Brilliant friends, a new Drummer and back to the Thirtysomethings

If you haven’t read My Brilliant Friend, the first novel in the Neapolitan Quartet by Elena Ferrante, then you can enjoy the new eight-episode HBO adaption of the book.

My Brilliant Friend (photo credit: Courtesy)
My Brilliant Friend
(photo credit: Courtesy)
If you haven’t read My Brilliant Friend, the first novel in the Neapolitan Quartet by Elena Ferrante, then you can enjoy the new eight-episode HBO adaption of the book, which will be available on HOT VOD starting on December 19, as a classy, coming-of-age drama about two lifelong female friends.
The casting is impeccable and the eight-part series has two sets of actresses in the lead roles, Elena (played as a child by Elisa Del Genio and as a teenager by Margherita Mazzucco), the narrator, and Lila (Ludovica Nasti as a girl and Gaia Girace), her bold and brilliant friend. The actresses perfectly and gracefully embody the two central characters, friends, neighbors and rivals who grow up together in a Neapolitan slum in the 1950s and 1960s.
It has been skillfully adapted by Saverio Costanzo, who made the series with the input – via email – of the reclusive Elena Ferrante, who writes under a pseudonym.
The key moments from the novel are all there. If you have read the books, this series will certainly make you want to reread them, but you won’t recapture the magic of these fascinating works by watching it. Although the series is narrated by Elena as an older woman – it opens just as the book does, when Lila’s son contacts her to report that his mother has disappeared – the few lines she speaks will only remind you of what was on the page that didn’t transfer to the screen. The scene where the girls try to walk to the beach, for example, is an epic journey in the book and their failure symbolizes the characters’ lifelong struggle to overcome what their childhoods have done to them. Here, it’s merely an example of Lila’s strong will and a fun adventure that doesn’t turn out as they planned.
Two other elements work against the series. One is that you may find yourself confused by all the characters – is that Alfonso or Antonio? – many of whom make only brief appearances here but become much more important in the later volumes. The other is that the camera somehow glamorizes these slums. In the book, I was acutely aware of the dirt, the smells, the claustrophobia and the poverty, but here, as the characters dress in plain earth tones, it looks a bit like a chic fashion ad. There is an elegant simplicity to the production design which I imagine is accurate but which makes it all look much nicer than it should.
That said, it’s hard to imagine a better screen version of these books and the series will only add to the popularity of the novels.
I can’t say the same for the new adaptation of John le Carré’s The Little Drummer Girl, directed by Chan-wook Park, a Korean director known for violent psychological thrillers, which is currently available on HOT VOD and HOT Next TV. Although it has its moments, this six-episode series, which tells the story of Charlie (Florence Pugh), a young British actress recruited by Gadi (Alexander Skarsgard), a Mossad agent, to help catch Palestinian terrorists in Europe in the late 1970s, just isn’t as entertaining as it should be. It has all the ingredients: attractive leads, gorgeous locations and a twisty plot, but somehow doesn’t come to life. Pugh is lively as the radical-chic Charlie who is more vulnerable to manipulation than she thinks, but there is shockingly little chemistry between her and Skarsgard, whom True Blood fans will remember as Eric Northman, the world’s oldest and sexiest vampire. Michael Shannon is fine as Charlie’s Israeli handler and the series features many good Israeli actors, including Michael Moshonov, but it isn’t that suspenseful, which is the worst thing you can say about a series based on a le Carré novel.
Remember when Thirtysomething was the best in quality television? YES Edge and YES VOD are bringing back that show about an attractive group of – what else? – thirty-somethings, Sunday-Thursday at 7:45 p.m. It seems odd now that this intelligent soap was such a huge hit, but it’s still fun.