It wouldn't be a stretch to say that the current boom in narrative web content, particularly independently produced shows, is largely due to the popularity of classic literature adaptations. This massive sub-genre of web series is vast and nerdy and inventive, and today I wanted to take you on a journey through some of my favorites, in no particular order.
You really can't talk about literary-inspired web series (henceforth to be referred to as "LIW") without mentioning Pemberley Digital, partially founded by Vlogbrother Hank Green. This web series giant is responsible for producing five LIW, two of which went on to win Primetime Emmys for "Original Interactive Program." I'm only going to talk about two here, but their entire body of work is worth a look if this is a genre you enjoy.
The Lizzie Bennet Diaries is a master class in storytelling, flawlessly integrating the classic tale of Pride and Prejudice with a fresh, modern perspective and structure. Not only does the video blogging narrative style make sense because of its very real prevalence in today's culture, its inherent constraints allow for a more layered story. The ways Lizzie (Ashley Clements) sees and experiences the people around her are important to her story and come across literally when she "plays" them during costume theater retellings, and the static nature of the camera angle forces the writers and actors to be creative with how and when to display character moments on screen. Most of Lizzie's videos are full of jump cuts and clever asides, carefully edited down by either Lizzie or Charlotte, but Darcy's first appearance is an uncut, unedited exchange between two people who did not plan to interact like this in front of a camera. These subtle differences completely change the tone of the episodes, and wouldn't be possible in a more traditional format.
The acting is also phenomenal, particularly from Mary Kate Wiles, who plays little sister Lydia with a fierceness and heart unparalleled by any previous incarnations of that character.
A gender-swapped reimagining of Frankenstein that led up to a Halloween series finale, this show premiered almost two years after Lizzie Bennet uploaded her first blog. Where Lizzie had one hundred main episodes accompanied by over sixty companion vlogs from Lydia, Gigi Darcy, and Charlotte, Frankenstein MD only got twenty four episodes to tell the entire morally complex story of bringing someone back from the dead, which is my only real complaint. I recognize this probably had to do with the production pairing with PBS, which meant a focus on the science rather than the story, but it'sstill disappointing because there is so much going for it. The cast is fantastic, especially the confident and often polarizing Victoria Frankenstein (played by Anna Lore), and I wish they'd had more time to really dig into their arcs. Everything happens so quickly it'shard to get emotionally involved, but it definitely has that Pemberley flair and the performances by Lore and the rest of the supporting cast are too good to pass up.
This may be another obvious entry for anyone even a little bit familiar with LIW, but there's a reason for that Carmilla is awesome. This show is an adaptation of the 1871 novella Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu about lesbian vampires, which of course is perfect for the internet. Before I get into the nitty gritty of why I enjoyed this show, let me say that its outstanding cast could have read me the iTunes terms of service and I still would have watched. Laura (Elise Bauman) is unendingly adorable as our protagonist and Natasha Negovanlis is the perfect foil as the titular Carmilla. The supporting cast is just as excellent, with spot-on comic timing, charming sub plots, and mind-blowing chemistry.
While vlog-style shows always run the risk of seeming stale and lazy, especially when confined to a single room while characters explain what's been happening elsewhere, this show brings it. The static camera shot is what allows the cast to shine, forcing you to focus on the story and performances above all else.
I only recently discovered this show, an adaptation of Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey, but I'm glad I did because it is one of the most charming shows I've ever experienced. Madeline Thatcher shines as Cate Morland, perky fangirl and budding journalist, bringing such positive, bubbly energy to her performance that it'simpossible to watch without cracking a smile.
What I loved about this show was that it perfectly updates Austen's own frustrations that society undervalued novels, something that will of course sound familiar to modern fans. Cate rants about people dismissing her hobbies as silly or wastes of time, reflecting how many of us feel when we binge-watch genre film and TV. She puts it best in her video "Cate and the Rant:"
Those worlds are written by people who live in this one. And they're basing their worlds off of problems that they see in our own... it'scalled an allegory! Look it up!
For my last recommendation (of this post, at least!), I have to shout-out Classic Alice, created by and starring Kate Hackett. While not technically a literary adaptation, this show is a clear homage to the many adaptations that came before and after it while also something totally unique. We follow Alice, a college student who decides to live her life according to the plots of classic literature in order to better emotionally connect to them .
I love how this show is written and shot in such a realistic way, where the characters are allowed to be awkward, not finish sentences, and mutter or peter out when something uncomfortable happens. That's a hard balance to strike in found footage shows, making them realistic without being boring or "too much," and Classic Alice absolutely nails it. When you get to the completely silent episode, you will understand.
Obviously I have seen and loved many more shows than I've mentioned here, but I'm also sure that in the vast genre of LIW I've missed out on a couple. So tell me, what are YOUR favorite online literary adaptations? Points if I haven't heard of it!
March 30, 2023