Seven years after first taking the literary world by storm, Elena Ferrante’s compelling Neapolitan novels have been adapted for the small screen by the company responsible for some of the best television of the last twenty years. HBO’s highly anticipated My Brilliant Friend debuted on Foxtel Showcase last night – so, now that the first episode has aired, what do the critics make of it? And, as Elena Ferrante’s publishers, what do we make of the critics?
Unsurprisingly, early reports indicate that HBO has yet another hit on its hands, with the Guardian calling the show ‘the most honest and vivid portrait of the lives of young girls ever brought to TV.’ We approve. So far, so good.
Hollywood Reporter described it as ‘blissfully neither rooted in a gauzy nostalgia nor mired in an affected documentary-style misery porn.’ Hark! Do we detect the careful words of a reviewer who enjoyed the show but desperately wants to avoid giving the PR hacks a quotable line?
The New Yorker, however, took the opposite view, proclaiming that the ‘costumes and art, with their deep colors and stylized shabbiness and sumptuous austerity, are like a Prada ad for working-class gloom.’ Whatever that means. The reviewer also said that ‘beneath the show’s heavy coats of operatic varnish and prestige-TV enamel, it demonstrates a humble tenderness.’ So that’s good, isn’t it? Er...isn’t it? No, we don’t know either!
Luckily, clarity (not to mention enthusiasm!) was restored by news.com.au, which called it ‘in a word: Brilliant,’ and exhorted us to ‘place this TV series at the top of your watchlist.’ That’s more like it! But where’s the over-the-top, miss-this-at-your-peril coverage we’ve come to know and love from the TV critics of the world?
Ah. Here it is:
‘All four actresses in the pivotal roles are astounding…[My Brilliant Friend] stands out in an HBO drama-series lineup that has been dominated by turbulent men.’
New York Times
‘An understated intimacy binds the series...This is a late-breaking candidate for show of the year, a drama about the place where aspiration and reality intersect.’
‘This new series is a knockout, excavating the core story of the books and creating a beautiful coming-of-age tale, brimming with nostalgia, sorrow, and humor.’
So, one dissenting review notwithstanding, My Brilliant Friend sounds like the sort of smart, sensitive storytelling that no wise person should miss – just like the books.