After the success of Emmy-winning series The Lizzie Bennet Diaries which wrapped in 2013, recently on YouTube there’s been a trend toward adapting classic literature into video blogs.
The Lizzie Bennet Diaries told a modern adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice from the perspective of Lizzie Bennet and her sisters through videos and other social media. As a new medium for storytelling, vlogs from different characters’ perspectives turn classic stories into creative, interactive experiences with new audiences. The LBD team created individual Twitter accounts for each of the characters, along with Tumblrs and other websites which supplemented the story told in videos in real time.
LBD was partially so successful and so unique because it encouraged two-way communication between storytellers and their audience- Q&A videos took questions from fans, while discussions in the comments and on Twitter featured responses from the characters operated by the writers of the series. Essentially the fun parts of the story required some investigative work- new plot points could be discovered by fans by checking out different characters’ online accounts, but everything could just as easily be followed via the main Youtube channel without the social media supplement.
The link for the first episode of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries is below:
As far as audience participation goes, the team behind LBD have done the best job so far, and after their initial series wrapped, they spun off to create a few other webseries adaptations. Here are a few of my favorite webseries adaptations of classic novels:
Pemberley Digital, the fake company which Mr. Darcy owned in LBD, along with some of the team from the webseries, created Emma Approved. Emma Approved follows the story of Jane Austen’s Emma, one of the more polarizing characters in British literature.
In the webseries adaptation, Emma is the head of her own event planning firm, along with assistant Harriet and bookkeeper (and eventual love interest) Alex Knightley. The series didn’t gain as large as a following as Lizzie Bennet, but that may partially be because the book is less popular and the main character is less universal. That being said, the production value is still great even if the pace of the story is a little slow- Emma Approved is one of my favorite webseries, because I love the actors.
Here’s the first episode:
Proving that Regency-era novels aren’t the only ones which can be adapted and told modern-day, PBS Studios picked up some of the crew from LBD to start Frankenstein, MD. This series is told from the perspective of Victoria Frankenstein, a medical student who believes that there are no natural or moral limits to science- and after a horrible accident- decides to prove that she can bring the dead back to life. As a production by PBS, the series attempts to bring in some anatomy and biology science lessons along with plot points, which mostly works, but sometimes seems a bit stilted.
Here’s the first episode:
The March Family Letters
Currently, the production team from Pemberley Digital is creating an adaption of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, called The March Family Letters. The series features an all-female cast who are writing digital letters to their mother while she’s deployed overseas. So far, there have only been three episodes, so if you want to follow the social media and other supplemental aspects of the story in real time, there’s plenty of time to join!
Apart from the Pemberley Digital/LBD team, I’ve found a few webseries adaptations which I highly recommend to anyone trying to fill the LBD void.
My favorite non-Austen adaptation is Carmilla, an adaptation of a lesser-known Gothic novella of the same name by Sheridan Le Fanu published in 1872. Carmilla‘s series follows a group of college students on a supernatural campus as they investigate a series of kidnappings and disappearances. Laura ends up getting more than an English essay on her plate after her roommate gets kidnapped and replaced by the mysterious Carmilla.
Carmilla has a pretty large fanbase- the show is produced by Vervegirl TV and gets double points for its LGBTQ+ representation. The story is reminiscent of the good Buffy days, it’s equal parts funny and dramatic, and it just got renewed for a second season!
Undoubtedly my favorite vampire webseries here:
The New Adventures of Peter and Wendy
If you’re not in to supernatural adaptations, The New Adventures of Peter and Wendy tell the story of Peter Pan from multiple characters’ perspectives. I haven’t followed this series as much as Carmilla or Pemberley Digital’s work, but the story is endearingly cute and the main leads have great onscreen chemistry.
Finally, there’s one series that takes the ‘meta’ aspect of these re-tellings to a whole new level. That series is Classic Alice– a story told in modern day about a college girl who lives a very sheltered lifestyle: she’s always been highly intelligent, ambitious, and a bit of a goody two-shoes. After she receives a poor grade on an assignment where her professor criticizes her for grasping the technical aspects of literature but not the emotional connections, Alice decides to live her life according to the plots of classic novels.
The story follows Alice as she picks different novels and adapts them to her current circumstances (e.g. Crime and Punishment turns into Alice stealing a test, while “Rip van Winkle” turns into drunken bowling) all the while we watch as her connection to her director, Andrew, grows.
Watch the first episode of Classic Alice here!
Those are my favorite adaptations – let me know if you agree or have any other recommendations that I missed down in the comments!