TV shows based on books
Many of us are glued to our couches binge watching anything and everything, so why not try a television show based on a book? In celebration of the release of CBS’s latest book adaptation, “Clarice,” on Feb. 11, 2021, Wonderwall.com is taking a look at some of our favorite books-turned-TV shows. First up? The aforementioned psychological-crime series. “Clarice,” which is based on Thomas Harris’s “The Silence of the Lambs” and stars Rebecca Breeds in the title role, is set in 1993 and picks up a year after the events in the film. The series chronicles Clarice Starling’s professional and personal life as she continues her harrowing investigation into serial killers and predators. Keep reading for more book-turned-television show adaptations…
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Since its 2020 debut, Hulu’s “Normal People” has been a hit among streaming audiences. Based on Sally Rooney’s 2018 novel of the same name, the drama chronicles the romantic relationship between Marianne Sheridan (Daisy Edgar-Jones) and Connell Waldron (Paul Mescal) from adolescence into adulthood. “Normal People” has garnered widespread critical acclaim: Paul was nominated for a best lead actor Emmy in 2020, and Daisy and the show both earned 2021 Golden Globe nominations.
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Based on the Celeste Ng novel of the same name, “Little Fires Everywhere” follows the interwoven lives of two mothers from disparate socioeconomic backgrounds. The series, which is set in Shaker Heights, Ohio, in the late ’90s, revolves around Elena Richardson (Reese Witherspoon), a wealthy white mother and reporter, and Mia Warren (Kerry Washington), a black single mother and struggling artist. While the series delves into racial politics, its source material was less forthright. “The book really does delve into class and sociopolitical differences and cultural differences, so I think adding the level of race to that really enriches the storytelling,” said Reese at the Television Critics Association panel in January 2020. “We are stepping away from this binary idea we have of race in this country — of black and white — because we’re also dealing with Asian American identity and immigrant identity.”
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Best Christmas gift ever? Netflix debuted “Bridgerton,” the historical drama series executive produced by Shonda Rhimes and Chris Van Dusen, on Dec. 25, 2020, and it was an instant hit — one of Netflix’s most streamed shows ever, in fact. The project is based on author Julia Quinn’s popular romance novel book series that follows the exploits of the aristocratic Bridgerton family as they navigate love, gossip and scandal on the marriage market in Regency-era London. While season 1, based on “The Duke and I,” chronicled eldest Bridgerton daughter Daphne’s hunt for a husband, whom she found in the stubborn and gorgeous Duke of Hastings, season 2 — which is currently in the works and is based on “The Viscount Who Loved Me” — will look at eldest brother Anthony’s attempts to find a wife worthy of being his viscountess.
Interested in all things true crime? Consider adding “Mindhunter” to your watchlist. Based on John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker’s 1995 true crime novel “Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit,” the Netflix psychological crime series chronicles FBI agents Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) as well as psychologist Wendy Carr (Anna Torv) as they work to gain a better understanding of what it means to be a serial killer. The first season of the show takes place between 1977 to 1980, while the second season is set between 1980 and 1981.
Since its debut in 2017, Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why” has been at the center of controversy. Based on Jay Asher’s 2007 novel of the same name, the drama executive produced by Selena Gomez follows teenager Clay Jensen as he copes with the tragic death of his friend, Hannah Baker. Clay comes to realize that prior to her death, Hannah left a series of cassette tapes that detail the reasons why she decided to end her life. On them, she also addresses the people she holds responsible for her decision. The series led by stars Dylan Minnette and Katherine Langford went on for four seasons until 2020.
“The Baby-Sitters Club,” which is based on the Ann M. Martin book series of the same name, debuted on Netflix in 2020. The show, which has since been renewed for a second season, chronicles the everyday lives and shenanigans of a group of middle school babysitters in the fictional town of Stoneybrook, Connecticut. Sophie Grace, Momona Tamada, Shay Rudolph and Malia Baker star in this youthful adaptation.
Based on the dystopian novel written by Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood, “The Handmaid’s Tale” focuses on the totalitarian state of Gilead, where fertile women are viewed as property. The series, which stars Elisabeth Moss, premiered in April 2017 and was renewed for a fourth season in July 2019. While the critically acclaimed novel might have been the show’s source material earlier on, the writers have since made the decision to keep the series going well past its original narrative.
Who knew Dan Humphrey could be so creepy? The first season of “You,” which is based on the 2014 novel written by Caroline Kepnes, focuses on the life of Joe Goldberg (“Gossip Girl” star Penn Badgley), a New York City bookstore manager who falls deeply (and terrifyingly) in love with Guinevere Beck (Elizabeth Lail), a woman who randomly walks into his shop. What unfolds is a dangerous, obsessive pursuit to keep Guinevere all to himself — even if that means killing the people closest to her. The second season, which premiered in 2019 and is loosely based on Caroline’s follow-up novel, “Hidden Bodies,” sees Joe venturing to Los Angeles where he meets his latest obsession, Love Quinn (Victoria Pedretti).
Say it together: Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose! Critically acclaimed sports drama series “Friday Night Lights” debuted in 2006, two years after the 1990 H. G. Bissinger nonfiction novel of the same name was adapted into a film. While the book delves into the 1988 season of the Permian Panthers high school football team in Odessa, Texas, the series centers on the small football town of Dillon, Texas, home of the Dillon Panthers. The show’s five seasons explore the lives of the young athletes and the adults in their orbit with particular emphasis on coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) and wife Tammy (Connie Britton) plus players brought to life by Zach Gilford, Taylor Kitsch, Gaius Charles and more as well as their closest companions, who are played by Jesse Plemons, Minka Kelly and Adrianne Palicki.
When “Outlander” debuted on Starz in 2014, fans of the Diana Gabaldon-penned book series on which it’s based watched in droves. The historical series follows nurse-turned-surgeon Claire Beauchamp Randall (Caitriona Balfe), who inadvertently time travels from post-World War II Scotland to 1743, where she finds herself married to respected Highlands warrior Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan), with whom she soon falls in love. After enduring war, violence and trauma, they’re forced to split when it becomes imperative that Claire return to her own time period. Decades later, they find their way back to one another across space and time — and to a new land where war once again threatens their union and those they love most. Season 5 of the cult favorite show, which has been picked up for season 6, debuted in 2020.
Based on the William Landay novel of the same name, “Defending Jacob” follows the lives of the Barber family as they deal with an accusation that their 14-year-old son has committed murder. The eight-part miniseries, which debuted on Apple TV+ in 2020, stars Chris Evans, Michelle Dockery and Jaeden Martell.
2020’s “The Outsider” is an HBO crime-drama miniseries based on the 2018 Stephen King novel of the same name. The series delves into the grisly murder of an 11-year-old boy — a homicide committed by an experienced cop. When a dangerous supernatural entity becomes involved in the investigation, more questions are brought to light. Showrunner Richard Price wasn’t afraid to stray away from the source material — the pilot episode alone covers about a third of the book.
Inspired by Liane Moriarty’s 2014 novel of the same name, HBO’s “Big Little Lies” follows the complicated lives of the Monterey Five (played by Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, Laura Dern and Zoe Kravitz), who become involved in a murder investigation. The show, which explores themes of toxic masculinity and female relationships, was met with critical acclaim and won eight Primetime Emmy Awards. While its writers added depth to the world, the storyline, characters and dialogue were derived directly from Liane’s novel. There have also been significant changes, one of them being the show’s setting — it was switched from a fictional Australian beach town to Monterey, California. “I thought the Californian setting was beautiful and very similar to the Australian setting I’d imagined. In a way, I think changing the setting helped me ‘let go,’ which I think every author has to do when their work is adapted,” Liane told ELLE in 2017. “If it had been set in Australia, I might have resisted changes to the book, which I’ve always known and understood were necessary in an adaptation.”
The epic fantasy series “Game of Thrones,” which was adapted from George R. R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series, kept fans hooked over its eight seasons thanks to the wild storylines and an incredible ensemble cast that included Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Lena Headey, Emilia Clarke, Kit Harington, Sophie Turner and Maisie Williams. While the HBO series might have stuck to its source material in earlier seasons, writers eventually took more creative liberties as they ran out of books to adapt. “GoT” hit a major milestone in 2018 — it became the winningest drama series in Primetime Emmy history.
The delightfully addictive teen show “Gossip Girl” was adapted from the Cecily von Ziegesar book series of the same name. The series focuses on the luxurious lives of privileged teens living on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. When former party girl Serena van der Woodsen (Blake Lively) returns home following a mysterious absence, she’s reunited with best frenemy Blair Waldorf (Leighton Meester) and their mutual object of affection, Nate Archibald (Chace Crawford). Narrated by a mischievous blogger known as “Gossip Girl” (Kristen Bell), the series packs a juicy, dramatic punch. The show was such a hit that a revival series based on the original, which concluded in 2012, is slated to debut on HBO Max in 2020.
It’s not often that a series comes along and changes the TV landscape, but that’s exactly what “Orange Is the New Black” did. Based on Piper Kerman’s memoir “Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison,” the show — which in 2013 became Netflix’s first hit television series — explores Piper’s experiences at a minimum-security federal correctional facility. In an effort to juxtapose the privileged experience of the main character (Piper is played by Taylor Schilling), the show incorporates dynamic characters who have been mistreated by the justice system.
Adapted from Luke Jennings’ “Codename Villanelle” novella, “Killing Eve” tells the story of desk-ridden M15 security officer Eve (Sandra Oh), who’s tasked with tracking down assassin Villanelle (Jodie Comer). What ensues is a head-to-head battle between two women who become mutually obsessed with one another. The third season of the black comedy spy series premiered in April 2020.
While Candace Bushnell is best known for her “Sex and the City” series, she also penned “The Carrie Diaries,” the prequel to the famed HBO show that was the inspiration for the 2012 coming-of-age series. Set in the early ’80s, “The Carrie Diaries” follows a teenage Carrie Bradshaw (AnnaSophia Robb) as she works tirelessly to bring her dreams of becoming a writer to fruition, all while dealing with family, friendships, high school and romance. The show — a delight to watch from the big hair and shoulder pads to mentions of Andy Warhol and Interview Magazine — serves as both an effective origin story and a love letter to a cherished time of the past. In 2013, Candace gushed about AnnaSophia’s portrayal of Carrie. “Sometimes I’m just taken aback. Like, wow, that is in a sense a young Sarah Jessica Parker,” she told CBS News, referencing the actress who brought adult Carrie to life first. “I know we think of a young Sarah Jessica Parker as very different, because she was in Square Pegs. But if Sarah Jessica Parker had played a 16-year-old Carrie Bradshaw, I see the connection.”
The charmingly dark children’s novels from author Daniel Handler, who wrote under the pen name Lemony Snicket, were given the Hollywood treatment on the big screen in 2004 and on the small screen in 2017. Netflix’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events” series follows the three Baudelaire orphans (played by Malina Weissman, Louis Hynes and Presley Smith), whose lives are upended when they’re forced to live with malicious guardian Count Olaf (Neil Patrick Harris). As with many adaptations, the show includes both major and minor deviations from the source material, like Lemony’s increased involvement, Sunny’s punny baby gibberish and the addition of musical numbers.
Inspired by Nelson Johnson’s nonfiction book “Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times and Corruption of Atlantic City,” the HBO series “Boardwalk Empire” follows the life of mobster-politician Enoch “Nucky” Thompson (Steve Buscemi), who runs Atlantic City during the Prohibition era of the ’20s. According to the author, the writers behind the HBO series were “doing their best to do historically accurate fiction.” While it hits the mark in terms of atmosphere, there are aspects of the show that are more fiction than fact.
By the show’s conclusion, it was hard to believe that it was actually a book adaptation. “Pretty Little Liars,” which is based on the young adult book series by Sara Shepard, follows the lives of Spencer Hastings (Troian Bellisario), Emily Fields (Shay Mitchell), Aria Montgomery (Lucy Hale) and Hanna Marin (Ashley Benson) — members of a clique led by queen bee Alison DiLaurentis (Sasha Pieterse). After Alison mysteriously disappears, the girls begin receiving anonymous text messages from “A” threatening to expose secrets only she would know. It goes without saying, but the ABC Family series, which ran for seven seasons, frequently deviated from its source material.
The HBO sci-fi series “Westworld,” which is based on the 1973 novel by Michael Crichton, is set at an elite theme park where visitors who can afford to enter are allowed to indulge their deepest fantasies without suffering any consequences. Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, Jeffrey Wright, Anthony Hopkins and James Marsden are among the show’s star-studded cast. As of 2020, “Westworld” had the most watched first season for an original HBO series.
Lindy West’s endearing 2016 memoir “Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman” was the inspiration behind this beloved Hulu series of the same name. Starring Aidy Bryant as Annie Easton, “Shrill” follows an overweight 20-something who wants to make changes in her life — excluding her body. While the world views her as inadequate because of her weight, she begins to realize that she’s good enough just the way she is. The miniseries, which was renewed for a third season in March 2020, has been praised by critics and audiences.
Loosely based on Thomas Maier’s biography of of the same name, “Masters of Sex” explores the dynamic between Dr. William Masters (Michael Sheen) and Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Caplan), two human sexuality researchers who sparked a sexual revolution in the United States. The series, which is set during the ’50s, received widespread acclaim — “Masters of Sex” was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for best drama series in 2013.
Based on the Gillian Flynn novel of the same name, “Sharp Objects” tells the story of Camille Preaker (Amy Adams), a troubled reporter who’s forced to return to her hometown to investigate the grisly murders of two young girls. As more details surrounding their deaths come to light, Camille finds that she has more in common with the victims than she realized.
2005’s “Looking for Alaska” was the first novel written by John Green, and it became a Hulu TV show in 2019. The limited series, which is set in 2005, explores the complexities of coming of age through the perspective of Miles “Pudge” Halter (Charlie Plummer). As a new student at Culver Creek Boarding School, Pudge pursues a “Great Perhaps,” develops a core group of friends and falls in love with Alaska Young (Kristine Froseth). The show differs from the book in that it candidly explores issues faced by teens in this generation — mental health, consent, sexuality and race — making for a sharper, more emotional story.
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