Earlier this year, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries – a web show focusing on a modern adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic “Pride and Prejudice” – took the Internet world by storm, and paved the way for a new medium of storytelling that we might possibly be seeing more of in the future. In this special feature preview, guest writer Carrie Kihlthau shares her thoughts on the series (which ends today) and why it’s worth a look.
The Lizzie Bennet Diaries is drawing to a close on Thursday with its 100th episode. With it, a lot of the hype will fade, as it does for all shows that end, but this review is an argument for why it is worth the 8+ hours it would take for you to experience the journey in its entirety. Here are the four reasons you should watch The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, even if it is no longer “live”.
1.) The Premise.
The series is “Pride and Prejudice” as told through Elizabeth Bennet’s perspective, as a video blogger on YouTube. Your curiosity must be peaked – even if it’s morbid, you’re still curious as to how this will play out, and it plays out surprisingly well. The term “transmedia” will be tossed about in the majority of reviews discussing The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, and it’s a pretty great term. Basically, it means that you as a viewer have an opportunity to decide your level of engagement with the material. Most of the characters have actual twitter accounts you can follow and there are subplots that have their own video blogs, complete with characters that rarely or never make an appearance in the actual LBD videos, as well as Q&A videos that Lizzie answers for actual fans of the series. Watching, following or commenting on this content isn’t a requirement for enjoying the show, but it is carefully crafted and allows engagement in an official capacity that you typically won’t find for any other series you watch.
The newness of the storytelling medium is one of the greatest strengths of the show, but at times, its also one of its biggest weaknesses. Because it is new, there is no officially accepted “right way” to tell an adaptation of classic literature on YouTube, but it allows freedom to explore the use of various technology platforms as vehicles for plot development. You as the viewer must extend some grace in believability at times (as is true with all fictionalized dramas) but there were points in the series that, as a viewer, exceeded my capacity for understanding. I found myself wishing for a hiatus to allow the writers to take a step back and evaluate what exactly they were attempting express. Yet even knowing that, the successes of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries far outweigh any failures, and make it worth watching.
2. The Cast.
The Lizzie Bennet Diaries benefits from having a tremendously strong cast. Even characters who are only in a few episodes have actors that bring a presence and fortitude to their roles that help the viewer engage with them for the limited time that they are on screen. Lydia is no longer an outrageously self-absorbed social embarrassment in the capable hands of Mary Kate Wiles. Jane’s sincerity is made believable by Laura Spencer, because she convinces you that being nice is a choice as well as a temperament. Julia Cho’s Charlotte is who you want for a best friend (she is already taken by Lizzie but that doesn’t mean you don’t find yourself wishing for someone who can call you on your crap by hijacking your video blogs.) Mr. Collins is transformed from one of the most obnoxious characters you’ve ever endured to an adorably sincere, overly verbose businessman with an intellectual crush on Lizzie by Maxwell Glick. You hope you are cool enough to hang out with Craig Frank’s Fitz Williams and you will not find a Gigi Darcy you love more than Allison Paige’s. This is a cast that makes you excited to see what they offer you next in every episode.
3. Lizzie and Darcy.
You’re naive if you think you can watch an adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice” and not expect great things from this particular relationship. It’s one of the great romances of Western literature, and a personal favorite of mine. Because of this, the expectations are extremely high the series to deliver a Lizzie and Darcy dynamic that will make viewers swoon with happiness when it finally culminates in declarations of love and potential kissing. Due to excellent casting and strong writing, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries delivers. The note that resonates the most about this particular telling of Lizzie and Darcy, in comparison to other versions, is the absolute conviction with which the series sets out to establish William as the “anti-nice guy”. He is a gentleman in regards to scrupulous manners, but in every other category William Darcy would rank as an ass – or, as he is introduced in Episode 6, “Snobby Mr. Douchey”. After 59 episodes of reenactments and impersonations, we finally meet the real life William Darcy, played by Daniel Vincent Gordh…and wow, the most awkward declaration of love to be uttered is heard around the Internet. It is followed by one of the more vehement declarations of hatred that you will see, and ends with the realization that the entire exchange was captured on camera. The subsequent months result in a re-evaluation of Darcy’s character by Lizzie, and an actual change in Darcy’s character by Darcy.
The decisions made by Gordh in how he would take a character established by Clements and expanded upon by other costars in the beginning of the series and mature him into a Darcy you want Lizzie to love are impressive. There is a steady growth in Darcy’s confidence when it comes to interacting with Lizzie that transforms the way the viewer sees his demeanor. Instead of being stuffy and patronizing, you come to realize he suffers casual social anxiety and uses formality as a security blanket. Instead of being told to find this adorable, you actually just find it adorable. Coincidentally, around the same time, Lizzie starts to find traits of Darcy’s endearing. When everything falls apart at the end of the “Pemberley Arc” and Lizzie must return home, the disappointment you feel for Darcy is real. As the rest of the series unfolds, you recognize that he is motivated to do whatever he can to help Lizzie with the desire that she never learn of his actions – because the only thing worse than being rejected by her would be to have her accept him out of a sense of obligation.
4. Ashley Clements.
She is Lizzie Bennet. The success of the series rests on her shoulders, and she carries the burden of making you care. If you don’t care about Lizzie, you won’t care about her diaries. And you should care. You should care about the character. You should care about the actress. Clements gives you a Lizzie that you want to know. You watch the first episode and, unlike the vast majority of video blogs on YouTube, there is something that draws you in. You want to see who this character is more than you’re desperate to see “Pride and Prejudice” told as episodic video blogs (arguably no one except the show’s creators have ever had that particular desperation). Lizzie is relatable. She is not a blank canvas of a character that the viewer can project themselves onto; she is flawed. Her flaws are real and honest, and they become obvious to the viewer far sooner than they do to the character. Without Clements, Lizzie would fall flat because while the concept is compelling, Lizzie has to be believable. Clements gives her the credibility necessary to succeed.
The range of emotions you experience while watching are anchored by her performance, and she is consistent throughout the highs and lows of the series. Even in episodes that I struggled with because of problematic plot development or, at times, clunky dialogue, there was Lizzie bringing it all together and making it work. She appears in 96 of the 100 episodes, with a dedication and talent that should make cast directors sit up and take notice. Clements gives you a Lizzie to root for, someone who constantly challenges herself to rise to the occasion. You love Lizzie from the get go – there’s no denying it – but you also love the potential Lizzie has to become. The potential to see her baby sister as someone more than a burden, to see that there is more than one way to view a successful career, and to see that even the best of intentions don’t always excuse one’s actions. All of this potential manifests because of Clements and regardless of what anyone may argue, the show wouldn’t be the phenomenon it is without her. (So ABC should just cast her in S.H.I.E.L.D. and allow her to improve whatever material she is given to work with. And while we are beseeching the casting gods, put Julia Cho in Parks and Rec already.)
The Lizzie Bennet Diaries is an experience. When I started the series, I wasn’t exactly sure what I was watching and arguably, that is the point. In order to make sense of the show, you have to experience it – and I think with its finale being posted this week, there is no better time than the present to begin your own Lizzie Bennet journey.
Follow Carrie on Twitter at @carolineEk87.