Friday, 5 September 2014

Emma Approved (2013-14)

Emma Approved is a modern-day web series adaptation of Jane Austen's Emma and is Hank Green and Bernie Su's follow-up to their Emmy Award-winning Pride and Prejudice 
adaptation, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. Emma Woodhouse (Joanna Sotomura) is now a young and ambitious businesswoman who runs a subdivision of the Highbury Partners business group with her long-time family friend Alex Knightley (Brett Bailey). They specialise in match-making, event planning and lifestyle advice. Emma is also making videos as she plans on using the footage for a future documentary. Despite having no interest in romance herself, Emma is a successful match-maker and has recently set up her client Ryan Weston (Gabriel Voss) with her best friend Annie Taylor (Alexis Boozer). Emma then gains a new personal assistant called Harriet Smith (Dayeanne Hutton). Emma decides to go against Knightley's advice by attempting to find Harriet a boyfriend and refine her tastes. She convinces Harriet to turn down a date from sweet IT repairman Robert "B-Mart" Martin (James Brent Isaacs) and to set her sights on a politician called James Elton (Paul Stuart). When her careful plans go disastrously wrong, Emma begins to reflect that she might not know as much about life and love as she thinks she does. However it takes a while for Emma to completely learn her lesson and, with the arrival of new people in her life, her life is made even more interesting.

I fell in love with The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and when I found out that its creators were going to be taking on Emma for their next big adaptation I was extremely excited! :) Emma happens to be my favourite Jane Austen novel after Pride and Prejudice and I thought it could work brilliantly as a modern-day vlog. After watching all of Emma Approved's videos I can finally say that I found the show very enjoyable. However, I was never able to love Emma Approved as much as The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. Partly because I don't love Emma as much as Pride and Prejudice but mostly because I don't think Emma Approved is as good an adaptation of Emma as The Lizzie Bennet Diaries is of Pride and Prejudice.

Emma Approved gets off to a much weaker start than The Lizzie Bennet Diaries did and I have to say that I didn't like its early episodes very much at all. Even its creators have since admitted that the show didn't start off very well. A major issue that many LBD fans have had with the show is its confusing format. The LBD was told in the form of a YouTube video blog and Lizzie's videos exist in the universe of the show: Lizzie would directly interact with her viewers and characters from the show were able to find her videos. But Emma Approved isn't told in the same way. Instead of being a video blog the show is really more of a mockumentary. Apart from the Q&A videos, Emma's videos aren't actually supposed to be on YouTube in her universe. I can understand why the creators chose to do this. Emma would have been fired for the things that she said about Elton and Caroline Lee if they'd been able to find her videos. But then... why the Q&A videos? :S Having gone back and watched these episodes, most of the questions that are addressed to the characters can only have been asked by viewers who have seen the content of Emma's videos! And yet Emma is supposed to be the only person who's meant to have seen these videos! As soon as you stop and think about it the set-up of the show really doesn't make sense. Don't stop and think about how the show actually works folks or you'll give yourself a headache!

Emma Approved also makes the mistake of starting off at an earlier point than Austen's book. In the very earliest episodes of the show the Miss Taylor and Mr Weston characters aren't yet married and it turns out that Annie Taylor wants to cancel her wedding. Emma never actually asks her why which you'd think would be the very first thing that you'd do if your best friend told you that she wanted to call off her wedding! Instead she gets out at a huge binder full of invoices. Rather than trying to remind Annie of why she fell in love with Ryan in the first place, Emma tries to remind her of hugely expensive the wedding has been and how much of a hassle it would be to cancel everything. This is certainly not the action of a good friend or a good businesswoman! Unsurprisingly this plan of Emma's backfires. It's only after Emma and Harriet do some detective work that Emma realises that Annie wants to call off the wedding because she thinks that Ryan's stepbrother Frank Churchill doesn't like her. Emma then gets Frank to send Annie a wedding present and everything is sorted. To me these opening episodes are utterly pointless and confusing. A friend thinks that the creators were trying to provide a better introduction to Frank Churchill with these episodes but the execution is downright shoddy. Emma Approved has a few other flaws as well which I'll get out of the way in a nifty bullet point format (I like bullet points):

  • Why isn't Knightley's first name "George" in the show?! I can understand why the LBD changed Darcy's name from "Fitzwilliam" to "William" but why change Knightley's name from "George" to "Alex"? "George" is a great name!
  • Some of Emma's clothes are completely inappropriate for an office environment. No office, no matter how trendy, would allow its staff to wear short shorts and crop tops! The costume department really should have watched The Devil Wears Prada for inspiration! Also, because The Devil Wears Prada is a great movie. Everyone should see it :)
  • I was disappointed not to see John Knightley and Mr Woodhouse in this adaptation. John Knightley is one of Austen's most underrated characters and Mr Woodhouse is actually quite an important character in Austen's book. His big contribution to the story is to show how loving Emma actually is. Even though he must be very annoying at times Emma always treats him with complete patience and kindness. I was disappointed not to see Mr Bennet in The Lizzie Bennet Diaries but the lack of Mr Woodhouse in Emma Approved bothered me even more. And how hilarious would it have been if he'd walked into the office one day, saw Emma filming a video, and then had a major freak out because he thought Emma was talking to strangers on the internet?

Now at this point you might be thinking that this is actually quite a negative review and I wouldn't blame you. But overall I did actually enjoy Emma Approved! The show begins to steadily improve when it starts to cover the actual events of Austen's book and after a while I began to genuinely enjoy it. I'm glad I stuck with it. Emma Approved is mostly faithful to Austen's book; certainly much more so than the film Clueless which also updated Austen's book to the modern day. Emma Approved includes more characters from Austen's book - Miss Bates, Isabella Knightley and Jane Fairfax - and it's more family friendly. Emma Approved did an in-universe and out-universe charitable campaign against modern-day slavery. The acting in the show is brilliant. I don't know where Pemberley Digital keeps finding such talent! I didn't love everyone in the Emma Approved cast because the actors playing Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax didn't do very much for me. However Emma, Knightley, Harriet, Robert B-Mart, Annie, Maddie Bates and the Eltons are all brilliantly portrayed. Joanna Sotomura captures Emma's more annoying qualities but is still very likeable and she blew me away in the Box Hill video. She was amazing! She and Brett Bailey are also dating in real life which is surely the reason why they have the best chemistry out of any Emma/Knightley pairing that I've yet seen.

Another point in Emma Approved's favour is that it managed a few crossover episodes with The Lizzie Bennet Diaries! It combines the Mrs Elton character of Austen's Emma with the character of Caroline Lee (Caroline Bingley) from The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. Usually I absolutely hate it when characters are combined together. You should hear me rant about Les Miserables (1998) combining Enjolras and Marius together! But in this instance Caroline and Mrs Elton are such oddly similar characters that them being combined together actually kind of makes sense in a weird sort of way. And I do love crossovers. I was always thrilled whenever Buffy and Angel did their rare crossover episodes and I loved this fan-made Doctor Who/Sherlock crossover. This Lizzie Bennet Diaries/Emma Approved crossover also made me happy because it confirmed that the characters all live in the same universe! In my head canon all of Jane Austen's characters live in the same universe and I've often wondered how they would get on. I think Elinor Dashwood and Anne Elliot would get on brilliantly, that Emma and Fanny Price would have the most awkward and strained conversations ever, and that if Henry Tilney had shown up at the Meryton Assembly in Pride and Prejudice that Elizabeth Bennet would have instantly fallen in love with him. But I have a feeling that that one will be controversial.

Caroline in The Lizzie Bennet Diaries...

and Caroline in Emma Approved!

Emma Approved might not be my favourite Emma adaptation and it's much more flawed than The Lizzie Bennet Diaries but at the same time it has an awful lot going for it and as a standalone show it has barely any flaws. I'm not passionately in love with Emma Approved but I'm definitely a fan.

Rating: 4/5


samara said...

Loved this review - we think the same on a lot of these points :)

Bernie Su did explain the name switch from George to Alex, and though still not a decision I would make, I understand why they made it. Precisely because they have placed the PD world within the same universe, they didn't want two Georges with Wickham and Knightley. They felt they had used Wickham's first name so much that it might weigh on the name's connotation.

"Also, because The Devil Wears Prada is a great movie. Everyone should see it :)" YES!

And Tilney!! Always Tilney! Why is there even any discussion on the matter?

Hannah said...

Thank you! :)

So... they thought that viewers would hate Knightley because he has the same name as Wickham? :S That's really annoyed me! It's like they think that we're petty or something. It did make me laugh though when Emma had her rant about Caroline calling Knightley "Al" rather than "Alex". EMMA! ALEX ISN'T KNIGHTLEY'S REAL NAME EITHER!

I thought I'd hate The Devil Wears Prada but it's honestly one of my favourite movies. It's hilarious! And it has Anne Hathaway, Emily Blunt, Meryl Streep & Stanley Tucci! And those clothes! :D

Because not enough people have read Northanger Abbey I think :(

Hayden said...

I have to admit that I liked Emma approved better than the Lizzie Bennet Diaries (although I do admit that EA did start off a little weak) but that might be mostly because LBD really had too much language for me to really enjoy watching it. :(

Oh, and the whole Geroge/Alex thing-
I was upset too, but apparently the reason they did that was because they already had George Wickham *and* Georgiana Darcy, so they didn't want to keep using the same name over and over, especially if they did more crossovers (fingers crossed for EA season 2!)

And for the record, who WOULDN'T fall in love with Tilney? haha :D

Hannah said...

Hayden - Hi! Aw it's a shame that you didn't enjoy the LBD :( It's honestly my favourite P&P adaptation. I don't remember there being very much bad language in it but then everyone has different standards as to what constitutes bad language. A while ago I was really shocked when I learned that d*** and h*** are considered swear words in America. They aren't in Britain and you might come across them on my blog. Just a friendly warning.

Oh, I'm sure that they'll be some more episodes of EA at some point! :)

Yay! Another Henry Tilney fan! He's so awesome :D