show proved just how impossible. Strapped for spending, Orion Pictures sold TV rights to a Canadian production company.
The basic stuff looks ... fine. The robosuit, city, and sets were on the high end for syndicated TV (each episode cost $1.2-$1.5 million), even it looks suspiciously like Toronto instead of Detroit. But filtered through a Canadian broadcast television lens, RoboCop suddenly is ridiculously nice, has both a Cortana and a child sidekick, and ditches the violence for lame non-lethal takedowns, with every episode ending with orderly, bloodless arrests. It's a far cry from the first two films, which featured multiple stabbings, gallows humor ...
... bodies mashed to a pulp, mutilation, murdered child drug kingpins, and, of course, the nutshot to end all nutshots:
The malevolent OmniCorp? They're a bunch of aloof clowns. The caustic parody of American media culture? Sanitized and toothless:
All in all, it pretty much offered nothing of what anybody wanted from a movie about an android whose USB drive also served as a shank.
MTV's Scream, Horror For People Too Dumb To Know What Cliches Are
With the horror genre a pathetic husk by 1996, Wes Craven once again worked his magic, reinventing the slasher movie for Gen Xers.
Whereas Scream was a post-modern slasher that subverted horror cliches one by one, MTV's Scream adaptation had lower ambitious and higher stupidity, a combo which led critics to dump on it. They felt the plot was boring, and labeled the actors "robotic, and uninteresting [...] recruited for their looks." In other words, everything old-school Scream was parodying. The show relied on gimmicks older than most of their cast, rather than dissecting the genre, the opener from season two was a straight copy of "Thiller."
Because the only part the writers remembered from the original movie was the Drew Barrymore scene, we hope you like scared girls on phones, because that trope is half the show, as it's reused over and over and over again.
The cheapasses couldn't even spring for the one thing fans did want, the Ghost Face mask. Which annoyed Wes Craven, who, as you might have already figured out, had nothing to do with this other than letting them slap his name on it as executive producer.
Fast Times, A Superficially Faithful Adaptation of Fast Times at Ridgemont High (But Without Nudity, Drugs, Hot-Button Social Issues, or Edgy Humor)
Walking a fine line between raunchy humor and serious drama, Fast Times at Ridgemont High perfected the teen comedy formula. And the only thing ABC brought to its TV-friendly version of Fast Times was the licensed pop soundtrack. Any depictions of teenage life's misery or shitty jobs with equally shitty customers were gone, along with any drug use, sex, crime, or drinking. There's one fake ID in the series, and it's not even used to score beer.
Even more bizarre, more attention was devoted to the adults than the kids. There is an abnormal amount of screen time set aside for the teachers debating their profession's integrity instead of wacky high school hijinks. Only two of the original cast members (none of the big names) dared to return, as the show turned into Boy Bore Meets World. After only seven episodes, it got the ax once ABC realized nobody wanted to spend 30 minutes each week with a guy who looks like he's doing the worst Jeff Spicoli cosplay.
Amazon's Zombieland - Every Joke Taking the Form of Product Placement
Riding the high of the zombie fad, 2009's Zombieland creators tried their hand at TV, pitching a pilot to Amazon. Be glad you never saw it.
Fans seemed most aggravated by the lack of any of the film's cast returning to reprise their big-screen roles. Gone was Woody Harrelson's terse, tough cowboy, Tallahassee, who is instead converted to a hacky sitcom dad -- he's the nonthreatening comic-relief who won't shut up. But worst was the lack of wit. Missing are the movie's sparse deadpan quips, exemplifying each character's quirks and coping strategies in the zombie apocalypse ...
...replaced with an unfunny Regina-sounds-like-vagina joke the gets run into the ground for five minutes.
There's also a desperate cash-grab aura around the Amazon pilot (this was in the early days of Prime video), a crucial scene taking place in an IKEA for no reason whatsoever. Talahassee's Twinkie obsession (in the film an intentionally stupid character motivation that has nothing to do with eating junk food) feels used to justify stuffing the pilot with advertising: Keurig, Starbucks, Apple, Walgreens, and Facebook are named dropped in the first one hundred seconds ...
... which feels like more product placement than the entirety of the eighty-minute long movie it recreates. References to Hot Pockets, 76 gasoline, and Fiji bottled water double as punchlines in a plot which hinges on an OnStar hands-free service assistant. Can you tell this was made in 2013?
Thankfully, it was rejected by Amazon after the pilot episode. Jeff Bezos may have been desperate for new content, but not that desperate.
John Shaft Comes to the Small Screen...and Gets Turned Into a Dork
Demonstrating the financial and cultural viability of Black cinema, it was only a matter of time before Shaft was ruined by studio moguls who didn't get it. But, to their credit, CBS got one thing right, bringing back Shaft actor Richard Roundtree. Too bad CBS provided the Black private dick a make-over, turning him into a by-the-book dweeb.
The epitome of '70s cool, Shaft breaks the law and gives a random guy the finger in the first forty seconds of the film, a blatant distrust of the police and conventional justice. Gordon Parks' movie was full of excessive, stylized violence, sex, and off-color banter that were hallmarks of the blacksploitation genre.
The TV show? It was unremarkable in every way, Shaft looking and sounding like the H&R Block staff. The story turned into a straight cop drama, the Shaft mini-series found itself lost in a sea of ten-zillion tedious procedurals in 1973 starring bland men in suits in front of phony wood-paneled sets.
During its one season, the mini-series featured no obscenities, guys getting slashed in the face with wine bottles, nor dudes tossed out of windows. But it had plenty of plodding scenes like these:
Roundtree hated it, souring on the character after his experience. CBS had twisted one of the coolest heroes in film history into a formulaic TV authority figure on a show for people that find milk too spicy.
Top image: Orion Pictures