Looking for Alaska is a faithful adaptation of one of John Green’s most beloved young adult novels, which came out in 2005. The miniseries, set in the early aughts, is a nostalgic callback to The O.C. and other teen dramas of the period—not only by nature of the puka shell necklaces and lack of cell phones, but also by the fact that it takes its teenage main characters seriously. This aspect of nostalgia, though likely a draw for older fans of the novel, brings into question the relevance and necessity of the series in 2019.
Miles (played by Charlie Plummer) is an awkward, unpopular kid obsessed with famous last words and in search of a “great perhaps.” He meets a group of friends at his new school, including Chip “the Colonel” Martin (Denny Love) and the titular Alaska Young (Kristine Forseth), who introduce him to the culture of a boarding school that more closely resembles a summer camp.
Alaska is “not like other girls.” She has secrets, she’s quirky, she reads books, and she is utterly, effortlessly beautiful. At a quick glance, she seems like the typical manic pixie dream girl Green is frequently accused of bringing to fruition. However, as the series continues, it becomes clear that this framing of Alaska is the fault of Miles’s narration rather than the series itself. Although Miles sees Alaska as a way for him to find his “great perhaps,” the show emphasizes her agency over her own story.
While a refreshing deconstruction of the manic pixie dream girl trope, the series is far from perfect, falling into the traps of many self-important films and TV series made for teens. The dialogue of the main characters is in line with John Green’s original text—often wordy and pretentious and not at all how actual teenagers speak. The series has a tendency to state everything for the viewer outright, leaving little room for nuance and interpretation and often interrupting the flow of scenes. The plot dwindles in the middle of the series, often favoring character studies and development over an engaging narrative.
The show also seems to lack relevance in 2019, despite being delightfully nostalgic with its fashions, story beats, and killer soundtrack. All this makes sense though, considering the novel was published in 2005 and the fervor surrounding John Green as an author and online personality reached its peak in 2014. Though slightly modernized—Alaska wears high-rise jeans rather than historically accurate low-rise ones—the story seems stuck in the 2000s. Alaska’s feminism is often a cringe-inducing punchline, and Dr. Hyde is given a tragic queer storyline that is never referenced again once it is introduced, seemingly to tokenize queer identities.
So many teen dramas produced today rely heavily on cynicism or extreme plot twists to draw in their audiences, but Looking for Alaska takes each event that occurs in the characters’ lives as seriously as Riverdale’s murder mysteries or Euphoria’s glittery brand of teen drug addiction. However, 14 years after the novel’s publication, Looking for Alaska’s relevance can’t help but be questioned. Though mostly well-shot, written, and acted, the show feels like a hollow attempt at an adaptation that should have come out 10 years ago.