Player One: Don’t Touch That Dial!: When video games get adapted into TV showsWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
As word has emerged that Microsoft’s wildly popular “Halo” franchise will soon be adapted into a live-action TV series airing through the XBox One, many fans have expressed their skepticism that the games will be done justice in a television format. Even with rumors circulating that Neill Blomkamp (the director behind “District 9″ and “Elysium”) might direct the series’ pilot, the idea of adapting “Halo” to the small screen seems to come with many pitfalls.
Indeed, a glance back at television history reveals that most attempts to breathe life into such digital creations via live actors usually fail to capture the imagination of either casual viewers or die-hard gamers alike — with one very notable exception. Here’s a look at a few TV shows that, for better or worse, tried to bring classic games to life.
“The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!” (1989) — Granted, calling this a “live action” series is only partially correct: The show, which ran in syndication, was mostly an animated series depicting the adventures of Mario, Luigi and the gang every Monday through Thursday (“Legend of Zelda” cartoons aired on Fridays). But each episode featured wrap-around segments where Mario (played by the late wrestling manager Captain Lou Albano) and Luigi (Canadian voice actor Danny Wells, who passed away as well just last fall) got into all the low-budget hijinks they could on a single soundstage set.
The live segments were pleasant enough, and Albano made a surprisingly good Mario, but they were certainly the side dish to the main course of the cartoons themselves. By the next year, the Mario cartoon had migrated to network TV, rebranded itself as “The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3,” and any depiction of the characters by live actors would have to wait for 1993′s awful “Super Mario Bros.” movie.
“Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” (1991) — One of the most beloved children’s game shows of all time, it can be argued that this series is now far better remembered than the video game franchise that inspired it. The games, created by now-defunct publisher Broderbund Software, were a fun way to introduce kid players to geography and basic research skills — an educational game so fun to play that it never felt like kids were playing an “educational game.”
The live-action version — which aired on PBS — was even more fun than its digital counterpart, with contestants/detectives chasing Carmen and her accomplices around the globe by answering questions about geography, supervised by “The Chief” (the late, great Lynne Thigpen) and accompanied by the music of the awesome quartet Rockapella. A history-oriented spinoff would follow, as well as an honest-to-goodness Saturday morning cartoon on the Fox network — which had none of the charm of the live-action originals.
“Mortal Kombat: Konquest” (1998) — Considering (konsidering?) how popular and revolutionary the original arcade game proved to be, it stood to reason that a slew of spin-off products would be spun from the world of Mortal Kombat. The fighting game series first rose to prominence in the early 1990s, setting the world on fire with its fun-if-simplistic gameplay, in-depth yet bizarre mythology, and … oh, who am I kidding? The game’s real trademarks were its blood and gore. Buckets and buckets of gratuitous violence which drove gamers wild and drove parents crazy.
Indeed, the games’ bloody overtones were so prominent in its popularity that it seemed unusual how every attempt to capture the franchise in live action were aimed at the PG-13 or lower crowd — but hey, games are only for kids, right? So we got the okay 1995 live action film, the really-not-okay 1997 sequel, and then this spin-off TV series which aired for one season on the TNT network. Many liberties were taken with the source material, new characters (kharacters?) were introduced, and in general this was a brief and easily forgotten chapter in a franchise which would wait another decade before being revitalized.
“You Don’t Know Jack” (2001) — Some of my fondest memories of my college days revolve around playing Jellyvision’s classic quizzing series with my friends. A combination of general knowledge, pop culture references and truckloads of irreverence, the games were an incredibly fun ride designed to have the feel of a game show gone mad. Slews and slews of new installments in the franchise would follow, and it was probably inevitable that an actual game show based upon the series would be unleashed someday.
The show, hosted by Paul (Pee Wee Herman) Reubens, followed the basic concept of the games pretty closely, keeping the humor intact while spinning the format enough to adapt it for TV viewers. Sadly, though, the end result felt a bit too chaotic for casual fans, and for die hard “Jack” players it was just dissimilar enough to not really be enjoyable. The end result: A mere six episodes were aired on ABC in the summer of 2001.
Tags: "District 9" and "Elysium", "Mortal Kombat: Konquest" (1998), "The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!" (1989), "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?" (1991), "You Don't Know Jack" (2001), Halo, live-action tv series, Lynne Thigpen, Microsoft, Paul (Pee Wee Herman) Reubens, PBS, Xbox One