Pop Culture Princess

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Friday, April 11, 2014

Why I approve of Emma Approved

Following up a pop culture success,whether it be film,book or TV, can be a rather sticky wicket to begin with but when you have at least two out of those three platforms to tackle(along with social media), that challenge becomes as daunting as any midair rescue attempted by a superhero.

For many Jane Austen fans, Emma Woodhouse is more of an antihero,as her likability factor can be troublesome as even her creator once mentioned. Yet, plenty of people were thrilled to hear that the folks behind the highly popular as well as Emmy award winning Lizzie Bennet Diaries were going to bring to online life Austen's Emma,considered to be one of the key books of her literary career.

 Emma Approved turns this classic heroine into a modern day matchmaker/life coach,who runs her own agency with the help of brother-in-law/business partner Alex Knightley. Emma films her workaday world in a pseudo-documentary style(ala The Office), with a Twitter account and regular blog that details her fashion choices and other dilemmas.

 The plot lines have followed the book in a more modernized tone,with certain characters only being mentioned yet present off screen and others such as eager protege Harriet Smith(who is Emma's executive assistant) having their own video channels. Now, some have expressed doubts about the quality of this series as opposed to the LBD but such comparisons,in my opinion, do not take into account the differences between the source materials.

 For one thing, Emma Woodhouse is more of an independent heroine in some respects than Lizzie Bennet; as the adored younger daughter of a wealthy yet indulgent father,Emma in her own words "neither lacks fortune or consequence" in regards to her future and not being weighed down by having to pursue a husband for the sake of her family's future, she is more free to plan her own destiny.

 Of course, in Austen's time even Emma had certain restrictions on her decorum and opportunities but if she did find herself in the present, starting up her own company that would allow her free reign to do what she loves best(meddling in the lives of others) would be an instant go-to as well as a mega sized stadium for her ego :

Now, I won't deny that EA has had a few story telling bumps along the way(that section with her sister Izzy did stretch out a bit longer than necessary) but on the whole, this series has it's own unique blend of charm and wit that is just as appealing as the LBD was.

For one, having Alex Knightley as a constant presence is wonderful as this version has given him much more of a playful side than most of the past Knightleys and his chemistry with Emma is spot on. Both actors play off each other well and their odd couple energy is reminiscent of classic screwball comedies:

Also, EA has shown that it can handle the serious dramatic turns of the story such as the confused love triangle section where Emma sincerely believes that she is making love happen for Harriet and new client Senator Elton(nice upgrade for that character!) but all along, Elton has his eyes on Emma as his romantic prize.

This confrontation between Emma and Elton is one of the high points in the plot as it not only exposes the phoniness of his character but forces the heroine to face the fact that not all of her plans are perfect,especially when other people are involved. It does take time for Emma to learn this during the course of the novel but this first step is crucial and it was taken well:

 I know that many fans out there have been champing at the bit to see more of the supporting players of Highbury in this production and the wait has definitely been worth it as Miss Maddy Bates, the lovable chatterbox that looks after her mother, is now part of the scene.

The engaging quirks of the character(who make jams with flavors that would daunt the judges on Chopped) are nicely done,plus making her a financial adviser brings her right into Emma's little corporate corner.

 And yes, her niece Jane Fairfax has been much talked about but still a no-show( she'll be here, I'm sure since Frank Churchill has already made his presence known), however Maddy Bates is a welcome sight for diehard Emma fans to see and hear:

We've also had a LBD boost recently by introducing Caroline Lee as the newly engaged and soon to be Mrs. Elton( crossovers have been done here before,as Gigi Darcy was a major player in the summer series Sanditon). Caroline's catty ways make her an ideal Mrs. Elton,not to mention a budding bridezilla.

Finally, for the tender heart of this tale, we turn to Harriet. Her sweet nature and naivety are blended with believability without making the character appear weak minded. In fact, she's proven to be quite capable in more than one arena and her music club( a suitable switch from the riddles that the original character collected) adds a fun musical touch to the proceedings.

Now, I must confess something-Emma is my least favorite Austen novel(in fact, Emma Woodhouse would be fourth on my list of favorite JA leading ladies) for I have found her to be difficult to like or relate to, being more of a mild mannered Anne Eliot/Elinor Dashwood nature.

 However, by reading the book several times as well as watching a good number of the film adaptations(my personal picks are the Kate Beckinsale BBC version and Clueless), Miss Woodhouse has grown on me and I can appreciate her emotional growth and development as the story reaches it's conclusion.

I think that a new generation of readers and viewers will be able to do the same upon watching Emma Approved and while it may not be picture perfect, maybe it can be just as engaging as LBD was for everyone if they just give it a chance to shine on it's own terms:

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