The March Family Letters: Little 21st Century Women

Click to go to the official website

I was eight years old the first time I read Little Women. I fell in love with the Marches and identified with all four sisters in different ways. I was a writer and loved adventure and couldn’t manage to do what was expected of me like Jo. I was the oldest and could be too cautious and practical for my own good like Meg. I was quiet and withdrawn and loved music like Beth. I was artistic and used words people didn’t understand and was never taken as seriously as I took myself and totally had a thing for Laurie like Amy.

I’d go on to revisit Little Women  and its sequels throughout the years. I learned more about the historical context of the book. The Alcott family’s involvement in Transcendentalist, bohemian circles. Louisa May Alcott’s first-wave feminism. All of this just made the book more fascinating to me. Age and distance have made some of the book’s imperfections more noticeable, but it’s one of those childhood loves that will always have a special place in my heart.

Despite all this, somehow the existence of The March Family Letters escaped my knowledge until this month. To be honest, I was more apprehensive about this one than any of the literary webseries I’ve watched. There are so many ways a modern Little Women could go horribly wrong. Would Jo be a straw feminist or a misogynist? Would Meg be an unsympathetic killjoy in the tradition of grouchy sitcom wives? Would Beth be a Purity Sue, canonized by virtue of disability? Would Amy exist to remind the audience that being a girly girl makes you a terrible person, or at least a really shallow one?

Don’t worry, my inner voice whispered as she wrapped me in a blanket and brought me some hot chocolate. It’s being distributed by Pemberley Digital. Click the playlist.

OMG I CAN’T EVEN TELL YOU HOW OBSESSED I AM WITH THIS SHOW. Continue reading “The March Family Letters: Little 21st Century Women”

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My Harriet’s Music Club recap

Harriet’s Music Club was a side project of the concluded-for-now Pemberley Digital show Emma Approved. As some of you may remember, I was one of the first responders to “Harriet’s” call for audience participation. I’m rather proud of myself for having made it through the whole season, so I thought I’d do a post recapping all my covers.

For starters, here’s a playlist of the originals, performed by Dayanne Hutton as Harriet Smith.

“Harriet’s First Song”

This was the song Harriet used to kick off the Music Club. The guy she references is State Senator James Elton, but we all knew her heart belonged to Robert Martin regardless of Emma’s meddling.

I changed Harriet’s lyrics about her ukulele to reflect the fact that I was playing a piano.

Continue reading “My Harriet’s Music Club recap”

Frankenstein, MD – It’s Aliiiiiiiive!

I read Frankenstein about six years ago when I was discovering steampunk. I was expecting to like it in a so-bad-it’s-good way akin to the B-movie neckbolt cliches. I ended up loving it for its engaging characters (including the philosophical, articulate Monster), its thoughtful exploration of enduring themes like familial responsibility and ethics in scientific research, and its legitimate, well-written horror.

So I was ecstatic when I found out about Pemberley Digital’s plans to follow Emma Approved with an adaptation of Frankenstein. And that they were partnering with PBS. And that Victor Frankenstein (the creator, not the creature) was being rewritten as Victoria!

Anna Lore as Victoria Frankenstein, Steve Zaragoza as Iggy DeLacey. Image via Frankenstein MD (click to visit the official site)

Frankenstein, MD premiered last Tuesday with three episodes, followed by a fourth on Friday. It’s ostensibly a PBS science vlog hosted by two promising almost-MDs, Victoria Frankenstein and Ludwig “Iggy” DeLacey. Like The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and Emma Approved, the writers are taking plenty of liberties with the source material. For example, the vlog does not open with its titular character stranded in the Arctic. It’s a reasonable alteration, I suppose. As is adding a stand-in for Igor the Hunchback Lab Assistant, a character who doesn’t appear in the book, but has become an inextricable part of Frankenstein mythos.

Overall, I’m impressed by how many elements I’m recognizing from the book. The silent cameraman/editor, Robert Walton, is a nod to the book’s framing device of Frankenstein relaying his story to an Arctic explorer of that name. Victoria’s mentor, Dr. Abraham Waldman, was a prominent character in the book. Victoria’s childhood friends Eli Lavenza and Rory Clerval are gender-flipped versions of Elizabeth Lavenza, Victor’s love interest, and Henry Clerval, Victor’s best friend. Victoria and Iggy’s university, Engle State University, takes its name from the book’s Ingolstadt University.

Most of all, there’s Frankenstein herself. Victoria mirrors Victor in that she’s passionate about pushing the limits of medical science. Nothing gets in the way of her research. Don’t tell her something’s impossible. “Impossible” just means no one’s figured out how to do it yet. Petty things like her subject’s clinical death are no impediment to her. She’ll just shock that bitch back to life. Drug-induced paralysis causing a panic attack? No prob. She’ll bring the subject out of it with MOAR DRUGS! Sure, the higher-ups may question her ethics (and her sanity), but genius and determination will triumph if Victoria has anything to do with it.

In short, Victoria Frankenstein is a mad scientist.

And she is the most adorable mad scientist you will ever see. Great writing, great comedic foiling from the rest of the cast, and a great performance by Anna Lore combine to make Victoria’s megalomaniacal superiority complex come across as hilarious and endearing.

The story has been light-hearted and upbeat so far. I’ll be interested to see how Frankenstein, MD handles the book’s heavier material. The book is full of murder, arson, identity crises, and like I said earlier, legitimate horror. The book closes with (SPOILER) anticipation of both creator’s and creature’s death. In the end, the reader is left contemplating which was the true monster. Pemberley Digital did an impressive job handling the more serious, uncomfortable issues in Pride and Prejudice and Emma. I’m confident that they’ll do the same for Frankenstein, and curious to see how they manage it.

Click here to watch Frankenstein, MD on the official website, or watch the playlist embedded below. If this has inspired you to read Mary Shelley’s original book, click here to get a free ePub, Kindle, or browser ebook at Project Gutenberg.

Peter and Wendy: Millennials in Neverland

I’ve seen the first four episodes of The New Adventures of Peter and Wendy, and I have no idea what to make of it. It’s a lot of fun. I’m just not sure what it is yet.

Top: Kyle Walters as Peter, Paula Rhodes as Wendy. Bottom: Graham Kurtz as John, Brennan Murray as Micheal, and Lovlee Carroll as Lily. Image via The New Adventures of Peter and Wendy.

Here’s the description from the webseries’ official site:

Everyone has to grow up, right?  Well, not if Peter Pan has anything to say about it!  Peter, a late-twenties man-child and comic book artist living in the small town of Neverland Ohio, has three life goals: 1)  NEVER GROW UP.  2) Have as much fun as humanly possible while doing as little work as possible.  3) Win the heart of his best friend, Wendy Darling.  With his friends John, Michael, Lily and his fairy, Tinkerbell, Peter is nailing goals 1 and 2.  Goal 3, however, is a bit trickier. Wendy Darling, an advice vlogger and overall go-getter, is tired of the never-changing small town of Neverland Ohio and wants to see the world, to become… an adult.  It’s Peter vs Growing Up in the battle for Wendy! But is growing up really the enemy? Or is it the solution?

I heard about Peter and Wendy through Socially Awkward Darcy, a Facebook fanpage for Pemberley Digital’s projects. Producer Jenni Powell also produced The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, and lead actor Kyle Walters played Edward Denham in last summer’s webseries/RPG Welcome to Sanditon. This has a different feel than Pemberley Digital’s canon, though. It’s like comparing USA Network to Comedy Central.

And I like Comedy Central. Peter and Wendy made me laugh. A lot. This is exactly how you’d picture Peter Pan and the Darlings if they were fifteen years older and living in modern America and literally nothing else was changed about them. Peter is goofy, cheeky, and goes back and forth between charming and infuriating. John takes everything too seriously, but is really no less childish than Peter or Michael. He’s essentially Dwight K. Schrute, right down to being Assistant [To The] Editor-in-Chief of his father’s newspaper. He’s contrasted and complemented by Michael, who is Michael Scott as played by Michael Cera. In the fourth episode, Michael and Peter skip work to play video games and share a “magic” brownie. (Yeah, it’s that kind of show.) Wendy, mature to a fault and surrogate mom to her brothers, could’ve easily be written as the resident shrewish buzzkill. She isn’t. She’s quirky, sweet, and fun, and when she tells the boys (and us) that everyone has to grow up sometime, we sympathize with her and want to see Peter and her brothers reach this epiphany, too. So far she’s my favorite character.

Lily Bagha, Tiger Lily’s counterpart, has only appeared in the series trailer and opening credit sequence so far. I’m especially interested to see how the series handles her character. I’m very happy to see that they cast a woman of color, which is more than I can say about another Peter Pan reimagining in the works. This “Indian princess” appears to be of the East Indian variety. I’m not sure how I feel about that. As hugely problematic as Tiger Lily’s portrayal has been in various incarnations, she’s always had a special place in my heart as a female fantasy character whose appearance and ancestry were similar to  mine. I can’t help feeling like Peter and Wendy changed Lily’s background as a cop-out, like it was easier to avoid portraying a Native American character poorly by just not portraying one at all. But I can understand and respect the choice to err on the side of sensitivity. And, like I said, at least she’s still brown. I’m withholding judgment and willing to be convinced.

The weirdest part of this wonderfully weird show is Tinkerbell. We never see her. She’s always on the other side of the camera in Peter’s videos. And she’s a fairy. An actual fairy. A tiny glittery creature that flies and communicates through chiming sounds. And no one sees this as odd or remarkable in any way. At first I was like, “Does this mean the show is set in a parallel universe where everyone knows fairies exist and is cool with that? Does it mean there’s a deeper reason none of the characters have left Neverland, OH? Is Neverland like The Village? Or The Truman Show? Is Tinkerbell a mentally challenged human that everyone pretends is a tiny glittery fairy? Is Peter a mentally challenged human whose friends refuse to contradict his pet delusion?” Regardless, I loved the fact that Tink’s personality is exactly what it was in the Disney cartoon: a catty, jealous bitch who adores Peter and is possibly plotting against Wendy’s life. She cracked me up then and she cracks me up now.

Upon my second viewing, I discovered the Kensington Chronicle’s website and had my questions answered. Fairies are a real thing in the Neverland universe. The Chronicle’s website describes Tinkerbell as the only fairy officially in residence, but that didn’t stop a number of roleplaying Twitter accounts for fairy characters from popping up. Yes, it looks like Peter and Wendy is going to follow Welcome to Sanditon‘s footsteps in incorporating a social media roleplaying game. I hope they do a better job than Sanditon at keeping the main story as the focus. I found Sanditon hard to follow without being involved in the RPG aspect, which I know is hypocritical since I was one of the first people to join Harriet’s Music Club in Emma Approved. (That reminds me, I need to record a “Breathe and Believe” cover this week.) (Update 6/30/14 – I did.) Anyway, click on the Kensington Chronicle even if you aren’t into RP. It has backstory info like the fairy stuff I just shared, Peter’s cartooning, John’s column, and links to Michael’s Tumblr and Wendy’s Pinterest. And, of course, all the characters are on Twitter.

Want to check out The New Adventures of Peter and Wendy for yourself? Here’s the series trailer:

And here’s the beginning of the full playlist:

I don’t know if I believe yet, but so far, I’m clapping.

My weekend was Emma Approved

As you may remember, I’ve been following Pemberley Digital’s latest webseries, Emma Approved. It’s a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Emma, in which Emma is a professional matchmaker/life coach,  Knightley is Emma’s business partner/accountant, and Harriet is Emma’s personal assistant.

In last Thursday’s episode, “Back in Business,” Harriet’s interpretation of Emma’s life coaching took the form of starting an online music club.

Harriet wrote a song, posted it on Emma’s YouTube channel, and included sheet music in the description so viewers could join her new club by uploading a cover.

So it came to pass that I spent my weekend joining a YouTube music club founded by a fictional character who originated in Regency England.

I’m on Harriet’s Twitter list and everything. ^_^ Want to play along? Click the image below for information at Emma’s website, and keep an eye on the hashtag #HarrietSongs on Twitter.

Dayeanne Hutton as Harriet Smith. Image via Emma Approved.

Can I just say this one more time, because I find it both baffling and awesome? Go to Emma Woodhouse’s website or Harriet Smith’s Twitter hashtag. Harriet Smith is following me on Twitter. Clueless has nothing on Emma Approved.