This week, Emily realizes that it’s a bit silly that we haven’t already talked about the awesomeness that is The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, and she works to rectify that oversight.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a grad student in possession of a busy schedule must be in want of procrastination fodder. However much motivated the feelings or agenda-writing of such a student may be on her first starting off a Monday morning,
sometimes you’ve just gotta take a break and go watch silly things on the internet.
…Well anyway, you get the idea. Everyone needs a break from being productive all the time. But you can only watch 30 Rock for so long before you start expecting all of your co-workers to become absurdist caricatures of themselves. So this week — in honor of the start of the school semester and the many many syllabi that will ask students to wrap their heads around the witty gloriousness of Elizabeth Bennet, the perfidious dastardliness of Mr. Wickham, and the complexities of property inheritance among the gentry and nouveau-riche in the English entail system — I’m going to recommend that you enjoy some of your upcoming hard-won free time by watching The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.
Of course, that’s not to say that you should abandon your delightful autumnal afternoon plans of caramelizing apples and mulling cider and making your apartment smell gorgeous. But let’s take for granted that you’re going to take the time to get settled with your snack on a cozy fall day. What I’m suggesting is that, after you make said wonderful snack, you click over to Youtube and start watching The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.
So why should you watch The Lizzie Bennet Diaries instead of re-watching Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries or North and South or any of the other wonderful things that we’ve recommended to you in the last year or so?
1. It’s a really long adaptation that takes advantage of its serialization to really get deep into the story. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries is, as you probably guessed, an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. But this is a modern-day adaptation in which Lizzie Bennet, a 24-year-old grad student, vlogs about her life twice a week and posts her videos on the internet. (The in-story justification is that she’s doing some sort of project about web-based communication for a grad class.) In 100 two- to ten-minute episodes, Lizzie updates us about her life — as the events of Pride and Prejudice just happen to weave themselves around her. Because the story unfolds in approximately real time, we get to spend time with these characters, and we have time to explore their personalities, motivations, and flaws. (And, you know, their weird penchants for silly hats.)
2. The relationships between the Bennet sisters take center stage. When Lizzie tells the internet about her life week after week, we get to spend a lot of time with her and her sisters. The relationships between these women are absolutely the center of the show, and I’ve got to say that I love a story that recognizes that romance is awesome but that sister relationships are also fantastic, and interesting, and complex.
3. Really, the series becomes a show about relationships between women. Austen’s novel is certainly preoccupied by the networks of female friendships in nineteenth-century England, and The Lizzie Bennet Diaries has a ball placing its female leads front and center. Honestly, it takes 25 episodes for a male actor to show up on screen: this is very much a story about young women growing up, figuring out their friendships, and (eventually maybe) falling in love.
4. There’s Costume Theater! So, the premise of the show is that Lizzie’s making web video blogs in her bedroom that loosely chronicle her life. Her best friend and sisters show up, because they’d be hanging out with her — or barging in on her — anyway. But the creators of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries had to figure out how to actually tell an interesting story while preserving the premise of the series. And this is where Costume Theater comes in: Lizzie co-opts Charlotte and her sisters to reenact events that she wants to complain, giggle, or otherwise inform the internet about. So we see her reenactments of the infamously awkward first encounter between Darcy and Lizzie and of her also infamously awkward run-ins with Lady Catherine de Bourgh.
5. Costume Theater is hysterical. Because is there anything better than watching Charlotte and Jane playing exaggerated versions of Caroline Bingley and Mr. Darcy?
6. But it also ties in gorgeously with the themes of both Pride and Prejudice and The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. As Lizzie reenacts scenes — and dresses herself and her “costars” up in stereotypical “costumes” to code who they’re playing — we become very aware of just how much we’re seeing events through Lizzie’s point of view. The conceit of the entire plot revolves around first impressions and prejudices and the way that mistaken judgements can cloud your attitude towards others. And in Costume Theater, we get to see Lizzie’s attitudes about people dramatized. It highlights Austen’s fascination with how easy it is to narrativize other people into easy roles in your story instead of recognizing their complexities.
7. Characters get space to be more complex — even more so than in the source material. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries does FANTASTIC things with the character of Lydia. In the book, Lydia is a silly, boy-crazy, 16-year-old who runs off with a guy and never seems to gain any awareness of consequences for herself or others. That’s not exactly the Lydia of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. And to that extent, this marks one of the series’s most notable departures from the source material. It’s a gorgeously well-considered departure, and I think that it’s an absolutely fascinating read on Lydia in a modern context. I don’t want to spoil exactly how her arc falls out but, suffice to say, it awesomely parallels Lizzie’s own developing maturation. And it’s a beautifully sad and wonderful story.
8. On that note, Mary Kate Wiles is stunningly good as Lydia.
9. Actually, for that matter, I adore a great number of the core cast. Ashley Clements as Lizzie definitely has the most to do, and she carries it off fabulously with just the right amount of silliness.
10. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries is a really smart update of Pride and Prejudice. It works through the power dynamics and relationships at the heart of Austen’s novel and thinks through updating them. But it’s also silly and funny and enjoyable.
This has got to be one of the smartest adaptations of a classic novel that I’ve seen in a long time. Also, it’s super long and binge-able, thus making it perfect procrastination fodder.
So please — give yourself a well-earned break and start watching The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. The bite-sized episode lengths make it a perfect way to reward yourself for checking things off your to-do list. (Or justifying binge-ing lots at once.)
Or, if you’ve already watched The Lizzie Bennet Diaries more times than you can count, please enjoy the fabulousness that is honorary-patron-saint-of-TTLP Mallory Ortberg helping you figure out whether or not you are in a Jane Austen novel: