Outlander: The Next Book to Find Success on the Small Screen? by Spencer Wade
In the 26 years since the first book in the Outlander series was first published, author Diana Gabaldon has been famously protective of the story she refers to as “Big, Fat, Historical Fiction.” Gabaldon claimed sole ownership of her brainchild and, despite being willing to share it with the literary world, railed against fan fiction and, until recently, never even considered allowing her story to be adapted to television.
Several writers had attempted to bring her sprawling story to the small screen, but it wasn’t until Battlestar Galactica creator Ronald D. Moore‘s version that Gabaldon felt any of them did her work justice. Perhaps her reluctance was justified – Outlander is a multi-volume series, with number eight recently published, and a ninth novel in the works. Book stores and readers alike have had trouble categorizing this series; the books have shown up in the romance, historical fiction and mystery sections. Which begs the question, how could one television show possibly convey all of the subtle nuances that Gabaldon included on her precious pages?
Smartly, the first series of this adaptation focuses only on the first book. Making a television series as opposed to a film allows for slower pacing and drawing out of the story, being sure not to neglect the little treasures that would otherwise be lost in a two hour film. Producers will be able to focus on the high level of detail that Gabaldon seems to insist on in any adaptation.
It’s also already obvious that this series was constructed with care and attention to maintaining the authenticity of the original book. Caitriona Balfe is very believable as World War 2 nurse Claire Randall, and the narration from her point of view allows the viewer an experience very similar to an hour spent immersed in a captivating book. Tobias Menzies is equally well cast as Claire’s dry and distant, but still well-loved husband, Frank, as well as the dark and dangerous Black Jack Randall, Frank’s ancestor. In contrast, Sam Heughan, who plays a Scots clan member that Claire is forced to marry after her journey back in time, is so compelling, the viewer is thrown into a quandary about whether they hope Claire gets back to her own time or not.
This series appeals to a wide range of viewers, and a similarly large range of ages. Fans of mystery, historical fiction, supernatural and romance will all find something to enjoy in this story. The sex however, precludes this story from being appropriate for younger aged viewers, or those not interested in graphic sexual scenes. For example, in the beginning of the series, the Randall’s “reconnect” after the war without more than a few provocative words and a knowingly swinging chandelier. Nudity and sexual situations are definitely a factor in this series. Many viewers could possibly feel like these scenes are unnecessarily graphic, similar to fan reactions to Game of Thrones, and it’s the one thing that prevents this from being a family friendly series.
One of the criticisms of this series is, ironically, one of the reasons it exists at all: the slow pacing of the show. This allows for a great deal of authenticity and attention to the detail provided in the book, but it also risks not holding the viewer’s attention. Chances are, however, that Outlander fans will stick around no matter how slowly the show moves, and are likely to convince their friends to do the same.
If the show has a large following (the first episodes pulled in 5 million viewers!) and a great deal of support, subsequent series will likely follow the remaining books. Starz strategically followed the examples set by Direct TV, Amazon and Netflix with their recent all-at-once releases of an entire season of a show, and made their series available online. Perhaps this flexibility attracted additional viewers since a second season has already been confirmed. However, the world of television is fickle, and if viewership becomes low, producers may be tempted to cut out details or over-dramatize the story – which is exactly what the author has fought against for almost three decades.
Have you tuned in to the new Outlander TV series? What do you think of the show?
Spencer Wade is a freelance entertainment, film, and pop culture blogger. He can almost always be found with his face in a book or glued to the T.V. He lives and works in Chicago where the winters only serve to encourage this type of behavior.
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