I cringe every time I hear a new TV series is “based on a series of books.”
Right away, as a TV critic, I know what I'm facing.
There will be a segment of the population that has read the books and forever will be lording that over me. It's a disagreement I've had with my wife more than once. There will be some element of a TV show that I don't think works at all. My wife will say, “BUT THAT'S WHAT HAPPENED IN THE BOOKS,” as if that in itself justifies everything.
Sometimes what works in a book does not work on TV. I am a TV critic, so I evaluate TV shows as TV shows.
But them's fightin' words for people who've read the books. They're either totally forgiving as long as the book is followed accurately, or completely dismissive of what might be a good TV show, because they feel betrayed that the book is not being followed accurately enough.
Sigh. So many emotions. Which brings us to Outlander, which is – wait for it – based on a series of books by Diana Gabaldon. The TV series makes its Canadian debut Sunday, Aug. 24 on Showcase, following its debut on channel-of-origin Starz in the United States earlier this month.
The TV series is executive produced by Ronald D. Moore (Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek: The Next Generation), which adds another layer of people who will hate me if I don't love Outlander. But passion for TV is what keeps us in business, I suppose.
Outlander, which already has been renewed for a second season, follows the story of an English World War II combat nurse named Claire Randall, played by Caitriona Balfe. The war ends in the first episode of Outlander, and Claire takes a trip to Scotland to try to reconnect with her husband Frank, played by Tobias Menzies.
I guess I'll post a SPOILER ALERT here, so we can speak openly about Outlander being a time-travelling tale. Claire mysteriously and magically is transported back to civil war-engulfed Scotland in 1743.
So Outlander is a “double period piece,” if you will. And this may sound funny, but given the rather graphic sexual content (Starz, after all, is the network that gave us Spartacus), I actually was more comfortable watching people “doing it” in the 1740s than in the 1940s – isn't that weird? Thank you Game of Thrones, I guess. But given all those antiseptic black-and-white movies from the 1940s, I didn't think anybody had sex in those years.
Plunked unceremoniously into 1743, Claire quickly finds herself in the company of a man I immediately dubbed Hunky McHonourable, a.k.a. Jamie Fraser, a Scottish warrior played by Sam Heughan. Jamie seems even more heroic when compared to evil English military officer Black Jack Randall, who just happens to be an ancestor of Claire's husband Frank.
By the way, my wife observed that the TV series initially seems to have more of a focus on the romance, at the expense of story, than the books did. She was not in favour of that change.
There's one thing that always makes me roll my eyes, but I want to be clear that I'm mentioning it as a criticism of my gender, and an acknowledgement of how awful men can be when their behaviour is unchecked. But the males in this 18th-century society would have tolerated an outspoken female stranger for about seven seconds. It's naive to think that all a woman had to do to avoid many of life's mental and physical indignities was to be a bit spunky. Claire definitely endures hardships, but I fear it would have been staggeringly worse in real life.
I've seen the first two episodes of Outlander. While it's well done and well acted and looks great, I found it to be very slow. It may pick up, and I hope it does, in order to hold my interest.
But I know, I know, I haven't read the books, I'm an Outlander outsider, I'm a terrible person.