Just shy of his 70th birthday, Godzilla is now a TV star. Except not really. Emperor: Legacy of Demons, which premiered on Apple TV+ earlier this month, takes place in the so-called MonsterVerse, which is the same continuity as the recent American films featuring the radioactive reptile, its simian maniac Kong, and a few more skyscraper-sized beasts. But the G-man is hardly involved; He only appears for a few minutes in the 10-episode season, as if appearing for a contracted cameo. you see, King Not really a Godzilla show. Subtitles aside, this is less a monster mash-up about adventurous monster hunters dealing with the burden of their family than a collective melodrama.
Earlier this fall, Peacock premiered its small-screen version of the big-screen property. Like King, The Continental: From the World of John Wick One part spinoff, one part prequel — a limited streaming series that fills in the backstory of charming hotel owner Winston Scott from the John Wick films. However, Vic is nowhere to be found in the show. And those who pressed the drama expecting more acrobatic action and flashy ideals featuring its starring vehicles were instead faced with… another mass melodrama, this one set against a funky 1970s New York. And only from time to time was it enlivened by kung fu.
Both shows exemplify a frustrating trend in cross-medium adaptation: the transformation of pulp into soap, a kind of genre filtering for streaming subscribers. On the movie screen, Godzilla and John Wick offer spectacular East-meets-West mayhem that promises (sometimes literal) lizard-entertainment. But television is too small for the man, the myth, the legend, turned mythological monster turned mythological attraction. The appeal of these icons has been crushed to meet the demands of a limited series, most of their B pleasures sacrificed at the altar of the prestige TV formula. There’s a lot of nonsense, a lot of characters, a lot of sequential interpersonal conflicts.
Such changes were common in 2023, as TV executives dared to ask “what if Goosebumps Was stranger things, And “What if Edgar Allan Poe wrote inheritance, The year started with arguably the most high-profile example in television: the HBO adaptation of a PlayStation video game. the last of us, which would quickly become a critical and ratings sensation. Broadly speaking, it was a faithful retelling, spanning most of the original plot points across nine episodes of weekly television. This wasn’t a huge leap: a game whose famous story was compared to prestige TV upon its release a decade ago was probably always destined to become de facto prestige TV.
Still, if HBO the last of us While preserving the specifics of Joel and Ellie’s cross-country pilgrimage, it also removed many of the genre’s elements that would have fruitfully undermined its fallen world connections and contemplation. While crafting the story for premium cable, creator Neil Druckmann demonstrated how important that stuff – the zombie horror, the stealthy outlaw action – was to the alchemy of his Naughty Dog masterpiece. The show is like an all-cutscene cut, with its thrills cut out to feed toner flavor, say, six feet Under fan. It’s like ordering a steak and getting a “deconstructed” plate of garnish instead.
HBO is certainly a leader in this area of de-genre genre. does it go back game of ThronesAn era-defining hit that used George RR Martin’s bestseller to craft a new kind of “adult” fantasy saga for the Peak TV era? throne That said, you can have dragons, zombies, and magic and still tell a sprawling, character-driven epic of Tolstoy proportions. In the most superficial terms, it asked, “What if.” Lord of the Rings Was Wire, Networks have been chasing that kind of zeitgeist-redefining success ever since, partly by wondering how to make geek-friendly properties like Godzilla and John Wick palatable to casual audiences looking for buzz around the watercooler. Looking for your next Sunday night passion?
Of course, there are budgetary benefits to this approach. Filming people interacting is always a cost-effective way to create movie-sized content for TV. A the last of us This largely cuts down on skirmishes with the undead, a Godzilla which keeps Godzilla and his friends largely off camera, a john wick It provides ass-kicking in dribs and drabs—these are cost-effective reimaginings. The latter two also manage to connect a new story directly to the respective blockbuster without completely violating visual continuity. neither King and neither continental Made for TV looks cheap, perhaps because they skimped on show in favor of insanely high production values.
Still, perhaps the real reason TV producers keep making something talky and “grounded” and plot-heavy out of popular B-movie premises is that they have a lot of runtime to occupy. Watching King, it’s hard to shake the feeling that the story took 10 episodes just to last 10 episodes; The demand for a certain amount of streaming content is determining the nature of that content. Can you handle Godzilla destroying Tokyo for 10 hours? Maybe, but expanding a kaiju-movie logline beyond two hours would require both enormous resources and creative courage. To fill an entire season of television, creators are trying like high-schoolers to reach the required word count of their essay. conspiracy of King Structurally engaging – it spans half a century, telling an inter-generational family drama – without ever becoming particularly complex. The episode-long flashbacks feel like dramatic filler.
Of course, there’s no reason we can’t have an ambitious reinvention of the TV genre. If you want to take these stories to the small screen, why not do something different with them? HBO has found success in thinking outside the box and the proverbial video-store aisle. That’s how we got a cerebral, puzzle-box adaptation of Michael Crichton’s killer-robot potboiler done by and a watchman Set in a world without superheroes. Both of those shows stripped their audiences of the original genre appeal of their source material, but offered something unique in its place.
What they give up in exchange for the lowbrow hook is what the show’s like. King And continental Proposal? Mostly, a lot of thin characters move through melodrama that wears thin. no one inside King (No, not even the guy jointly played by Kurt and Wyatt Russell) So interesting that you’ll forget how long it’s been since Godzilla stepped on something. and no one inside continental, which plays like a typical Elmore Leonard throwback, is so interesting that you’re not reminded of the star power of Keanu Reeves or any of the martial artists who fought alongside him in the Wicked films. Meanwhile, both shows demonstrate that a negligible plot would be better than a dull one. It requires real effort to wring the fun out of a world where every second bystander is actually a deadly trained killer or a world where prehistoric creatures look like mountains.
Godzilla without Godzilla isn’t an impractical premise. Nor is John Wick without John Wick. But reducing these popular, legendary franchises to mere story machines, churning out a few episodes of vaguely exaggerated soap operas in the key of Toho or Keanu, is an abuse of the brand. When you are a hammer, the whole world is a nail. And when you’re a TV executive, every great genre premise can be turned into something bland, its infamous qualities stripped away and reshaped into fodder for the “recommended for you” queue. .
Emperor: Legacy of Demons Now streaming on Apple TV+. The Continental: From the World of John Wick Now streaming on Peacock. the last of us Now streaming on Max.