6 Nick Hornby Stories That Would Make Good TV ShowsPhoto Courtesy of SundanceTV Books Lists Nick Hornby
On Valentine’s Day, Nick Hornby brought us a lover’s quarrel. That’s when the second season of the author’s Emmy-winning television show with director Stephen Frears, State of the Union premiered on Sundance TV. This time starring Brendan Gleeson and Patricia Clarkson and told in vignettes as the pair meet in a coffee shop before couples’ therapy, it’s another project from one of modern literature’s masters of deducing relationships in a way that’s relatable even if the characters always aren’t.
This is one of Hornby’s gifts. Whether is a jaded and narcissistic record shop owner in his seminal novel High Fidelity or a doctor with a superiority complex to her infamously angry husband (until he momentarily reforms himself) in the book How to Be Good, Hornby has a way of developing the lives of everyday people — many of whom we’d find obnoxious or off-putting in real life and almost all of whom are men with some degree of Peter Pan syndrome — in ways that are empathetic.
Hornby’s also had great success with films. He has Oscar nominations for adapting the books Brooklyn and An Education and his adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s memoir Wild isn’t just remembered because star Reese Witherspoon threw a shoe. There have also been two (2) film adaptations of his soccer-themed memoir Fever Pitch and Frears’ John Cusack and Jack Black-starring film adaptation of High Fidelity is beloved. Meanwhile, the film adaptation of his About a Boy gave us a young Nicholas Hoult and the film version of Juliet, Naked gave us Ethan Hawke covering The Kinks’ “Waterloo Sunset.”
But on the TV front? Not so much luck. The Zoe Kravitz-starring adaptation of High Fidelity was taken off of Hulu’s turntable too quickly. and NBC’s adaptation of About a Boy barely lasted two seasons even with the help of executive producer Jason Katims and his ability to make you cry in 22 minutes. An adaptation of a newer Hornby novel, Funny Girl, is in the works with Gemma Arterton set to star as a 1960s beauty queen who becomes an early television success story.
Earlier this month, during State of the Union’s all-virtual Television Critics Association press conference, we asked Hornby his thoughts on whether he’d like to see more TV adaptations of his work.
“I have no objection to anything becoming anything,” he says. “It all just seems like fun to me. I was new to it when I sold High Fidelity [and it became a film.] And one of the things that happened was a couple of incredible friendships with people that I might not otherwise have met … And I think it just allows you to break through walls and learn about other industries.”
So, with Hornby’s blessing, we’ve rounded up a list of some of his other writing that we think might make good TV shows.
The Plot: If Fever Pitch can have two movies and High Fidelity can be redone as a TV show, then there is simply no reason why we can’t also have a TV version of this awkward love story between Tucker Crowe, a has-been American musician who’s now broke and on the lam, and Annie, the British woman he meets online because her man-child boyfriend is obsessed with him.
The Cast: The film was directed by former member of The Lemonheads, Jesse Peretz, which itself is pretty meta. Would it be so weird to have him star in a TV adaptation of a book that he already adapted for film? Otherwise, consider this a vote for Keanu Reeves with Sian Clifford as Annie. Maybe Hornby can guest-star as a writer still dealing with the fact that the Internet is mad at him for panning the Radiohead album Kid A.
Just Like You
The Plot: Set in 2016 with Brexit and racial tension as a backdrop, the story follows the on-again, off-again courtship of Lucy (a white English teacher and divorcee) and Joseph (a Black 22-year-old figuring out his life). They have pragmatic conversations about whether this thing they’re doing has any actual future even though they keep coming back to each other.
The Cast: Look, even the cover of this novel is asking you to compare it to a Sally Rooney book. So, therefore, Hulu should definitely make it into a limited series starring Regé-Jean Page and Olivia Colman.
The Plot: Part of an anthology collection that Hornby edited called Speaking with the Angel, this short story is about Dave, a security guard at an art museum. He’s a huge guy but a softie at heart who took the gig after the nightclub scene got too dangerous and so that he could spend more time with his family. Now he’s stuck guarding this piece of art that he doesn’t quite get but that is getting a strong reaction from visitors.
The Cast: This could easily be an anthology of short vignettes around the length of State of the Union. A cavalry of visitors, some famous and some not, could have reactions to the piece while Dave (played by Mark Strong) has an internal monologue as to what the big deal is.
The Plot: Set in Berkeley, Calif. sometime after 9/11 but before the popularity of TiVo and DVRs, it’s told from the perspective of a 15-year-old boy who gets his hands on a VHS recorder that can fast-forward TV so far that he learns the world is going to end in a few months. On the plus side, he loses his virginity to his new girlfriend Martha when he tells her the news. Also, in this universe, the president of the United States is a woman.
The Cast: Another project that might work best as short vignettes to build up the tension, consider a cast like Colin in Black & White’s Jaden Michael and Naomi’s Kaci Walfall. Ava DuVernay co-created both of those shows, so maybe she could take this to HBO Max?
The Plot: Sam, a high schooler, is just figuring out what he wants to do with his life when his girlfriend Alicia has an accidental pregnancy and decides to keep the baby. Sam comes to terms with his sudden, impending, fatherhood by talking to a poster of his idol, Tony Hawk, and having dreams where he flashes through time to see that this is not the end of the world for either him or Alicia.
The Cast: An Italian film version of this book came out in 2017, but think of the potential this could have as a limited series. Stories of teen pregnancy and parenting are so often told from the girl’s perspective (shout-out to shows like NBC’s This Is Us and Showtime’s Shameless for diverging from this).
This is a chance to broaden the storyline and also show that not everything has to be like the morality plays you see on Teen Mom. Alicia can be entitled and is not always the nicest person. Jade Pettyjohn from Little Fires Everywhere comes to mind. So does Marlo Kelly from Dare Me. For Sam, there’s competitive skateboarder Ryan Sheckler or (because Sam’s not always that bright and you need someone who can show that), Gossip Girl 2.0’s Evan Mock.
Small Fish, Smaller Pond
The Plot: Although Hornby performed this piece on This American Life, it has absolutely nothing to do with Americans living. It’s about a child soccer player in a country so small he didn’t even realize that his mom happens to be its president. He’s then asked to show his patriotism by playing on the national soccer team.
The Cast: The piece was produced through a project with Dave Eggers and Nínive Calegari’s tutoring center, 826, and is part of the group’s anthology collection Noisy Outlaws — something we’re shocked that a streamer hasn’t already optioned since it also includes pieces by Jonathan Safran Foer and childrens’ book writer Jon Scieskza. Since Hillary and Chelsea Clinton and Chelsea can play the mom/president.
Whitney Friedlander is an entertainment journalist with, what some may argue, an unhealthy love affair with her TV. A former staff writer at both Los Angeles Times and Variety, her writing has also appeared in Cosmopolitan, Vulture, The Washington Post and others. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, son, daughter, and very photogenic cat.