Last week, Jane Austen’s Pride And Prejudice celebrated the bicentennial of its first publication. In those 200 years, this satire of Regency-era society has been subject to dozens upon dozens of adaptations: lavish big-screen costume dramas, stage musicals, and a movie where Renee Zellweger falls down a bunch, to name a few. Its landing in the public domain has only inspired more frequently occurring takes on Austen’s tale of overcoming strong first impressions, which is how headstrong Elizabeth Bennet earned a Buffy Summers-like second life as a katana-wielding destroyer of the undead. Seth Grahame-Smith’s cute genre hybrid Pride And Prejudice And Zombies was the pop-lit sensation of 2009, but in true Night Of The Living Dead fashion, its charms were overwhelmed by the hordes of classic-lit-and-modern-horror mashups it inadvertently created.
Thankfully, a new effort has risen up to take Pride And Prejudice And Zombies’ place as the quintessentially 21st-century take on Austen’s novel: The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, a web series that tracks the story of Pride And Prejudice’s heroine through biweekly vlogs. It’s a central gimmick that directly connects the viewer to Lizzie and her expanding social circle: her sisters Jane and Lydia, best friend and editor Charlotte Lu, and the two handsome suitors toward whom the Bennets’ mother is constantly pushing her daughters, Bing Lee and William Darcy. As the series has unfolded over the course of 80-some episodes, the frantic editing and flood of exposition have fallen away to reveal a unique piece of interactive media that has a big heart and a lot of soul. It’s almost as if it’s working from the blueprint of a classic novel or something.
Keywords: digital rom-com, Cliffs Notes in vlog form, RIYL: Clueless
Where to start: The creators and writing staff of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries are deeply invested in filling out the world around Lizzie’s video missives, a remarkable achievement given that people actually follow the characters’ fake Twitter accounts, read Lydia’s Tumblr, and pay attention to multiple YouTube spin-offs. In turn, the center of this online universe truly started to shine as more characters crowded into frame. “Snobby Mr. Douchey - Ep: 6” introduces the Elizabeth-Mr. Darcy tension that drives so much of the source material (and the series it’s inspired), while also giving an early showcase to Mary Kate Wiles, whose Lydia is a bit much to take in the early goings, but eventually reveals a surprising amount of dramatic depth as the series goes on. (Just like in the book!) The episode is also a good primer on one of the series’ cleverer conceits: Introducing the story’s supporting players via “costume theater,” which builds a sense of unreliable narration into the piece when those characters eventually appear onscreen as themselves. It’s a fun way of working within the constraints of the format, while also giving star Ashley Clements a break from her motormouthed monologues to stretch her acting (and faux-bad-acting) muscles.
Where to watch: New episodes publish Mondays and Thursdays at 9 a.m. Eastern