Finally, John Green’s Looking for Alaska is coming to our screens, but it’ll be a limited series instead of a movie! What does that mean for the way in which this beloved story will be adapted?
Fans of John Green’s debut novel, Looking for Alaska, are rejoicing with the news that, after a long and confusing journey, the book is finally going to be adapted to screen. But the adaptation is unexpected: instead of being a feature film, it’ll be a series of eight episodes on the online streaming service Hulu.
With both The Fault in our Stars and Paper Towns having been turned into movies, the idea that Looking for Alaska’s long-awaited adaptation will become a series is surprising, but in hindsight seems like an excellent idea.
This might actually be a better fate for the story than a movie would have been, because it gives the adaptation a chance to do the following things:
Give Alaska the complexity she deserves
One of the most controversial aspects of Looking for Alaska is the characterization of Alaska herself. Green’s intention when writing her was to expose the dangers of putting people (especially women towards whom one might have romantic feelings) on pedestals, or in other words, deconstruct the ‘manic pixie dream girl’ trope of a quirky woman who changes a lead male’s life but ultimately only serves to further his journey.
Alaska is very clearly the manic pixie dream girl to Miles’ journey — but he’s forced to contemplate the consequences of having that perception of her. It’s a very profound theme, similar to that of Paper Towns, another Green novel which was turned into a film… but ultimately, some viewers felt that Paper Towns only reinforced the trope, rather than deconstruct it.
The success of the message in Looking for Alaska greatly resides on an effective delivery. The constraints of a feature film might have not been the best medium to communicate it, especially as it relates to such a tricky character as Alaska. The book deals heavily with people’s perceptions of her past and her personality, and an eight-episode series will allow for more time to analyze these and see how they affected her and the characters around her.
As a female character in such a potentially problematic role, more time can help give her role the full complexity it deserves — and still keep her as mysterious as she has to be.
Take on a 13 Reasons Why kind of vibe
13 Reasons Why was a big hit last year, as it followed the story of a group of high schoolers whose lives and perceptions of the world around them are changed forever after one of their classmates commits suicide and leaves them a series of tapes explaining why she did it. In many ways, it’s similar to Looking for Alaska — except in the latter, no one gets any tapes.
There’s definitely an audience for shows of this style, which examine the complexities of human behavior in high school interactions, with teenage characters portrayed cleverly and respectfully. It’s not surprising that Hulu is looking to tap into that audience.
Framed in a similar style to 13 Reasons Why, Looking for Alaska could greatly benefit from non-linear storytelling, which would satisfy both readers of the original novel and newcomers with its twists and turns, reframing the story in a way that is both gripping and profound.
Reach out to an audience that might not have watched otherwise
It’s no secret that John Green books have, over time, gained a reputation for being crying material for teenagers. This stereotype is unfair and mostly misinformed, given that it’s mostly based solely on The Fault in Our Stars and typical criticism of things that go mainstream. Looking for Alaska deserves a chance to be seen separately from this stereotype, and a series might achieve that.
A show might receive a more objective approach from audiences and critics alike: while it is ostensibly a young adult novel with all the fun high school adventures, first kisses and first heartbreaks that entails, it’s also a profoundly meaningful story with a lot worth analyzing (there’s a reason that it won so many awards).
Hulu might offer new viewers a chance to sample Green’s work, at least in its series incarnation — perhaps removed from the associations a movie might hold — and, sharing the same space as shows like The Handmaid’s Tale, properly establish Looking for Alaska as a story that’s more than just a teenage romance.