Pages from bestselling books are coming to life for the small screen as beloved horror series (American Horror Story: Delicate), primetime cop series (Irrational), and new sci-fi thrillers (The Other Black Girl) seek novel programming ideas.
American Horror Story: Delicate (FX/Hulu)
In the 12th season of American Horror Story, an actress attempts to have it all by adding a baby to the mix only to discover that sinister forces are conspiring against her. Sound familiar? It should. The latest season of the brazen horror series is based on the book Delicate Condition by Danielle Valentine, a modern, somewhat feminist take on Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby, but it takes gaslighting horror to campy and grotesque new levels.
Anna and Dex (Emma Roberts and Matt Czuchry) are a wealthy New York couple attempting to become parents with a helping hand from science. While going through IVF, Anne begins losing her sense of self. She seems to have become forgetful, or at least events are triggered to make it appear that way.
AHS featured player Emma Roberts is front and center testing her dramatic chops as a soon-to-be mother on the edge of insanity. As her pregnancy grows, so does her paranoia, her forgetfulness, and her frustration at her inability to make anyone believe her. Roberts does a fine job here, while Czuchry plays her somewhat suspicious husband Dex with a smirking obnoxiousness that makes you want to punch him in the kisser (not unlike his best-known role as Logan in Gilmore Girls).
As for the much-touted Kim Kardashian, who plays Anne’s best friend and publicist Siobhan Corbyn, she appears a bit stiff at times, but her uneven performance and bitchy one-liners fit the levels of camp set by the franchise. Think Patty Hearst in a John Waters joint.
This time flying solo without Ryan Murphy as showrunner, the new season kicks off surprisingly subdued, especially for a show known to traipse out mutilated junkies, mass murderers, and the occasional leatherman. Much like the first season, Murder House, the show plays with the palpable fears women share– childbirth, motherhood, and marriage, using horrific imagery to represent anxiety and apprehension.
Delicate is a new direction for the series, especially since recent seasons and anthologies were a hot mess of jumbled storylines. Taking its time to tell an actual story rather than just shock at any given turn, it might be exactly what the doctor ordered to get the series back on track. And don’t worry– the ick factor is still there.
The Other Black Girl (Hulu)
Zakiya Dalila Harris’ bestseller The Other Black Girl is a takedown of corporate America and a step-by-step guide on how to “girlboss, gaslight, and gatekeep” but it’s more than that, too. The adapted series moves into sinister sci-fi territory even while it skewers the underlying racism of cubicle culture.
Executive assistant Nella (Sinclair Daniel) is one of a few women of color working at Wagner Books Publishing, a company with a noted lack of diversity. Nella is thrilled when the highly accomplished Hazel (Ashleigh Murray) is hired as an assistant in the same department. She looks to her as a possible peer and friend in the whitewashed environment. But Hazel isn’t what she appears.
Soon Nella’s position goes from promising to precarious and everything seems to point to Hazel as the cause. It soon becomes clear that Hazel isn’t just competition, she’s a danger. Her insidious agenda evolves beyond petty office politics to larger schemes looking to undermine not just Nella, but all powerful Black women in the workforce.
Inspired by Harris’s own experiences, The Other Black Girl weaves a dark tale that brings fears to life for any woman looking to make their mark in the business world. As the protagonist, Nella finds herself pitted against not just an unhinged apple polisher looking for a corner office, but an entire conspiracy plot hoping to bury her and people like her.
The dark romp takes on the noxious elements of the corporate world, which forces women and people of color to kowtow in an effort to fit in, to an extreme. More than a revisionist Working Girl or a Single White Female flip, this is an inspired take on The Stepford Wives that proves compelling thanks to the riveting performances and messaging that sadly rings true.
The Irrational (Peacock/NBC)
There is an undeniable truth in the world: if a person is laid up in bed for one reason or another, unable to move with the television stuck on pretty much any cable channel, at some point they will learn that “the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: police who investigate crime and the district attorneys who prosecute the offenders…and these are their stories. Da-dum!”
Law & Order has been significant to TV and pop culture in general since the ’80s, and Jesse L. Martin’s Det. Ed Green was a massive part of its lore. Since his departure, fans have anxiously awaited for the talented actor to step back into a procedural police drama where he can once again shine. Sadly, The Irrational might not be it.
Unlike most based-on-a-book series, the source material isn’t a work of fiction, but rather a study of rational choice theory. Based on the 2008 book Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely, the book examines the idea that behaviors aren’t random and that emotions, experiences, social norms, and other invisible factors affect decisions. All NBC did was apply the drama. In this case, the concepts of the book are personified by behavioral scientist Professor Alec Mercer (Martin), who uses his unique skill set to find out the who, what, and why of a crime.
Though the idea of basing a show on an ideology is intriguing, The Irrational tends to employ all the same cop show tropes we’ve seen time and time again: The star of the show with a particular proficiency is the smartest person in the room, other law enforcement folks are befuddled by the crime, there is a twist in the third act, and then the hero makes a revelation ten minutes before the credits roll.
The show follows this cop drama primetime recipe to its detriment, making every eventual twist and turn obvious early on. And while Martin offers enough charisma and charm to lure in audiences who miss his shades of Green, the supporting cast leave a lot to be desired. They are given little to do despite their talents thanks to stilted dialogue and limited character development. For example, Travina Springer who plays Mercer’s sister Kylie does an admirable job with the role, but her lines seem to be written as a stream of hashtags. All other supporting characters suffer similar shortcomings, lacking the basics of personality and only exist to play off Mercer’s genius.
The Irrational does offer the undeniable appeal of Martin and his jaunty little cap for those who need a new police procedural to add to their rotation, but it falls headfirst into a deep chasm of cop cliches, offering nothing new or exciting to a genre viewers already know very well.