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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Review: Hulu adapts “Looking For Alaska” as its newest short series

Where the show falls flat and where it makes up for it

Hulu premiered “Looking for Alaska,” an eight-episode miniseries based on John Green’s 2005 novel of the same name, on Oct. 18. The show focuses on Miles “Pudge” Halter (played by Charlie Plummer) as the new kid at a boarding school with an ongoing prank war among students. While at school, Pudge finds new friends and falls in love with the unpredictable Alaska Young.

Back when I was in high school, John Green was the most well-known writer. With “The Fault in Our Stars” debuting as a movie adaptation, I had my eye on Green’s works and found my way to “Looking For Alaska.” Despite the Tumblr-worthy quotes and thought-provoking ideas of the afterlife, I still never liked the book. And for this reason, I decided to watch the show. 

The characters were my biggest qualm with the novel. Pudge’s group of friends consisted of misfits, and I wasn’t able to connect with any of the story lines. Green made sure he made each character strikingly different, which is where the novel failed. All of the characters had an obvious flaw that seemed more like a quirk. The characters were not relatable or  likeable, which is why it fell short.

While the show still isn’t something I would watch out of my own volition, it had its moments. That being said, it took three episodes for the show to pique my interest. The show stays true to the book’s early 2000s theme by bringing back a soundtrack that mixes The Killers, Kelly Clarkson and Coldplay.

The show incorporates new aspects that were missing in the novel. It brings in new perspectives — we don’t just follow Pudge around throughout the book. The Hulu adaptation also follows The Colonel (Denny Love) as he goes back home to visit his mom in the trailer park and Alaska (Kristine Frosteth) as she visits her boyfriend and thinks back on her life.

Pudge is the average lanky kid who never had too many friends in high school, so he moves to find a grand adventure: his “great perhaps.” But there isn’t much that his character carries other than that. The audience is aware that he likes to know the last words of people who have died, and that’s pretty much all they get from him. 

The characters do grow on you, however. When Alaska is mid-breakdown, with makeup running down her face, explaining to the dean of the school that going back to her hometown means staying there forever, it’s hard not to sympathize with her. Although the lack of character annoys me, the development appeals to me. 

“Looking For Alaska” is meant to center around issues such as racism, depression,  sexism and classism, but it really only scrapes the surface. Where there are glimpses of these issues, the characters themselves don’t grasp these issues well enough to be shown in the series. The teens’ personal epiphanies felt forced and over-the-top, even for television. Good writing has a way of enveloping you into feeling like you’re there, as if you’re with them inside the screen and in their lives. But that didn’t happen with “Looking for Alaska.”

Interest comes in waves: The show stalls midway, but in episode four, we get to know a little more of Dr. Hyde (Ron Cephas Jones), who is arguably the best part of the show. As he tells the story of a former boyfriend dying of AIDS, I found what I was looking for throughout the whole show — authenticity. 

What made up for the lack of substance among the main characters was found in the secondary characters. Dr. Hyde and Lara (Sofia Vassilieva) made the show worth watching. They gave background stories that were desperately needed in the show. 

It wasn’t until the end, around episode six, that I started to like Pudge. He got more sarcastic and a little pathetic about Alaska, but he was real. He was just a teenage boy that was upset because a girl didn’t like him back.

The small moments were the best ones: Dr. Hyde dreaming of dancing with his lover again and the Colonel dancing with his mother. The show was overall tolerable with moments of pure bliss that made it worth watching. 

Written By: Itzelth Gamboa — arts@theaggie.org


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