I read Looking for Alaska years ago, probably in eighth or ninth grade, and loved how raw and real it was. Throughout his career, John Green’s novels have always featured believable characters, and the characters in his first novel feel particularly authentic. They read like real teenagers instead of a middle-aged writer’s approximation of how teenagers might act in a clean, focus room-friendly (and movie option-friendly) YA release.
So naturally I feared the adaptation would get the same sanitized treatment that the film version of its contemporary, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, received. I’m thrilled to report that this is not the case with Hulu’s “Looking for Alaska.” At least based on the test footage screened at the panel, this looks to be a loving, compromise-free adaptation of John Green’s original novel. Here are a few notes (some courtesy of my partner, who’s a far more diligent notetaker than I):
- Showrunners Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage have been working on this project since 2004, before the book was even published. They’d previously worked on the teen TV shows “The O.C.” and “Gossip Girl,” so they seem like a perfect fit for the project.
- The series is set in 2005, so the characters still smoke cigarettes and have to rely on their school’s trusty pay phone to make calls.
- The series is really set in 2005. Shaggy hair, puka shell necklaces, “Ask Me Anything” by The Strokes playing over a montage.
- Kristine Froseth and Charlie Plummer, who play Alaska and Miles, respectively, are perfectly cast. The casting choices communicated an extreme amount of precision, using a passion for the story as the guiding mechanism to balance the necessary chemistry born from screen testing. This was evident based on the clips and supported by the information Schwartz and Savage provided. I was surprised to learn that Froseth and Plummer are in their 20s since they look appropriately high school-aged. “Riverdale” casting director, take note.
- The unique “days before” and “days after” narrative structure of the book will be retained in the show.
- We were shown two clips, the first was Alaska and Miles having their first tangible meeting near the river and the second is the infamous cafeteria standoff between their friends and the Weekend Warriors wherein the fate of the group hangs on Miles knowing the last words of Millard Fillmore. In the end, Miles delivers on his unusual skill of retaining the last words of notable people, leaving their group rivalry to continue playing out in displays of one-upmanship.
- It almost felt like they chose to show the establishing scene (in terms of the development of the interpersonal relationships) and then a beloved scene (that also displays the ensemble cast).
- The producers spoke to the fact that not only did the cast and crew have their own individual and deep connections to the story, but they also shared a desire to bring the novel to life on screen. Even the office staff of the boarding school chosen as the filming location for Culver Creek knew the details of the book, happily proclaiming “We have everything but the swan!”
- The first meeting between Alaska and Miles strikes the viewer as awkward in the first moments, creating a sense of agitation that their highly anticipated, 15 years in the making on-screen conversations may not be what one hoped and dreamed; yet, as the scene progresses you can not only see but feel their relationship develop in time with you as the viewer – you get to know them at the same speed with which they get to know each other. It translates that very delicate balance achieved in the text and cultivates it on screen. The shots vacillated between intimate close-ups on their dialogue and wide shots of their setting, which emphasized its natural beauty and the structure of the bridge.
- Initial impressions: this is a very heartfelt and deliberate adaption.
- All episodes will be available on October 18, 2019.
Be sure to check out “Looking for Alaska” when it hits Hulu. I know I’m looking forward to it.