They grow up so fast. “Big,” the 1988 comedy starring Tom Hanks as a boy in the body of a 30-year-old man, is just a few years shy of that benchmark age itself. Now comes news that the film has achieved its own mark of maturity: a half-hour TV series, which is being developed by Fox.
For many observers, the “Big” adaptation will represent the latest instance of Hollywood cannibalizing existing intellectual property to capitalize on audiences’ familiarity with a title. They wouldn’t be wrong. That said, the notion of relocating what is perhaps the quintessential man-child comedy to a contemporary setting has some intriguing cultural implications.
The adaptation comes courtesy of Kevin Biegel and Mike Royce, who worked together on the short-lived military sitcom “Enlisted,” about young men similarly struggling to adulthood. As Royce told Syracuse.com, the new show will tackle “what it means to be an adult and what it means to be a kid, and how today those two things are more confused than ever.”
On screen and off, we’ve been living in a sort of golden age of man-children for a number of years now. The movies of personalities such as Judd Apatow, Todd Phillips, Will Ferrell and Seth Rogen offer allegedly grownup male characters who still act like children or teenagers. They goof off with their buddies, crack raunchy jokes, smoke pot and play video games nonstop, and they’re generally clueless when it comes to careers and relationships.
Back in the real world, the state of the modern man-child is a zeitgeisty subject that has been explored in countless think pieces. (Here’s what Newsweek, NPR and Philadelphia have to say, for example.)
“Big” actually takes a slightly different tack — it’s not about a man who behaves like a child, but a child pretending to be a man. Hanks’ character, Josh Baskin, has wished upon an antique fortune-telling machine that he was “big” to impress a girl, and the wish comes true.
That setup, though, still offers a protagonist whom today’s viewers will no doubt recognize, perhaps from their own lives: a guy out of his depth as he tries to navigate such concerns as renting an apartment, holding down a job and being in an adult relationship.
It takes more than a hooky concept or popular source material to make the jump from big to small screen. “About A Boy” migrated from film to TV over similar man-child ground, to mixed results. “Big” would be wise to bear in mind that successful film-to-TV adaptations — from “MASH” to “Fargo” to Buffy the Vampire Slayer” — deepen the characters and expand the story without sacrificing something vital in the original (unlike, say, the defanged “Bad Teacher”).
Pulling that off, though, is more than mere child’s play.
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