Jon Hein knows TV. In the late 1990s, he coined the phrase "Jump the Shark" when he founded the site of the same name. Since then, he's written about television everywhere from The New York Times to TV Guide. In his column for Primetimer, he shares his thoughts on what's new and good on TV and the shows on his radar for the coming week.
The stakes are always raised when adapting a novel for television.
Sometimes a showrunner will take liberties and switch things up which fans of the book often end up resenting. When you're at a concert, do you want to hear a song exactly how it's played on the record, or hope there's a live element that makes the experience a little bit different? Book adaptations are tricky — you want the best of both worlds.
There have been some great ones over the years, but since most TV watchers aren't avid readers, many don't realize that their favorite show is based on a book with much more detail and background on their favorite characters.
I was writing a TV column just a few weeks ago when personal worlds collided around an upcoming big adaptation. As I took a break from writing, I turned to my right and had the following conversation with my wife who was fixated on her current book.
Me: "So what are you reading?"
Debbie: "Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty. It's pretty good."
Me: (seizing the chance to be the hero) "You know that got turned into a series that's coming out on Hulu this month?"
Debbie: "I didn't know that. Please don't tell me who's in the cast until after I finish."
I totally get this. One of the best parts of reading a novel is imagining what these characters look like and painting that perfect picture in your head. But…
Me: (now really tempted to tell her Nicole Kidman is playing the lead) "Can I just tell you who is playing the lead?"
Debbie: "If you want me to tell you what happens, sure."
Me: (realizing I had just been checkmated) "I won't tell you until you're done."
I waited until my wife finished and then let her know that Nicole Kidman was the big star. But this didn't exactly come as a surprise.
Australian author Liane Moriarty wrote Big Little Lies which was adapted for HBO by David E. Kelley and starred Nicole Kidman. If it ain't broke… the Aussies don't fix it. The Kidman/Kelley/Moriarty team reunited for this eight episode Hulu series.
Do not expect Big Little Lies… that's not what this show is. A talented cast is here in full force, but Nine Perfect Strangers is a much more bizarre story with personalities galore. As for the storyline, it's much more like The White Lotus on HBO.
Nicole Kidman has certainly found her niche on TV playing a woman hiding a deep secret in a privileged world. It began with Big Little Lies, and then she took things to another level in The Undoing with British scalawag Hugh Grant.
In Nine Perfect Strangers, she stars as Masha, a guru with a strong Russian accent who runs the California wellness retreat Tranquillum House. The space is designed to aid others who are looking for all sorts of help. Kidman has never been afraid to make bold choices, and she goes all in on Masha and her accent.
Masha is surrounded by individuals at Tranquillum House who are dealing with pain and seeking spiritual guidance. These strangers are portrayed by top notch talent who are best known for their quirkiness, and it's no stretch to see Kidman as someone who great actors are drawn to.
The characters are a bit cliched, but this is Bobby Cannavale playing an angry former football star and Regina Hall doing her thing as a bitter divorcee. Melissa McCarthy is perfectly cast as Frances, a depressed writer of romance novels. Michael Shannon, who always brings the pain, is the father of a family dealing with a great loss.
This eight-parter follows the David E. Kelley formula, and that's okay. You absolutely know what to expect. You can't help but wonder what's under the mask of all these characters and the actors who are portraying them.
Nicole Kidman carries Nine Perfect Strangers with her Aussie magic, and my gut tells me we haven't seen last of the Kidman/Kelley/Moriarty trio.
THIS WEEK’S SPTINAFOBYMB!
(Shows Premiering That I'm Not A Fan Of But You Might Be!)
Bachelor in Paradise (ABC) – The title is an oxymoron. Monday at 8pm.
Ben & Jerry's Clash of the Cones (FOOD) – Best way to recover from the show above. Monday at 9pm.
House Calls with Dr. Phil (CBS) – Do you really want this guy to show up at your door? Wednesday at 9pm.
Awkwafina is Nora from Queens (COMEDY CENTRAL) – The semi-autobiographical comedy returns for Season 2. Wednesday at 10pm.
The Defeated (NETFLIX) – An American cop looks for his brother and fights in post WWII Germany. Lands Wednesday.
The Walking Dead (AMC) – The three-part final season begins - remember when we cared? Sunday at 9pm.
Naked and Afraid of Love (DISCOVERY) – 16 naked strangers struggle for survival and romance – yet another sign of the TV apocalypse. Sunday at 9pm.
THIS WEEK'S PICKS
Academia, true-crime and a haunted house…
The Chair (NETFLIX)
Friday, August 20th
The trials and tribulations of an English department at a major university doesn't exactly scream must-see TV. The Paper Chase (I know it wasn't English) and Good Will Hunting (I know it was a movie) are notable exceptions to this rule. This dramedy centers around the first female chair of a prestigious department and all the politically correct problems that come with it.
Sandra Oh is a fabulous comedic actress. She’s been on my radar since she was stealing scenes as Rita Wu in the 90's comedy Arli$$. Her Killing Eve success did not come as a surprise. Here she attempts to shepherd a flailing English department through a series of personnel challenges that she finds, well, personally challenging. Jay Duplass, Bob Balaban and Holland Taylor lead a stellar supporting cast.
Truth Be Told (APPLE TV+)
Friday, August 20th
The first season of this true-crime murder investigation flew under the radar. Octavia Spencer starred as Poppy Parnell, a podcasting sleuth who questions the validity of convicted murderer (Aaron Paul) in her quest for justice.
The HBO docuseries I'll Be Gone In The Dark chronicled Michelle McNamara's pursuit of the Golden State Killer and shined a bright light on civilian true-crime obsession. Kate Hudson joins the cast in season two playing her fellow Oscar winner's childhood friend as Poppy puts everything on the line to get to the truth. The talent is there… will the story deliver? Watch teaser.
Sunday, August 22nd 10pm
Adapting a Stephen King short story for the screen always presents a challenge. The story is good, especially if it comes from his must-read short story collection Night Shift. As for the adaptations — well there's Stand By Me and Shawshank, but there’s also Children of the Corn and Trucks.
Chapelwaite is a fresh take on King's short story Jerusalem's Lot, but the horror master had nothing to do with the writing this time around. Charles (Adrien Brody) loses his mind in a haunted Maine house as governess Rebecca (Emily Hampshire from Schitt's Creek) helps protect the kids. You might want to stay away from this part of Maine.
If you love or hate my picks, I'd love to hear from you.
Get vaccinated. Stay healthy and safe!
Jon Hein is the creator of "Jump the Shark" and author of three books. Follow him @jonhein on Twitter.