It's been said that we're in the midst of another Golden Age in television, with some of the best shows in the history of the medium being made right now. But I wonder...could we also be in the golden age of TV adaptations as well?
The success of remakes like Homeland, The Office and House of Cards suggest that could be the case. So the question I want to explore is, why do television adaptations work?
Let’s take House of Cards as an example. The U.S. might not share Britain’s Westminster parliamentary system or its divisive political issues, but both cultures know what greed, power, and betrayal looks like. So while the American adaptation starring Kevin Spacey may look and feel much different than the original UK version starring Ian Richardson, it succeeds because it taps into the same universal themes the original explored, creating a unique and arguably elevated form of the series in the process.
THIS LIFE, CBC Television’s new family drama, owes much to its sister French language show Nouvelle adresse, which recently aired its third season.
Series creator Richard Blaimert’s story sparked a dialogue that populated dinner tables, bars and water cooler conversations around the province of Quebec when the French drama debuted last fall. With roughly one million Quebecers tuning in weekly, his characters, long-range story arcs, and lightning fast plot twists continue to provide a heck of a lot of table talk.
The conversation surrounding Nouvelle adresse is already seeping its way into THIS LIFE. Exhibit A: during the early days of pre-production in April -- as I enjoyed a killer Sunday French toast with ketchup (a Quebec staple) -- I was stunned to see a full page spread of Torri Higginson’s head shot on the cover of the arts section in La Presse, a francophone newspaper with over a million readers. As a local Montrealer (and avid fan of the original), the article shined a light on the responsibility involved in reimagining this challenging series. Alternatively, it also showed me what separates this particular adaptation from the rest...
Unlike The Bridge, an adaptation that moved from Sweden/Denmark to USA/Mexico, or Shameless, an American adaptation set in Chicago’s Canaryville instead of the original's Manchester location, THIS LIFE inhabits the same universe as its predecessor. Montreal remains a crucial character. The French language is omnipresent in our story and even the show’s sound is directly tied to the island’s best musicians. THIS LIFE seeks to celebrate Nouvelle adresse’s identity, which, in turn, adds another layer of authenticity to the storytelling.
But living up to Blaimert’s Quebec phenomenon comes with its fair share of challenges too. Nobody knows that more than Sphere Media Plus -- the production company behind THIS LIFE -- who’s already successfully adapted the Montreal based front-line police drama, 19-2, into a thrilling English version starring Adrian Holmes and Jared Keeso. The balance between what Nouvelle adresse is and what English audiences can recognize and enjoy is constantly in question.
Despite THIS LIFE’s unique challenges, Virginia Rankin, Executive Producer of the CBC drama, remains confident, “Family is at the heart of our society and this story is really about one unique family, but one that everybody can recognize.” Our story’s protagonist, Natalie Lawson’s, run-in with cancer is also a unifying point. Rankin believes, “everybody's life has been touched by something like (cancer) and it will resonate.”
Having grown up watching Les Bougons, Virginie, and Taxi 22 with my Quebecois parents, I can vouch for the unique tropes of French television. Quebec TV shows tend to be slow- burning, inherently humorous (no matter what the circumstance), and “soapy” in the best way possible. Take a big-picture look at what’s on in Quebec and you’ll find character-based storytelling dominating the airwaves.
“It’s a rare thing these days on TV, in English at least, [...] a show only about characters,” says Executive Producer and Showrunner, Joseph Kay. THIS LIFE seeks to marry this character driven ideal -- allowing you to sit with them, follow them and experience what they experience.
I’m Max Morin, by the way, Story Coordinator and your official insider for all things THIS LIFE.
Watch this clip to learn more about the adaptation process for THIS LIFE: