Like the Highlander, sometimes there really should only be one. If you’re unfamiliar with my arcane reference to the 1980s cult film, it’s about a bunch of immortal Highlanders who battle each other until only one is left. That’s not really why I’m using this example. The first movie spawned 5 sequels, a TV show, books, comic books and there may even be a reboot. But, really there is nothing as good as the original.
My point is, in film, TV and literature people like to take something commercially successful and squeeze it for all its artistic juice until it’s dry and shriveled and nothing like it used to be. In doing this, does it ruin the integrity of the original? I’d argue yes.
Here are some potentially surprising books, films and TV shows where I wished they’d just stopped at one.
Season one of this HBO show starring Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson captured a moody, unhinged world of heinous crimes and the damaged people who solve them. It was a slow, eerie drive down a dusty road into a dark forest thick with secrets and lies. The format, characters and story were nearly perfect. It was noir meets modern day wild west, completely original, completely compelling, completely captivating.
Then came season two. Despite a stellar cast of Colin Farrell, Vince Vaughn, Rachel McAdams and Taylor Kitsch, season two couldn’t live up to the hype. Oh how I tried to like it! I just couldn’t. It wasn’t the same. It just couldn’t capture that concept of how thin the line of morality is between those who do bad things and those who hunt the people who do bad things. It just stepped over the line and stomped around, failing to demonstrate the type of vulnerability that makes even the bad bad people and the bad good people relatable.
Unfortunately, if there is a season three, I wouldn’t watch it. Season two put a big ‘ole murderous stain on the original season in my memory. I wish it had stuck with season one only.
Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 changed the way I viewed literature. His use of absurdist metaphor and strange characters felt like the next iteration of Gulliver’s Travels. While it turned that humorous satirical lens on World War II, the serious social commentary about modern society, then the 1960s, still resonates.
To this day, it’s still one of my favorite books. It also has a sequel. Didn’t know that? Neither did I until recently. And, I’ve never read it because I don’t want to ruin my love of the original book and here’s why.
The sequel Closing Time was published more than 30 years after Catch-22. Since the original book was about World War II, which 30 years later had been eclipsed in the cultural consciousness by Korea and Vietnam, among many other events, Heller decided to set the novel in 1990s-era New York City. The novel follows characters from the original novel, delving into the difficulties of old age and mortality.
Unfortunately, the book didn’t receive a stellar reception. And while I applaud any writer’s genuine desire to continue the story of his or her characters, some classics really just need to be left alone.
As Time Goes By
This one is a combination of mediums with a book sequel to a movie. First and foremost, I have to tell you the Casablanca is my favorite movie of ALL TIME. (Yes, it deserves those capitals.) I love this movie so much I worked it into my debut novel (The Travelers). So even the mere idea of tainting this perfectly crafted tale in any way, even with a sequel, is just sacrilege to me.
(Side note: I did enjoy The Simpson’s spoof on an alternate ending to Casablanca. It’s the Simpsons, so I’ll allow it. I actually love that episode.)
But in 1998, for some reason, Warner Bros. just couldn’t let Casablanca stand on its own as the best movie of all time. (It is, don’t argue.) They had to try to ruin it. They hired author Michael Walsh to write a book sequel called As Time Goes By, which picks up where Casablanca left off. I will not sully the name of Casablanca by writing any more about the plot. If you’re interested in the book and plot, you can read about it on Wikipedia.
Apparently, upon reading the book, David Hinckley of the New York Daily News wrote, “Rock-hard and stone-cold would be the heart untouched by Rick’s putting Ilsa on the plane with Laszlo, but I have never, not for the length of a firefly’s flicker, wanted to know what happens next.”
I think that quote sums it up. And apparently readers, like me, agreed that we didn’t want Sam to play it again.
When it comes to movies, there is no shortage of options in terms of sequels that many people probably wish were never made. This site has a pretty good list. (Although, to be honest, I loved Grease 2 and Young Guns II. So even some sequels have their fans. In my defense, I watched these movies when I was under the age of 10. I hadn’t quite yet sharpened my critical eye for film and literature in my first decade of life.)
But none of the sequels on the above list is the one that I’m bothered by most. In fact, the one I wish was never made isn’t a sequel, it’s a prequel. And it’s even more complicated than that. Yes, I’m going to go there, to a place that will be controversial: Star Wars: Episodes I-III (aka, The Prequel Trilogy).
This topic might be more polarizing than Donald Trump. (OK, that’s probably impossible. But it comes close.) And I am on the side of the prequels should never have been born into film life. The entire three prequel arc, starting with The Phantom Menace (what an apt name), completely ruined the trifecta of awesomeness that was the “original” Star Wars trilogy of Star Wars (No, I will NOT call it A New Hope), The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.
Like with True Detective season 2, I have tried so hard to find something redeeming in the Star Wars prequels. I just couldn’t. The Powers that Be should have stopped with just one trilogy. Even though I liked Rogue One and The Force Awakens, they aren’t the same either. The original Star Wars trilogy captured a cultural zeitgeist that is nearly impossible to duplicate and I wish the prequels, at the very least, had stayed in a galaxy far, far, far away.
Anyone else have a book, TV show or movie they really wish never made it past act 1?