Critique: The Non-Sequel Sequels on TV

Seldom do I find a TV show or movie that I like more than the books that inspired them. The Notebook and A Walk to Remember may be the exceptions here (I remember when I loved Nicholas Sparks…), and Crazy Rich Asians was so good on the silver screen that it was a close call. The adapted screenplays of two TV shows in recent years neared the quality of their inspirations as well: Sweetbitter and Big Little Lies.

So when I heard that sequels to both of these shows were coming to my living room this year, I perked up.

But then the premieres came and went. Season two of Big Little Lies premiered when I was in Africa, and I never attempted to watch when I returned. I couldn’t help but feel lackluster toward it. Then, one Saturday not too long after, I tried watching an episode of Sweetbitter. I was already a few behind and expected to binge the series. Five minutes into that one episode, though, I turned it off. Admittedly, some small skepticism had been brewing for these shows since my initial excitement; it was just a matter of time before the reasoning clicked. That confirmation came in the shape of Sweetbitter‘s five-minute failure when I realized that the non-sequel sequel is not my forte.

Big Little Lies and Sweetbitter

You may be asking, “What the hell is a non-sequel sequel?” or shaking your head because clearly this girl has lost her mind again. Hear me out.

A non-sequel sequel is simply the sequel in a television or movie series that was originally based off a book — that’s a singular book and does not imply a series. Thus, the literary sequel does not exist, yet somehow a cinematic one does. Do you follow? Remember, Stephanie Danler never wrote a follow-up to her debut novel (even if she did write the season two screenplay); it’s the same story with Liane Moriarty and her chart-topper.

(Game of Thrones doesn’t count because George R.R. Martin has every intention of finishing the book series. Plus, it’s possible I never read that one much to my partner’s chagrin.)

Sweetbitter

I’m definitely not one of those moviegoers who views adapted screenplays unfavorably and who craves original content at all times. Books are magical; why wouldn’t we bring them to life? I don’t understand, though, why Hollywood is infatuated with building additional content from something that had never been planned. It feels a little bit like Hollywood is trying too hard to market off someone’s genius writing when they create the non-sequel sequel. Something feels cheap and inauthentic about it — even if it does comprise original ideas.

It’s very similar to how I feel about all of the Harry Potter hooplah that’s come out since the seventh book and movie were released. Sure, I enjoyed the first installment of Fantastic Beasts, but did I think it was necessary? No. And don’t get me started on The Cursed Child, which I couldn’t even finish. For one thing, I don’t want to unpack all of the pain that came from that series ending. It was hard enough saying goodbye the first time. For another, we just have to let these things go. Harry Potter should stand on its own without corporate America ruining it by trying to make an extra dollar.

And I wish they’d done the same with Sweetbitter and Big Little Lies. I was completely satisfied with how both series ended after their first seasons. Sometimes, it’s OK for a character’s story to not have a conclusion or an additional storyline. Guessing where characters land in the future is part of the fun; I don’t need someone spelling out every scene in their life for me.

My feelings remind me of an important rule we learned in J School: Give readers both what they want and what they need. Sure, fans wanted more of Reese and Nicole, and some wanted to see how much self-destruction Tess could conceive. But were these things readers and viewers needed? I’d argue no.

Give us new characters and new plot lines to intrigue us. Challenge our minds in non-traditional ways that we’ve never experienced before. Write strikingly absurd scenes that differ from anything else we’ve read. And let the magic of the originals live out for all time because the non-sequel sequel is not something this world needs more of. Hear, hear!

Big Little Lies

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