Charlie Plummer and Rollacoaster cover babe Kristine Froseth star in the heart-wrenching adaptation of John Green’s debut novel.
All images courtesy of Hulu.
To say that adaptations of John Green’s young adult novels have been successful would be a slight understatement. The on-screen iteration of The Fault in Our Stars practically propelled its protagonists, Ansel Elgort and Shailene Woodley, into superstardom – it was only a matter of time before Looking for Alaska, the writer’s debut novel, followed suit.
Teen shows can go one of two ways. While Riverdale has amassed a gargantuan and passionate young adult fanbase, and Skins perfectly encapsulated a 2007 British generation (it helped that the actors were the same age as their characters, too). But this year – with the diverse and relatable nature of Sex Education, and the hard-hitting, compelling world of Euphoria – shows depicting younger generations have found a way to appeal to, and be applauded by, a variety of different audiences alike. Looking for Alaska may be placed firmly in the hazy, unrestrained world of teenage years, but the series’ handling of complex and crucial issues has garnered wide-reaching praise from both John Green fans and cinephiles new to the author’s work.
Read our breakdown of Looking for Alaska below…
WHAT: While the adaptation of Green’s novel was initially intended to be in film form, the 8-part Hulu series follows Miles “Pudge” Halter (Charlie Plummer), through his first year at Culver Creek high school, where he meets and makes friends with Chip “The Colonel” Martin (Denny Love), Takumi Hikohito (Jay Lee), Lara Buterskaya (Sofia Vassilieva) and, of course, the eponymous Alaska Young (Kristine Froseth). While initially it would seem that the show will centre around Alaska, the beautiful but impulsive student that becomes the subject of Pudge’s affection and misguided infatuation, an ominous countdown each episode leads to a devastating twist which, if you’ve read the book, you’ll already be prepared for. Grappling with themes of grief, bullying, substance abuse and guilt, the series chooses to delve into subjects which teen dramas usually avoid – often in favour of sickly-sweet (and unrealistic) depictions of first love.
WHERE: The fictional world of Culver Creek boarding school, just outside of Alabama – although it’s not really that fictional. With “the Creek” based on the school that Green attended as a teen (right down to the crazed campus swan), fans of the book have surmised that Alaska is also a fictional recreation of a friend and/or crush that Green had when he was a similar age as Pudge. The series also takes place in 2005, the year the book was released, meaning no iPhones and plenty of throwbacks to the early noughties wardrobes that we all dearly miss.
STAR OF THE SHOW: While it’s Pudge that leads us through the narrative, every member in the cast displays an array of emotions ranging from confused, hormonal teenage angst to philosophical reckonings on the emptiness of grief and the complexities of guilt and remorse. It’s a testament to the character development in John Green’s source material that each character has such rich backstories that they could lead their own spin-off series: backstories that are explored one by one in a heartbreaking game of “Best Day, Worst Day”, proposed by Alaska. Authoritarian figures are humanised not demonised – Dr. Hyde, the stoic World Religions teacher, confides in Pudge and Alaska about his struggle with his sexuality and his partner passing away from HIV. And though Plummer perfectly portrays the lanky, awkward Pudge as he goes through the motions of the well-trodden coming-of-age narrative, it’s Froseth’s turn as Alaska that steals the show. Switching from carefree elation to crippling self-doubt, often in a matter of seconds, Alaska’s depiction is as heartwarming as it is heartbreaking.
WHO TO WATCH IT WITH: Anyone whose presence you don’t mind being in as you sob uncontrollably into your pillow. While the first few episodes of the show follow a pretty standard formula of high school drama, friendships and relationship ‘firsts’, the second half of the show will have you unable to see through your tears, texting your mum/partner/best friend to make sure they know how much you appreciate them.
STANDOUT SCENE: Pretty much every honourable mention here is a standout scene due to the emotional toil that the subject matter takes on your heart. Hearing Dr. Hyde talk about losing the love of his life and never being the same afterwards. Pudge desperately denying the central death of the series. Every second of the funeral scenes. But the scene which will have your eyes glued to the screen in anticipation, nostalgic for that dizzy feeling of first love, occurs when Pudge and Alaska finally admit their feelings for each other and kiss for the first time. Wholesome stuff.
WATCH IF: You read the book as a teen and ugly-cried over its devastating twist, and now you want to do the same in front of a screen. Or if you didn’t read the book and you still want to relive your teenage hedonism vicariously through the characters.
DON’T WATCH IF: If young adult books really aren’t your thing, we’re guessing teen shows won’t be either, so you should probably skip this one if that’s you. Not to mention, some of the most well-known quotes from Green’s books have been re-hashed so much that they’ve become fairly cliché – like “If people were rain, I was drizzle and she was a hurricane” – and you might find their translation onto the screen a bit too on-the-nose.
WONDERLAND REVIEW: 3/5