The TV cult of Big Little Lies’ Liane Moriarty

“The sort of ‘you must be able to pick up one episode’ episodic [structure] is out the window. Viewers are much more willing to be involved in multiple plotlines, multiple points of view. People feel like they can do more.”

Enter: Moriarty, whose nine novels are a case study in propulsive, multiple-perspective multiple-timeline dramas that unfold with care. Moriarty’s novels are structured perfectly for modern TV audiences’ interests, a distinction she shares with contemporaries such as Sally Rooney, Celeste Ng and Taylor Jenkins Reid, each of whom deals heavily in multiple perspectives and timelines, and each of whom has had the TV rights acquired for back-to-back projects.

These authors are experts at weaving in a multilayered world that requires time – say, eight to-ten one-hour episodes – to fully expand, and each share a few other themes, too, such as deep dives into the emotional waters of complicated women and backgrounds of extreme wealth.

Where Apples Never Fall falls short

For some, it’s exactly this dedication to theme that made the most recent adaptation of Moriarty’s work, Apples Never Fall, difficult to enjoy. New York Times television critic Margaret Lyons wrote that Apples Never Fall is “the third Liane Moriarty book to be adapted for television” – “but if you told me it was the 10th, I’d believe you, given how familiar it all feels”. Rolling Stone’s Alan Sepinwall wrote that “the approach is similar” to Big Little Lies, but that ” “those elements just don’t mix nearly as well”.  “Surprise!” Coleman Spilde wrote for The Daily Beast. “Bet you didn’t guess that this family has some dark hidden secrets.”

Judy Berman, TIME’s TV critic, attributes the difference in reception to Apples Never Fall (and Nine Perfect Strangers, whose reviews fell somewhere between the glowing elegies to Big Little Lies and the decidedly lukewarm takes on Apples Never Fall) to a simple difference in the quality of storytelling. 

“The most important difference is that Big Little Lies had something smart and observant to say about families, abuse, and solidarity among women,” [AE1] Berman tells BBC Culture. “By contrast, Nine Perfect Strangers ended up feeling pretty pointless, while Apples Never Fall hit viewers over the head with its message to such an extent that the plot became too predictable.” 

Will there be another Liane Moriarty TV adaptation?

Whether or not fans felt the same fatigue with Apples Never Fall as critics did, the Moriarty adaptation train isn’t stopping. And maybe the best thing that TV creators and studio executives can do right now is take a careful look at what made Moriarty a goldmine to begin with – and what rang less true in subsequent adaptations.

There have always been authors whose works inspire a long list of film or TV versions, Berman says, pointing to writers such as John Grisham and Stephen King, but “what’s worrisome is when the hype around a big-name author results in a rush to crank out adaptations without adequate attention to quality”. 

For Miller, Moriarty’s enduring appeal will always come back to her characters — and from a Hollywood perspective, to the talent that her characters attract.

“The trend we are really seeing is that [the book] has to have great, big, juicy characters that will attract A+ talent. If you see the stars that TV shows are securing for the adaptations – it is because these characters, based on existing IP, are incredibly rich and exciting, and having a 300+ page book as a basis of that character really allows for an actor to see just how juicy a character is and it gets that actor eager to sign on.” Author Tordray agrees: “If you can attract a certain level of talented actor to take on the roles, it just lifts everything.” 

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