'The Last of Us': Show will never be as impressive as the game, but it's still worth getting excited about
Craig Marzin's attachment to the project may be just what's needed for a rare, successful video game adaptation
'The Last of Us' wasn't groundbreaking storytelling simply because it was a well-written story set within a video game. The opportunities that the medium of video games allows was an essential part of the storytelling experience. To be an active participant in moving the story forward and seeing it through its completion is a vital part of the story that 'The Last of Us' told, and no television series can ever capture that experience. That being said, the upcoming 'The Last of Us' television series is still something that's worth being excited about, for fans of the franchise and newcomers alike.
Video games offer storytelling opportunities that TV is just not capable of. At the most basic level, there is the length it takes to tell the story — 'The Last of Us' averages around 16 hours, which is about a season and a half's worth of television — and a reason why a 'The Last of Us' movie was doomed from the start. There's no way that a 16-hour story could be crammed into a two-hour movie without it being an extreme oversimplification.
It's not just the length of the game that's being lost, however. Being an active participant in the story's events as they unfold offers a level of character relatability that no other medium has. The audience is responsible for keeping Joel (Troy Baker) and Ellie (Ashley Johnson) alive, deepening the story's stakes. They're the ones keeping track of their health, their ammo and of the safest way to get through the game's many threats. That engagement is a big part of why 'The Last of Us' is so powerful. What's more, the video game employed an artificial intelligence for the human enemies — meaning the game reacted to the way its audience played, adapting to its audience. The story is dynamic, uniquely tailoring itself for everyone who plays it.
So why is the TV show something to look forward to? Part of the reason is that the show's screenwriter, Craig Mazin, knows all of the above. He's a confirmed fan of the series, and of the medium itself. He is an award-winning screenwriter who is aware of the limitations of television as a medium and has achieved remarkable storytelling experiences within those constraints. In an interview with Fandom.com, Baker talks about just why people should be excited about Mazin writing the show: "Craig came at it from a fan’s perspective. He just wants everybody to know this experience."
As anyone who has seen their favorite novels turned to screen adaptations knows, the key to a good adaptation lies in two important things: a love for the source material, and knowing that trying to recreate the source material beat for beat will not work. The experience of 'The Last of Us' cannot be recreated on television — it's just not possible. What is possible, however, is to convey Joel and Ellie's story for those who can't, or won't, give the video game medium a try.
Mazin knows what makes a good television series — he's proven in, on 'Chernobyl.' 'The Last of Us' as a television show will be different from the game, and if done right, will make for a powerful viewing experience in its own right. Fans of the game get to enjoy the story from a new angle, while the show brings the story to a much wider audience than the video game alone could ever have brought. It's the best of both worlds, hopefully, and that's worth being excited about.
'The Last of Us Part II' releases on the PS4 on June 19. There is no release date set for 'The Last of Us' television series.