Well, we’ve reached that point, now. The Halo TV show has run its course of a full season, the last episodes being in May, the public has had time to digest and deliberate, and now we see the trickle-down effect of how people refer to it in casual conversation.
Oh, my mistake. Did I say “refer to it?” I meant shred it without an ounce of remorse.
Yes, the consensus of the real world is in, and it is cruel. Past the paid critics, past the hopefuls who insisted that the absolutely awful first two episodes were just the show finding its feet, we now have the reaction of ordinary people online, gamers and non-gamers both, who have sort of settled into a common pattern for how the show is remembered.
To give another example of what I’m talking about, let’s look at another show with real cultural zeitgeist: Community. Community is very well-favored, as people will often quote the show, talk about it fondly, share jokes from the show, and harp on Netflix’s idiotic decision to censor the DnD episodes.
Zeitgeist reactions to things when they come up in casual conversation can be a pretty solid indicator of a bit of entertainment’s real value, impact, or staying power. Especially in a situation like the one around the Halo TV show, where the production clearly spent a vast amount of its budget on “selecting” reviewers for maximum praise as well as a solid amount on a legal department that would go after anyone saying anything negative (one reviewer repeatedly found their reviews taken down and hit with copyright strikes for using promotional footage Paramount had sent out, all because they rightfully criticized a frankly awful show).
So, in a situation where the creator has abused legal powers to make it as difficult as possible to determine if something is actually good or not, what’s been the public impact of the long-awaited Halo TV show?
Well, from those who’ve watched it … it’s another steaming pile of junk television that once again serves to checkbox Hollywood’s biggest flaws.
That may seem harsh, but have you seen this show? Even those with no familiarity with the source material online have constantly noted that it did nothing to feel exemplary, the story, characters, and plot were trite and inconsistent, even the most positive defenders giving it responses of ‘At best, it’s poor Sci-Fi television’ or ‘It’s a decent time-waster, but lacks any redeeming qualities.’
That’s at best. Many reactions seem fit to compare it to the utterly iconic 1993 “so bad it’s kind of good” adaptation Super Mario Brothers: The Movie. With some of those comparisons arguing which movie was more accurate or had the better similarity to the original product (which, if you know anything about that 1993 blunder, is not an act of praise). A lot of comparisons are also touted that at least Super Mario Bros: The Movie can be watched in a fun capacity, what with the actors being infamously drunk during shooting and the movie being worthy of a watch if you’re looking to laugh at how bad it is, while most seem to agree that the Halo show does not earn this distinction. There’s no “It’s so bad it’s good” moment for the Halo show, according to the internet. It’s just … bad. Even if the viewers happen to be drunk.
Sands, the watch group I initially saw the first two episodes with even fell apart for this reason. The majority of them were not players of the Halo games and knew little about the series, but when confronted with the TV show, none of them felt that watching something so poor even for the “fun” of mocking it was worth the time.
Okay, you get it. Halo, the TV show, is a pile of steaming streaming garbage. The consuming public has spoken, and reacted with a nigh-universal retching.
How? How did one of the most successful video-game properties of the last twenty years, one that has grown into successful books, comics, and other forms of entertainment, covering a sprawling universe that sees constant audience engagement, something that should have been a cinch to create a well-regarded TV show for … create this steaming pile of drek that’s now so thorough lambasted that users on social media feel the need to note that the regular Halo universe and story is fine, just the show is a pile of poo?
Well, that’s what we’re going to talk about today. But in a slightly different manner. We’re going to look at this from a learning perspective. What are all the common mistakes that the Halo TV show made that the show’s creators will refuse to learn from?
See, there’s the catch. Halo’s mistakes aren’t new in the slightest. In fact, they’re the same mistakes that plagued Super Mario Brothers: The Movie, almost thirty years ago. Once again, this is a case of Hollywood refusing to grow up, of making the same mistakes over and over again, which sure as the sun will rise once again on another day, they’ll make again because they refuse to believe they’re wrong.
So, let’s talk about some of the lessons we should learn—but won’t—from the utterly awful Halo TV show. Hit the jump.
LESSON ONE: The original product is popular for a multitude of reasons, and your adaptation cannot reject that.
This seems to be the hardest lesson for most of Hollywood to learn. If you were to put together a bullet list of the things people loved about Halo as a series (I’m speaking of the games, not the show), from music, to story, to character, and then cross-compare that to the appearance of those things in the Halo TV show, you would find that out of a list of dozens of big items that make the games, books, and the like iconic, recognizable, and loved … perhaps one or two of them appear in the show in any meaningful, recognizable way. And that’s the way the armor looks, and the existence of aliens.
That’s it. Everything else the TV show does is far removed, as if the creators of the Halo TV series almost specifically sat down with a list of loved aspects of the series and the list had been mislabeled by an unpaid, overworked intern so that it was a list of things people hated about the original.
It really does feel that way. It’s as if the creators of the Halo show were convinced that people didn’t like the story of the Halo series, or the motivation of the aliens, or even the aliens in general (since the immediately created from scratch a “betrayer human” to be the voice and screen presence of the alien Covenant. Because the show goes out of its way to change things that no one was unhappy with. We’re going to break this down further on, but looking at Halo the show and what it did, one could easily be convinced that it’s creators somehow believed that Halo was a universe everyone hated the plot, characters, setting, and story beats of, and so chose to “reinvent” such things in a way that in reality were vastly inferior to the original.
If you’re going to adapt a popular property, you must understand what makes that property a success in the first place, and then reflect that. Why do people engage with it? What draws them in? If you create a product like the Halo show, which almost seems to mock the original material with how jarringly opposed it is to what people like, you shouldn’t be surprised when that audience rejects it, or even new audiences who find fault with the material by comparison.
LESSON TWO: Don’t try to substitute one popular product into another.
A common complaint about the Halo show was that a large number of its elements were not only not Halo, but in fact felt lifted from other iconic Sci-Fi franchises, such as Mass Effect or The Expanse. This was particularly notable with the show’s soundtrack and its cinematography, which set aside both the award-winning Halo themes that are so well-known and the style with which the series has always told its story in favor of simply copying elements from these other two Sci-Fi properties.
Look, it’s not that The Expanse or Mass Effect are bad properties. They’re both great. But not for the reasons Halo is great. If you attempt to turn Halo into Mass Effect, what you end up with is a weird hybrid in a reality where BOTH properties already have their own stories and settings told better.
Worse, it really does feel like The Expanse mimicry, which came across in the casting and in the camera framing, was done only on the logic of “The Expanse is popular, and we want our thing to be popular, therefore our thing must be The Expanse” as if Halo wasn’t a successful property in its own right.
Look, there’s an obvious logic to be had in borrowing small elements of other successful properties and carefully inserting them into something that has an obvious lack, but that wasn’t an issue with Halo. Its music has won awards. It’s grand story isn’t well-told by The Expanse‘s smaller, more close-up camera framing.
In other words, Halo as a show suffered greatly due to very well-regarded elements of itself being removed and replaced by elements from other Sci-Fi shows and properties with no other apparent logic save perhaps “We wanted to do a Mass Effect show instead of a Halo show.”
No one goes to the theater for a Star Trek movie and walks out happy because it was a Star Wars movie (something those making the Star Trek shows are learning the hard way right now). They go to see Star Trek. Halo attempting to remove some of the most critically acclaimed elements of itself just to shoehorn in elements from other shows was a jarring mistake.
If you’re developing something for a popular product, don’t try to make it into a mimicry of another popular product. That product already exists, and you’ll only make those who like the current product unhappy.
LESSON THREE: No one wants the original story shoved aside in favor of modern political allusions.
Oh boy, do you know what I loved about the original Halo storyline? No, it wasn’t the desperate struggle of mankind fighting a losing battle against a powerful alien armada that was glassing entire planets and exterminating humanity with a religious fervor, all based around the worship of an ancient alien race that they believed had ascended. It was the space oil fascism!
Someone who worked on the Halo show actually believes that.
Yes, this does boil down a bit into Lesson One, since the story is one of the popular bits about Halo. But Hollywood seems to have an inability to write any story that doesn’t make a multitude of allusions and plot beats to whatever current event they feel is most topical. So in the case of Halo, it was removing the focus on an alien threat that was, so the show told, wiping out whole planets (and yet no one had heard of it) and instead focusing on … Space Oil?
Yeah, the old classic “We need oil” story but in space!
Hollywood continues to pull this with adaptations, taking far superior and more original stories and replacing them with ham-fisted versions of whatever was on the TV in the writer’s room at the time they plotted out the series.
What’s truly baffling about this is how often better stories get shunted aside. I’ve spoken with people who watched the entire Halo show (and gave it a resounding “meh”) and explained to them just the basics of the plot-line from the games to be rewarded with ‘Wow, that’s way better. Why didn’t they do that?’ In one case, I actually showed someone in that situation this opening scene from Halo 2, and their response was that this one three-minute segment was better and more interesting than the entire show.
How does this continue to happen? Again and again, Hollywood is handed projects with pre-written scripts, only for them to be tossed out, brushed aside, or rewritten with modern-day elements like “Space Oil” funneled in.
A special shoutout must be given to a subset of this lesson (as well as lesson two), which is setting aside the story to shove in plot elements from another popular, topical series, movie, or product. For example, the Halo show shoving in, of all things, Dune-like elements with desert mystics that are 100% absent in the original setting and only seem included because “Well Dune was cool, right?”
Yeah. Dune was, and is, cool. So’s Halo, and those who came to watch Halo wanted that. Otherwise, they’d watch Dune.
LESSON FOUR: Trust the material. Trust the audience.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a show with as little faith in its audience as Halo. And never have I seen a show that so thoroughly bought into misconceptions about Hollywood audiences as Halo has. Misconceptions that in some cases have been disproved for decades, not just years.
Take, for example, the character of Master Chief. The show did not trust the character as given to them, and did not trust an audience that had already shown an interest in the character as portrayed … to have an interest in said character. Instead, not only did the show completely rewrite who the character was, they also infamously ascribed the old “audience’s can’t connect with a faceless character” mistaken belief to said character, resulting in a character known for their iconic look almost never actually being in it. Which, unsurprisingly, generated a lot of controversy.
It’s clear with Halo that the show’s creators didn’t trust the audience at all. Alien characters were barely in appearance, because “people can’t empathize with or connect with non-humans.” So instead, the show created a character from whole cloth, a human to take the place of the aliens in the plot (though the covenant’s purpose, aim, and motivations was stripped down enough one could almost argue that it didn’t matter). Because they couldn’t trust their audience to pay attention to anyone that wasn’t “human” (meanwhile, all the characters were dumb enough that it is questionable if they’d even be counted as sentient life in the real world, much less in the show, so how are we going to connect with them anyway?).
Thing is, plenty of times audiences have shown the can empathize with an understand a character without a face (like the Mandalorian from the show of the same name) or a non-human antagonist or protagonist (again, see Star Wars or other stories with non-human characters).
Halo had no faith in its audience. And the dumbing down that resulted created a bland, pointless story that as some have described it, was only barely palatable.
Halo the game trusted its audience to empathize with the character of the Arbiter—a risky move at the time, but one that paid off. Halo the show chose to omit the character entirely, replacing him with a human woman (for both a lack of trust and the obligatory Hollywood sex and nudes, which we’ll talk about in a moment). Halo as a show seems built on the idea that its imagined audience is incapable of anything but the most basic of concepts, the most banal of characters. In trying to appeal to this imagined audience, it created a show that exists for no living audience.
LESSON FIVE: It’s not all about sex and nudity.
This seems to be one of the hardest lessons for Hollywood to learn. Halo as a franchise built itself on a number of elements. Elements which the show seemed completely disinterested in, in favor of showing us a striptease in the first episode, followed by frequent nude characters for no other reason than “We need to sex-up the audience” followed by, near the end of the season, what I’ve heard described as one of the most pointless and illogical sex scenes ever.
No joke, the sex in question is between Master Chief, the protagonist, and the human woman representing the covenant, who is a prisoner under guard.
There’s a whole lot of WHAT packed into that last sentence, but rather than ripping into the Halo show for the millionth time regarding its logicless plot and completely insane lack of understanding concerning, well, anything, instead I’m just going to focus on the obvious merits of this lesson: Not every franchise needs sex and nudity for the sake of sex and nudity.
In fact, I’d say doing such is a mark of desperation, as there’s no logic or reason behind any of the sex and nudity in the show. It’s really there because the creators of the show felt they had to have sex and nudity to be “adult” (because they don’t understand what adult means).
Look, some franchises are built on sex or nudity. This is very true. If this had been a Mass Effect show, the audience would have been expecting a human to enter a relationship with a Turian or an Asari.
But Halo? Halo is not a series known for its frequent nudity or sex. In fact, I’d say it’s 100% the opposite. Halo is about mankind’s struggling (and losing) war against the covenant. Not about who dives into bed with who. Trying to shove that into the mix was about as tone deaf as say, making sure a Sesame Street film has a bloody subplot involving Jason Bourne and the military-industrial complex.
Not everything needs sex and nudity. And the audience you “attract” by shoving it in certainly isn’t going to care for anything else you offer beside that. They’re there for one thing, and one thing only, and there are plenty of other places to get that content in more quantity and quality than Halo or whatever it is you’re adapting.
Okay, at this point I’ve spent about three thousand words discussing what I think most of you will acknowledge is common sense.
The issue here is that Hollywood seems to have very little of that on hand. For every Sonic the Hedgehog 2 or Arcane, there’s at least three or four other “adaptations” that dive right down the same route Halo did. Halo is just a lightning rod for attention because it’s a very successful property tied to a frankly incredible train-wreck of an adaptation, sort of like if Christopher Nolan had followed up The Dark Knight trilogy with Batman & Robin (only make that movie twice as bad, just for full effect).
And yet, for all that’s obviously and clearly wrong with this Halo TV show, and for all the ire it has drawn. For all the negative publicity of the studio behind it zealously attacking any critics who spoke out against the show with takedown orders or other means … Halo still somehow has a second season lined up, before the first even released.
I’ll let that sink in for a moment. This, mind you, is a second season for a show that actually killed its protagonist in the finale of the first season, replacing them with a zombie.
I’m not making that up. It’s as if the writers heard of the trope “And Then John Was a Zombie” and thought it was a plot point from the series.
Those of you unfamiliar with Halo proper, be assured none of this nonsensical garbage is in the games. Just … in this awful TV show.
In the end, however, a second season is already on its way. Was before the show even released. Hollywood? They’re not going to pay attention to any of the lessons they should have learned. Halo will be a money sink that cements itself as one of the worst adaptations of the last thirty years, and Hollywood is going to shake its head, and once again say “Well, it’s not our fault. Clearly Halo just wasn’t good enough to be a TV series. We did our best. You can’t blame us.”
Except that we will. Halo as a franchise is great fun, combining a lot of interesting elements and story beats around a futuristic war and super-soldier program for some good old-fashioned Space-Opera adventure.
Halo as a TV series however … is garbage. Because it omits just about everything that made the franchise entertaining in favor of … Well, everything not.
And unless Hollywood learns its lesson, we’re going to see the same with the upcoming Gears of War film or series (since the producers were kind enough to inform us of that in advance). And we’ll probably continue to see these beloved franchises dragged through the mud until some people with actual intelligence are put in charge.
So there you have it. Some lessons Hollywood should learn from the disaster that is Halo, but won’t.