This October sees HBO realise the series adaptation of John Green’s 2005 novel Looking For Alaska that has been keenly awaited for over a decade.
The story is told from the perspective of Miles “Pudge” Halter, an awkward teenager who enrols at a boarding school hoping for adventure and excitement. There, he meets Alaska, a whirlwind of a girl who he becomes besotted with. Fast paced and engaging, the book details the antics Alaska and her friends get up to as Pudge’s crush develops further, until tragedy abruptly strikes and their world turns bleak. It’s a profound coming of age novel and the HBO adaptation only improves it by colouring the story with hazy nostalgia.
While the original book somewhat reduces Alaska’s character to a one dimensional stereotype of quirky girl who enlightens teenage boy on life through his pursuit, the series transforms this limiting depiction. Enter producers Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage who gave us Gossip Girl and the OC among many other female-led teenage dramedies. Alongside an excellent set of female directors (each episode directed by someone different), they reconstruct Alaska’s character avoiding Pudge’s sexually frustrated descriptions in the book. By basing her and Pudge off of the current generation of rebellious, socially aware, albeit somewhat overly militant but well intentioned teenagers, the show establishes early on the awkward charm that makes both characters endearing to viewers and each other.
Pudge’s romantic clumsiness engages viewers so effectively that they cannot help but root for him despite knowing the lack of similarities he and Alaska share. That really is the strongest aspect of the series; the outsider’s perspective that develops autonomously, detached from Pudge’s biased first person narrative in the book.
The Colonel, Pudge’s friend and early guide, was already presented as an underprivileged, overachieving outsider in the novel, but the show adds a racial undertone to his storyline with the casting of charismatic Denny Love. As the only African-American student in an all-white school, the Colonel’s journey brings to light the superficiality of Pudge’s. It also gives viewers a much needed outsider’s perspective on Pudge’s behaviour and invalidates a lot of it, which is good. He urges him to consider Alaska as a fully fleshed individual as opposed to fantasy, and is visibly irritated with what he sees as no more than a schoolboy infatuation.
Perhaps it was the nostalgia, perhaps it was the acting, but Looking For Alaska impressed me in places where the book had previously disappointed. Whether or not Alaska was conceived as the ideal manic pixie dream girl or whether her rejection of this stereotype is clearer on screen than it is on the page, it feels like the character has finally been avenged by the cast of great writers, directors, and actors.
Image: HBO via Wikipedia