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‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ TV Show: 5 Ways to Make It Work

It's not going to be easy to turn one of the millennium's most beloved movie romances into a TV series, but we have some pieces of advice.

Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”

Focus Features

A lot of things were lost in the shuffle when those Trump tapes hit the internet on Friday afternoon, but one of them was a story that would undoubtedly have made bigger waves in the film community if not for the unfortunate timing of its announcement: “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” is being turned into a television show. That’s right, Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman’s wickedly creative and widely beloved modern classic is being developed for the small screen, and — unsurprisingly — neither of them will be involved in this new take on their high-concept romantic drama. In fact, very little is known about the project, which will be produced by Anonymous Content and written by “Chuck” scribe Zev Borow.

Needless to say, we’re a bit trepidatious about the whole idea — it worked out well for “Fargo” (and potentially “Westworld”), but not every movie can be so easily distilled, expanded, and repackaged for a new medium. With that in mind, IndieWire’s film team has compiled a list of dos and don’ts for the creative team behind this new TV show in the hopes that it might still be early enough to help steer this unlikely project in the right direction.

DO…

Consider Making It Episodic

This may sound strange, but the ideal template for an “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” TV show is probably MTV’s “Catfish,” and not a weighty and well-furnished serialized drama on HBO or Netflix. Rather than follow one couple as they retrace the steps of their recently failed relationship, I think that the series — if it has any hope of succeeding — should function like an anthology, with each episode devoted to a new pair of partners who have enlisted the mind-scrambling services of Lacuna, Inc. It’s the only way to preserve the novelty of the film without simply stretching it out (there’s no chance of improving on what Charlie Kaufman did the first time around, and so there’s no use in trying). Some episodes could end with the ex-partners deciding to give it another shot, others could end with them never crossing paths again. Some episodes could even depart from the subject of romance altogether, and delve into matters of grief, embarrassment, etc. In the season finale, an entire country could ask to have their memories wiped of an election cycle, for example. In short, the series ought to emphasize Lacuna and what they offer rather than any particular characters. — David Ehrlich

DON’T…

Use The Original Cast

"Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind"

“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”

If a television version of “Eternal Sunshine” does pan out — and, frankly, I’m not really too sold on the idea as is, but such is the nature of the churning, mawing remake machine — there are a few things it should try to studiously avoid, namely, not bringing back any of the original cast members. While I doubt that Kate Winslet or Jim Carrey or Tom Wilkinson would sign on to be a regular for such a venture, I’d take this a step further and ask that the series not even attempt to bring in a “very special guest star” or a winking, nodding cameo.

An “Eternal Sunshine” series will work best if it eschews that sort of cutesy notion, instead opting to build on (and out of) the original film’s exceedingly brilliant premise. Winks and nods and tips of the hat seem to come part and parcel with this sort of project, and they shouldn’t, as they mostly distract and detract from the very possibility that a remake could be its own thing. We know the movie, but we don’t know the show. Give us the show. (But if Kirsten Dunst, who has already proven her ability to make a film-turned-TV-series into must-see viewing wanted to swing by, even I couldn’t be opposed to that.) — Kate Erbland

READ MORE: Charlie Kaufman Reflects On His Career: “I F**king Blew It”

DO…

Remember Why “Eternal Sunshine” Resonated With Audiences

All deserved praise to Gondry and Kaufman, but for me, the secret sauce of “Eternal Sunshine” has always been the twin musical contributions of Jon Brion and Beck. It’s the perfect blend of wistful, plaintive and sobering that any tale of lost love, whether told over 108 minutes or weekly installments, would benefit from. And while an “Eternal Sunshine” TV show might be tempted to pull out all the visual stops to replicate the look of the film, these musical contributions also show that less is more. Listen to what Brion’s able to accomplish with just a piano, an upright bass and a flute. Beck’s cover of The Korgis’ “Everybody’s Gotta Learn Sometime” manages to wring years’ worth of relationship ups and downs from seven lines. For a story that’s resonated with a generation on the strength of its emotional wallop, don’t forget how much of that comes from what those audiences heard. (Also, they should totally take every episode title from that Alexander Pope poem. I would absolutely watch a pilot called “Deep Solitudes and Awful Cells.”) — Steve Greene

DON’T…

Assume That The Show’s Premise Will Be Enough To Sustain Its Identity

The big difference between movies and TV is story telling power shifts from the director’s chair to the writers’ room, which in the case of “Eternal” could be problematic. No doubt Charlie Kaufman’s script was brilliant, but more than anyone of his high concept ideas, this script needed to be grounded in a visual world that lifted it from reality. Whereas the magic of Spike Jonze’s direction of the Kaufman scripts (“Being John Malkovich” and “Adaptation”) was treating the unreal stories with a straight-forward sincerity, Michel Gonry transformed “Eternal” into another dimension, lifting it from time & space and creating visual mediation of the characters’ existential crisis.

Explaining away the “story device” or the characters background in “Eternal” through exposition and dialogue will murder the magical ingredient of the original. The writers will have an enormous challenge of reframing this world into something that can be episodic and serialized, but baked into the reinvention must be a permanent visual storyteller, not a weekly rotation of talented guns-for-hire. It doesn’t need to be the latest Gondry-wannabe, in fact better to find someone with her own fresh take, but that director’s interpretation must be part of the plan from Day One. — Chris O’Falt

DO…

Hire The Cinematographer Whose Eye Allowed The Film To Feel Visionary

By the time Ellen Kuras started working with Michel Gondry, she was already one of the great American cinematographers, with credits including Tom Kalin’s “Swoon,” “I Shot Andy Warhol” and several Spike Lee joints. But it was “Eternal Sunshine” that kicked up Kuras’ reputation to a whole new level. The film’s warm lighting schemes combined a naturalistic quality with inventive camera movement that heightened the psychological uncertainty of the main character’s encroaching amnesia. While much credit for the loopy twists must go to Gondry and Kaufman’s screenplay, Kuras’ beguiling technique unquestionably brings the heightened reality to life in evocative terms that contribute to its lasting resonance. It would be impossible to recreate that distinctiveness without her touch. — Eric Kohn

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