M*A*S*H has to be the greatest TV show based on a movie. I know there’s likely a big contingent who will go to bat for Buffy the Vampire Slayer – which I love love love – but the difference there is that Buffy the movie didn’t quite work, and Buffy the TV show got to improve on the original. But M*A*S*H? The movie is a classic, yet the show somehow manages to be better and more iconic than the movie (I fully expect some pushback on that from Altman diehards. Fair enough!).
Dear White People on Netflix is closer to M*A*S*H than Buffy; it’s based on a 2014 movie that’s quite great, but the TV version manages to take everything worked in the movie and make it even better. Season one was sort of the Evil Dead 2 of Dear White People – a retelling of the events of the movie with included aftermath – and it was a phenomenal achievement. Creator Justin Simien, who wrote and directed the movie, inherently understood the Netflix binge model, and the show’s format follows one character per episode, with all the stories colliding in the finale. He did this better than Arrested Development season 4’s much-heralded experiment, which I think fundamentally failed. Dear White People focuses on one character at a time, but it doesn’t eliminate the others; it’s sort of the Marvel Cinematic Universe model of TV storytelling, where characters can and will cross over in their individual stories but the focus is always on the episode’s lead.