Pop Arts Recommends…The Lizzie Bennet Diaries

Hello lovelies! I can’t believe that it’s already the end of March. This month has been super busy and so has positively flown by. We’ve reached the last Friday of the month so it’s time for another Pop Arts Recommends. This month, I talk about the internet phenomenon that is/was The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.

I feel like everyone knows about the LBD, but am astonished by the number of people I meet who’ve never heard of it (they must not be as enmeshed in the internet…). The LBD was an astonishing project – to take a beloved 19th century classic by Jane Austen (Pride & Prejudice) and update it (drastically) for the modern, digital age. Lizzie Bennet was re-imagined as a graduate student, living with her parents while she studied communications and figuring out what she was going to do with her life. Check out the first episode below:

When I first heard about the show, I was pretty skeptical. Though I have enjoyed other modern interpretations (Bridget Jones, Bride & Prejudice) I just wasn’t convinced about it working on…well, YouTube of all places. But it really, really did. After watching that first video, I was intruigued. Then promptly got distracted and forgot to keep watching after about three episodes. I came back to the show about 40 episodes in, after being contacted by several of my friends, who raved about the show and asked if I was watching it. I became utterly hooked, and had to binge watch all the so far transmitted episodes (which despite only being 3- 5 minutes, the vlog format made watching them quite intense)

I was totally drawn in, in large part because this was something I had literally never seen before. It was totally original. Opening this classic novel up to audience involvement was ingenious and the modern setting worked because the production team had the good sense to just ditch whatever didn’t work in this context (for example, we never see Mr and Mrs Bennet, because why would young women want to use their parents in their videos?) Lydia’s scandal was totally re-imagined to reflect our modern values and internet age, as was Lydia herself. The show gave actress Mary-Kate Wiles her own Lydia platform, providing the audience with additional insight and creating far more sympathy than the book ever elicits for the character. It was great to see complicated, sisterly dynamics played out between Jane, Lizzie and Lydia (Mary becomes a cousin and Kitty…a cat) and the way those relationships evolved was the most interesting and rewarding aspect of the show. I also enjoyed the focus on Lizzie’s friendship with Charlotte Lucas, something that is left aside in the book following Charlotte’s marriage. The last episode of the series features just Lizzie and Charlotte; the two of them the foundation for Lizzie’s project and development.

Additional insight is provided in all sorts of ways throughout, as – in keeping with the way we live now – the story was told through various digital mediums. Video blogs on YouTube (not just Lizzie and Lydia, but other characters too), audience Q&A on YouTube, Twitter, Tumblr; even Pintrest. A complete list of all sources can be found here. Dedicated viewers could follow the story across all channels and remarkably, content was never duplicated. Skip the Twitter feeds, skip part of the narrative. It was an extraordinarily ambitious idea, but one which proved successful; audiences engaged on all levels and channels and an incredibly well-known story was given a new lease of life.

And there’s the LBD’s treatment of the Darcy problem. Lizzie was warmly and vivaciously played by actress Ashley Clements, and was an easy link and conduit into the story – as she is in the book. But Darcy, well, he comes with all sorts of problems. How do you manage the expectations for such an iconic character? The LBD’s solution? Keep him a mystery. We hear about Darcy one way or another in most episodes, but we don’t actually see him at all until episode 59 (where his face is still hidden) and actor Daniel Vincent Gordh actually only appears in nine episodes. Nine! To keep people so invested in their romance with less than 10 appearances from the leading man is very impressive.

I really enjoyed the LBD (so much so that I contributed to their record breaking Kickstarter campaign). It was original, unusual, feminist, smart, funny and sweet. It’s paved the way for more high quality, interactive web entertainment and it will be interesting to see what follows it. Whether you’re a fan of P&P and Austen or not, there’s something for everyone here. It’s a charming reminder that even 200 year old stories can still be relevant. The core aspects of the story remain and it’s as lovely and uplifting a tale as ever.

 

Lizzie and Lydia (Ashley Clements and Mary-Kate Wiles)

For others’ thoughts on the series and it’s groundbreaking ways, check out the following links:

The A.V Club on LBD’s innovative presentation of the story

The A.V Club again on why it’s a phenomenon and what that means for web series’

Yahoo TV’s analysis of it’s success

Listen to the LBD writing team talk about the making of the show on Nerdist

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