Monday, June 30, 2014

Adaptation Week: Emma Approved

Hello!  So... "Adaptation Week" got hijacked earlier - sorry about that.  But I am really excited to jump back in with a few more.  The types of adaptations I am highlighting will be the actual focus of my Master's research.  I've started following quite a few adaptations and keeping tabs on others.  In this digital renaissance, there are so many exciting possibilities in storytelling.  So, back to it:
See previously featured adaptations: Mansfield Park and Classic Alice.

Ok, so if you haven't started watching Emma Approved yet, it's time to get on it!  Pemberley Digital's 2nd full-length series recently returned from hiatus and 57-episodes in feels stronger than ever,

Emma Approved is: "A lifestyle brand and documentary of life coach and matchmaker Emma Woodhouse."  When the series begins, Emma & her long-time family friend Alex Knightley have recently formed a subdivision of the "Highbury Group" to focus on match-making, event planning and lifestyle excellence. 

This modern day Emma is no Cher Horowitz. She's more a combination of ruthless Kardashian business skills meets Mary Fiore's event coordination. She is talented but unwilling to compromise one ounce of her vision of the world. She goes to great (questionably illegal) lengths to accomplish her plans. 

This series, even according to its creators, started a little weak for a couple reasons. The biggest issue was fans adjusting to a very different format than it's predecessor, the Lizzie Bennet Diaries. Where Lizzie shot vlog-style videos & knowingly posted them on the internet where other characters could find them & viewers could interact with them, Emma Approved videos (minus the Q&A) are told almost "mockumentary" style. While the in-world reasoning for this didn't make much sense, anyone familiar with the story will know that telling Emma the way PD told Pride & Prejudice wouldn't work. Aside from the risk of in-world characters viewing the episodes, it would be highly implausible for high-society Emma Woodhouse to vlog.

One of the stronger parts the show has been Brent Bailey's Alex Knightley.  He is the perfect Knightley - counteracting Emma's (sometimes misplaced) enthusiasm with doses of reality and delivering his lines with a blend of humor and care.

And there's just something to love about a grown man who can still look like a five year old when the occasion calls for it:

They've done rather well with the rest of the casting, too, with highlights being Harriet Smith, Bobby "B-Mart" Martin, Annie Taylor-Weston, and Maddie Bates.  In addition, Frank Churchill has made a few appearances and Jane Fairfax just re-joined Highbury.

Thus far, Emma Approved has taken 2, month-long hiatuses (hiati?).  Though it's sad to go a month long without Monday and Thursday pick-me-ups, both times the team has returned to take their game up a notch.  After January's hiatus, they achieved an Emma Approved-Lizzie Bennet Diaries crossover that just blew me away by combining/replacing the character of Mrs. Augusta Elton with the LBD's Caroline Lee.  Brilliant move!  And following the May hiatus, they had not only the long-awaited reveal of Jane Fairfax but introduced a both in-world and real-world charity drive to fight modern day slavery.  These kind of game-changers combined with the heightened anticipation have made the hiatuses more than worth it!  So, Pemberley Digital, while I hate to be without you, take all the time you need to make it awesome!

The show has had a few detractors - mostly the ones I mentioned early on.  Some things, like Jane Fairfax's character development, will just take time or others like myself, who initially disliked Emma, will have to be won over.  Personally, the two biggest obstacles for me have been the format and certain production choices.  As I mentioned earlier, I understand that vlogging wouldn't work for this story, but full-time surveillance in an office doesn't make sense either.  I also felt that the strength of LBD's transmedia was really missing from the first 1/3 of this story, though I feel that's improved recently with twitter conversations about Knightley offering to carpool with Jane Fairfax and especially with the charity drive. 

My second - and even bigger - frustration has actually been with the costume department for Emma herself.  I understand that she is in event planning and that she's supposed to be trendy.  But more often than not I inwardly cringe at her costumes because they are so not office appropriate.  Short shorts, mini dresses, and midriff just do NOT belong in her world of high-profile clients.  I know they are working with sponsorships from trendy places like mod cloth - which is great!  But even Harriet looks more trendy-but-appropriate than Emma does and honestly I find it distracting.  Okay.  Personal rant over.

Overall, I do love the show, but not nearly as much the Lizzie Bennet Diaries.  That is probably due to the fact that I love Pride and Prejudice far, far more than Emma.  But if the LBD was a 5/5, this is still 4.5.   I really enjoy the interaction between these actors and several of the modernizations they have made with Bobby Martin, Mr. (Senator Scum-bag) Elton, and especially with the Caroline Lee - LBD crossover.

And I can't review it without mentioning that the show has received an extra spark thanks to a very "Emma Approved" real life pairing: Joanna Sotomura and Brent Bailey, who play Emma and Knightley in-world, are in a real-life relationship.

I told you he was perfect. :)

Be sure to check out Emma Approved and in the mean time, I'll leave with a recent video from the stars goofing around on the Tonight Show. 


  1. 'Emma' is my second favourite Jane Austen novel :) It's so funny. The characters feel so rich and real and I can't get over how clever and intricately-plotted it is. I love its mystery elements and its social commentary. The first time I read the book Emma Woodhouse annoyed me and I still find her annoying in the early chapters of the book, but now I understand her character more and I love her.

    I had no idea that even the creators have since criticised the start of Emma Approved! I think it must have took me about 20 episodes before I finally started to enjoy EA. The "Annie Taylor cancelling her wedding" plot was pointless and confusing and the transmedia elements of the show are *still* confusing. When the series first started I thought that the videos didn't exist online in Emma's world but then she started doing "Q&A"s and I was like :S The whole transmedia thing doesn't bother me nearly as much as it does with other fans but I still think that it's a bit weird. And, yes, that is an excellent point about Emma's wardrobe. Even the girls in The Devil Wears Prada wore more appropriate office attire!

    I do still love this show though. It's extremely funny, it's mostly faithful to the book, and the actors are wonderful (where do they keep finding such talent?!) Joanna Sotomura and Brett Bailey have the best chemistry out of any Emma/Knightley pairing I've seen. The Caroline Lee/Mrs Elton crossover was genius. EA isn't as brilliant as the book or the LBD (of course!). I don't enjoy it as much as the 2009 version or the Miramax film but I much prefer it over Clueless and the ITV version. I think it could possibly overtake the Miramax version though depending on how the rest of the web series plays out.

    I love this review :)

    1. Thanks, Hannah!! Yes I agree with your points. I think they did the Annie Taylor thing to create a better introduction to Frank Churchill. But yah... a bit weak.

      I agree the talent is off the charts! I think they have already surpassed Miramax in my book - though I never really loved that adaptation. But I am loving this Emma! Today's episode (57) was fantastic!

      Here's to Emma continuing to make the world a better place :)

  2. It really was! I thought the expanded role for Isabella was a nice touch though and I hope we'll get to see John Knightley show up in EA before it's over. I think he's one of Austen's most underrated characters.

    Aw, I'm really fond of the Miramax version. It probably helps that it was my first Emma adaptation. I admit that it does cut out a lot of the story - esp the Jane/Frank subplot - and that it isn't the best adaptation of the book. But I still think that it's a really fun film and that it's the best "short version" of the story. Also, out of all of the Knightleys, Jeremy Northam does the best "Badly done" scene hands down. He's obviously angry with Emma but you can still tell that he loves her and that it's hurting him to say these words. I'm looking forward to Brett Bailey's take on that scene and dreading it. There should be a term for that: MIXED FEELS!

    And here's to Emma making our lives better :)

    1. Yes! John Knightley and Mr Palmer (from S&S) are two of my favorite characters because they demonstrate Austen's versatility.

      Gah! Just thinking about Brent Bailey doing the "Badly done" scene makes me want to cry!! Mixed feels, indeed.