Hulu’s ‘Looking for Alaska’ expands on the novel but stays loyal to the story

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After years of waiting, Looking for Alaska has finally been adapted to screen! Here’s our review of the limited series.

Fans of John Green’s famous novel have waited for years to see the book come to life, with many ups and downs along the way. And now, it’s here!

Hulu’s limited series adapts the book to eight episodes, starring Charlie Plummer as Miles, Kristine Froseth as Alaska, Denny Love as Chip, Sofia Vassilieva as Lara and Jay Lee as Takumi. The show, like the novel, follows Miles Halter, a teenager with a passion for memorizing people’s last words, as he moves to a boarding school in Alabama. There, he meets a unique group of friends, and among them Alaska: a fiery, funny, troubled girl whose actions change his life and his mindset forever.

‘Looking For Alaska’ on Hulu review

The show makes a point of being as loyal to the book as possible, while also shaping the story in such a way that it fits the eight-episode format. Worried that your favorite quotes won’t make it into the series? Don’t worry, they’re all there. So is Alaska’s electric blue nail polish, and Takumi’s fox hat. It’s this commitment to the heart of the book that makes it a wonderful experience for Green’s fans and for newcomers.

However, in an era where most teenage TV is all bright colors and experimental cinematography (see: Euphoria, Riverdale or any of the Marvel shows), Looking for Alaska does feel a little washed-out. The most memorable color that comes to mind is beige. That may be due to Culver Creek being very carefully designed to look exactly like John Green’s own boarding school, and real schools aren’t particularly focused on looking dramatic. There are no otherworldly displays of nature, although there are some beautiful shots of the lake, the river and the forest — because it is, after all, a school… one that feels a lot more realistic than many high schools I’ve seen on screen.

Overall, the show shifts away a little from Miles and give us more insight into Alaska and the Colonel’s lives, a fact made obvious by filming choices. Looking for Alaska, especially in the first few episodes, prefers wide shots to more intimate ones, which removes some of the focus from Mile’s internal journey and provides a more objective view of events.

That distance can be a bit confusing at first, especially since the dialogue is true to the books almost word-for-word. The dialogue, of course, is both the greatest strength and the greatest weakness of Green’s novels, as the characters’ witty, wise statements sometimes don’t sound like something anyone would say out loud, but are also wonderfully memorable. The films The Fault in Our Stars and Paper Towns proved that good cinematography can fix dialogue awkwardness, but unfortunately Looking for Alaska doesn’t really have under its sleeve. The dialogue in the show is powerful. It’s also a little strange.

Seeing Alaska in scenes where Miles is not present removes much of the mystery that surrounds her in the book. Without the mystery, Alaska is no longer a manic pixie dream girl — just a girl you pity, and sometimes dislike, but can’t help loving anyway. Because of this, Miles’ journey to discover Alaska doesn’t quite come across in the same way: we see how blind his actions are but aren’t confronted with our own assumptions of who she is. Because we’ve already seen who she is, we aren’t put in a position where we have to learn to think of her complexly.

While at first this jarred me a bit, seeing as that conflict is the crux of the novel, I’m actually very happy with this choice. Maybe the manic pixie dream girl phenomenon isn’t as easily explored on screen, and maybe it’s time we gave Alaska a more honest story than the one Miles tells of her.

Both the Colonel and Alaska have much more significant character arcs in the show, which gives the series the opportunity to explore themes like privilege, race, trauma and friendship, adding to the overall impact of the series in a way the novel could not. The Colonel’s story in particular is gorgeously crafted, in great part thanks to Denny Love’s marvelous depiction of a character that is just as complex, frustrating and lovable as Alaska. We may love Miles, but it’s the Colonel who has the more fascinating journey in Looking for Alaska.

Which brings me to the incredible cast. Fans, you will not be disappointed! Plummer brings Miles “Pudge” to awkward, lanky life with a performance that is both terribly relatable and extremely emotional. Prepare to fall in love with Lee’s very attractive Takumi, and want to protect Vassilieva’s Lara at all costs!

I already said that Love is amazing as the Coronel, but I can’t stress that enough. He’s the real star of the show. Froseth, meanwhile, proves herself worthy of her role as Alaska. While it’s hard to live up to fans’ mental image of what Alaska looks like, Froseth absolutely glows in character — both in the happy moments and in the terribly tragic ones.
And there are some surprisingly moving roles, too: Timothy Simons as the Eagle (whom I did not expect to fall in love with, but oh my god he’s my favorite) and Ron Cephas Jones as Dr. Hyde (whose story made me cry every single time anyone referenced it.) Both their stories are significantly expanded and bring wonderful depth to the show.

Overall, Looking for Alaska is pretty much any book fan’s dream adaptation. It’s long enough to properly showcase all the best parts of the book, while also widening a few storylines of its own. It’s moving and thought-provoking… and above all, it has John Green written all over it. Which is as it should be.

Looking for Alaska will stream on Hulu starting October 18. We’ll cover each episode here on Hypable, and walk you through all the book-to-screen changes to decide what worked, what didn’t, and how much we love the finished product.

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