Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Why You Should Be Watching Web Series If You Love Books

I admit that a little more than a year ago, web series were a bit of a mystery to me. I saw people tweeting and posting about various ones with names I did not understand, and I only had a vague awareness of their existence.

At some point during my unfocused internet browsing I saw someone mention "The Lizzie Bennet Diaries". I cannot remember who this earthly messenger was, so I cannot give my grateful thanks to them. I only know one day I watched an episode, and I kept watching, delighted that I could keep following the path of this story, familiar yet unfamiliar and then.....well this explains it best:

``I cannot fix on the hour, or the spot, or the look, or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun.''

A web series is basically a set of videos posted on the internet which tell a story. "The Lizzie Bennet Diaries" is  in the form of a vlog (i.e. a video blog or journal which allows people to spout off, rant, chat or communicate in whatever way they like on the internet.) The difference with "The Lizzie Bennet Diaries" (or "The LBD" as it is affectionately called . See I'm hip! Do people still say "hip"?) is that the vlog is not about a real person; it tells the story of a particular literary character who should be familiar to many of you if you've ever read this blog. If you're feeling a bit slow today, think Pride and Prejudice and you should be fine. The result was one hundred videos of roughly four to five minutes in length which gained a record number of fans and recognition and gained the creators an Emmy.

The incredibly creative team behind the series produced an addictive entertaining series which modernized the story of Pride and Prejudice, reproducing most of the characters and themes in an engaging way and making alterations where necessary that enhanced the story instead of diluting it as some modern adaptations have done in the past.  I truly had a eureka experience with them. The series had already been running for some time when I found them. After watching one or two of the videos, I was drawn into a feast of the existing twenty-five episodes which I ploughed through with vigor. Afterward I was reduced to the predicament of the fans who were with the series from the beginning and who had to wait for each of the two short episodes per week to be uploaded. Anticipation is a strange phenomenon: you both enjoy it and hate it. In building suspense and keeping the enthusiasm of the fans flaring, the series' showrunners vastly succeeded.

The whole experience was enhanced by the use of transmedia, another concept I was not very familiar with before. (Really this series has proven to be very educational.)  While the main story played out on the blog, the story was also continuing in other platforms. Most of the characters had twitter accounts. Crazy Lydia decided to do her own vlog. When Darcy was revealed to be the CEO of a thriving company called Pemberley, a professional looking website with a company profile and all the trimmings came into existence. Talk about an all inclusive experience. I loved it.

The quality of the series was also excellent. Despite all the modern media, the art of storytelling really was evident throughout the series. The series' Lizzie (Ashley Clement) can tell a captivating story, enhanced by her ability to do some hilarious impressions, and it astonished me how engrossed I was even when it was just her talking about her Lizzie Bennet life.

 The characters are also a delight. In particular, all the sisters were well done. I have to commend the actress who played Lydia who proved to be very obnoxious and rather overwhelming (as she should be) but yet didn't make me dislike her, and that is a difficult task. Her part in the story is the most altered, and as usual I wasn't overjoyed when her situation encroached on Lizzie's story, but I found myself invested in the changes and more concerned about Lydia than I have ever been. Sister Jane is such a strange creature. Usually characters with unfailing optimism are universally disliked, but from my limited observations, Jane rarely is. A good Jane inspires empathy not dislike and this Jane manages it.

Of course Darcy is a major factor in any Pride and Prejudice adaptation, and here he is portrayed by the impossibly good looking Daniel Vincent Gordh. By the time, the series ended I had decided that he is one of my favourite Darcys in adaptations. I realize that there are not a lot of Darcys out there, but that's still a huge endorsement from me. Trust me. DVG is not perfect in his portrayal, but by the end of the series I was completely invested in him and his many positives overwhelmed his few negatives.

I can't stop to go into how much I liked this series' Charlotte, Mary, Bingley, Georgiana etc. etc, but there's a good chance that your favourite characters from the book will bring you joy.

So yes, if you like Pride and Prejudice , you should feel obligated to look this one up.

One of the other great outcomes of the Lizzie Bennet Diaries are the inevitable "copy cats". After seeing how well "The Lizzie Bennet Diaries" was received, others have started dreaming of what other classical adaptations could appear in short video chunks. From the same team has come an adaptation of Jane Austen's unfinished novel "Sanditon" and I have seen passing mention of an adaptation of "The Great Gatsby" and "Phantom of the Opera". I choose to recommend "The Autobiography of Jane Eyre" which has managed to duplicate my wild anticipation for new video instalments each week. It's terribly compelling and features another great lead actress. As Jane Eyre, Alysson Hall often has to give poignant and sad monologues which are consistently touching and real. The story also plays with the format more than the Lizzie Bennet Diaries which filmed in limited locations. For example, sometimes Jane goes outside. Sometimes she only films what she wants others to see and has little screen time herself. 

This series has not ended yet, and we are currently embroiled somewhere in the middle of the novel, and I cannot wait for the next video after I see the current one. Rochester is also a younger version of the book with funky men's socks and tattoos and who is at present clearly smitten with Jane. Again his portrayal is not perfect, but the overall impression he's left on me is strong. I long to see him again, and if you start to watch, you will too.


Because of the success of "The Lizzie Bennet Diaries", one of the most anticipated series out there is The LBD team's official full length follow up to it: "Emma Approved". This modern adaptation of another of Jane Austen's more famous novels looks beautiful and polished and features some great acting by series star Joanna Sotomura who embodies a bossy, rather egotistical Emma.  She is so in control and sure of herself, it will be interesting seeing her begin to lose her edge as Emma's many plans begin to lose their structural integrity. I don't feel as invested in this series as in the other two as yet. Even Mr. Knightley (though tolerant, cheerful, practical and firm as he ought to be) doesn't have a hold on me as yet, but I am willing to keep watching, and I feel safe in recommending it.

Even if any of these ultimately disappoint, it is clear that I have many other options out there to consider. While looking through an article about these web series, I saw comments about series about William Shakespeare and another about fairy tale characters set in universities just to name a few. The possibilities for amusement are endless.

What do you think of this trend?  If you're a fan of any of these series, feel free to express your opinion of them in the comments and please, please recommend any other literary-like web series, so we can explore!