Will Sundance’s ‘A Visit from the Goon Squad’ TV Show Work?

A Visit from the Goon SquadJennifer Egan/Anchor

Many great pieces of literature have been cursed (or gifted, however you want to look at it) with the label “unfilmable.” The majority believed this to be the case with Cloud Atlas (and, after seeing the 2012 movie adaptation, many still do). Orson Scott Card even said this of his own novel, Ender’s Game … though, Orson Scott Card has said a lot of idiotic things.  However, plenty of other titles have also earned this designation thanks to sprawling plot or unusual structure. A good example: A Visit from the Goon Squad, which falls somewhere between singular narrative and short story anthology in its illustration of an electic world of kooky, self-sabotaging musicians, executives, and criminals. It’s difficult to imagine Jennifer Egan’s book, which hops between time periods and locations, as a comprehensive movie. But an episodic television series is another story… especially one done by a company as inventive as the Sundance Channel. The Wrap reports that the cable network is picking up the Goon Squad adaptation project, endeavored and abandoned by HBO not long ago.

We’re intrigued. Not entirely confident in the ability of any creative force to transport Egan’s 2010 book to a visual medium, but intrigued by the prospect. We loved Cloud Atlas and had fun with Ender’s Game, so we’re in the mindset that anything is possible. Even the translation of a jagged, hyperactive masterpiece like Egan’s Goon Squad to something palatable for viewing audiences. Especially because Sundance’s “palatable” isn’t quite in the same ballpark as CBS’.

In case you haven’t been keeping up with the Sundance Channel’s output, it has reigned supreme as some of the small screen’s best material this past year. The mini-series Top of the Lake ranks as the greatest new television show of 2013 in our books; Rectify followed suit as a stellar piece of long-form TV. Even their unscripted progamming, for instance The Writer’s Room, is above and beyond most of what we get elsewhere.

HBO, though a qualitative power player in its own right, is still too ostensibly bound by public demand, ushering out shows that are moreover conformed to the established flavor of contemporary TV. Game of Thrones and its network company do push the structural and narrative envelopes quite a bit more than what we see on network television, basic cable, or even Showtime, but it still doesn’t quite hold a candle to its Sundance brethren. So, cautious though we may be about approaching an Egan adaptation, we’re at least pleased that the project is in the hands best suited to make it something worthy of some optimism.