Forward: HBO’s ‘My Brilliant Friend’ Feels A Little Fake — That’s What Makes It Faithful

On Forward

PJ Grisar – Dec 12, 2018

While already lauded or rejected for its fidelity to the source material, HBO’s adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s “My Brilliant Friend” has also been derided for feeling a little phony.

In an otherwise glowing review in The New Yorker, Emily Nussbaum remarked that the show “has the polish of certain well-funded historical portraits of poverty.” Her colleague Troy Patterson agreed, calling it “a Prada ad for working-class gloom.” In a piece for the LA Times, Robert Lloyd noted that the early episodes’ cityscape “feels barren, artificial and dreamlike, like something out of Antonioni or Fellini.” But all three critics, and scores more, claimed that the series transported them, slick production or no.

Why is the show so alluringly artificial? Is it the unavoidable reproduction demanded by its period setting that makes it like aspartame for the eyes? Is it the sound-stage-constructed square where much of the central action plays out? Could it be the director Saverio Costanzo’s imposition of Italian Neo-Realist homage? Or does the show’s aesthetic lie in the fact that it is a memory piece, many years removed from its narrator’s youth?

The eight-episode series’ veneered presentation stems from all of these factors at once and yet, the jump to television may not be at the root of it.

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