Looking for Alaska releases October 18 on Hulu.
By Evan Frisch
“I go to seek a Great Perhaps.” This is the quote from French Renaissance writer François Rabelais that Looking For Alaska’s protagonist Miles Halter adapts and almost worships as his new lifestyle. He translates this quote into his own life as a way to justify his bold decision of leaving his comfortable hometown in Florida, to instead attend Culver Creek Preparatory High School in Alabama for his junior year. Miles represents all of us, we’ve all had to make life-altering decisions such as this one, and this is one of the many elements that make John Greens new Hulu mini-series so relatable and addictive.
Based on the 2005 book of the same name, the show centers around Miles Halter (Charlie Plummer), a boy who is obsessed with famous last words from famous figures. Wanting to feel something more in his life, he arrives at Culver Creek and quickly befriends his roommate Chip “The Colonel” Martin (Denny Love) and Takumi Hikohito (Jay Lee), who then introduce him to the title character, Alaska Young (Kristine Froseth), a rowdy, puzzling and unpredictable girl. Alaska has a certain quality to her that Miles and his friends can’t quite wrap their finger around, but results in them being fascinated and obsessed with her. She also displays a sort of concealed sadness, which the series reveals more about as it progresses.
The other main plot point revolves around our main group’s feud with the mischievous group nicknamed the ‘Weekday Warriors,’ the rich snobs of Culver Creek. The two groups have a personal beef after the Warriors accuse Chip and his friends of ratting on their friend Paul, who was recently expelled from the school. All of this is being closely monitored by the hilariously dopey rule enforcing school dean Mr. Starnes, A.K.A “The Eagle”. Chaos ensues as a whirlwind of pranks, betrayals, and romances converge.
As I write this I realize that these both kind of sound like familiar and over-saturated plot points, especially in this genre, but I guarantee you this show is anything but cliché.
What really carries this series are the performances. The standout to me is surprisingly not the protagonist, but Drew Love’s Chip Martin. Love plays the character of a poor unpopular kid with a chip on his shoulder and a big mouth so well, that he can’t help but steal the screen in any scene he’s in. He brought Chip from a supporting character to the most entertaining character in the series, with his energetic and laugh out loud performance, he’s just fun to watch. The other standout goes to Kristine Froseth who’s character was obviously the most crucial to the series, and she pulls off Alaska’s complexity and darker edge just right. It’s not an easy role to play and she nailed it. It seems to me that the showrunners updated her character for modern times by portraying her as a feminist and progressive thinker, with Alaska often going off on rants on how many of the school’s students are sexist and how we all need to ‘dismantle the patriarchy’. Her wise-beyond her-years personality is often played to comedic effect, although a lot of her quotes are profound and to be taken seriously. The strength of the cast gets displayed even more when the brings show brings in it’s biggest shock later on, which I won’t reveal, but I’ll just say it’s an event that forces our heroes to face tragedy and learn to grow up real quick.
Another thing I enjoyed was the show’s decision to retain the original early 2000’s time frame that the book took place in (the show was trapped in development hell for years and was originally supposed to be a movie until Green finally struck a deal with Hulu in 2018). This decision allows for all the nostalgia to kick in and brings us back to the pre-smartphone era. This also warrants the show to be soundtracked to all early 00’s hits which include either the original recording or indie acoustic covers, often matched perfectly to the scene that it’s playing over.
Veteran fans of Greens work know what to expect from any new release; over-the-top teen melodrama, lovable, fleshed out characters that come with fast-paced quippy dialogue, historical and pop culture references, and deep philosophical themes. While stuffing all of these different approaches into one entity has worked well for Green in the past (2012’s largely successful The Fault In Our Stars), it has also failed miserably (2015’s critical flop Paper Towns). In this case, I’m happy to report that this show juggles all of the aforementioned ingredients expertly.
Adapted for TV by powerhouse team Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage, names that fans of teen drama should be all too familiar with (The O.C, Gossip Girl), Green knew what he was doing when he recruited them for this project. They truly understand the characters and world that the book created, with many already saying that scenes from the show came out exactly as they pictured from the novel.
The two drawbacks I can think of is that some of the plot points run a little stale for me, a problem that was inevitable after they decided to adapt a book that can be read in about 5 hours into an 8-hour show. Also, while I did mention that the acting in the show is overall very good, I’m not going to say it’s perfect and there were moments, albeit very few, where the performances just weren’t selling me.
To sum it up: fans of the book won’t be disappointed, and new fans will be pleasantly surprised. From moments that range from hilarious, to thought-provoking, and to truly heartbreaking, Alsaka is teen drama at its best. Looks like Green has another hit on his hands.
I give Looking For Alaska an A-.