Emma Approved, the follow-up to the smash hit The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, is, as you might have guessed, a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Emma.
Emma is a…um…I’m not sure exactly. Matchmaker/party planner/life coach? Is that even a real world job? Whatever she is, it works well with the story they have to tell. In the novel, Emma Woodhouse’s primary occupation is socializing with and entertaining the local gentry and her hobby is making matches for her friends and acquaintances. This Emma Woodhouse’s career fits in perfectly with those activities. Emma herself is well done, in my opinion. Her pep and exuberance definitely take some getting used to. I feel like Lizzie Bennet was someone you warmed to immediately while Emma is more of an acquired taste. The way she calls her close friend “Mr. Knightley” and routinely refers to James as “State Senator Elton” is a bit of a throwback but Emma’s formality is a way of tying the show back to its roots.
Unlike The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, the series doesn’t purport to be real life YouTube videos. Instead Emma is working on “documenting her greatness for when she receives her future award in lifestyle excellence.” It’s a stretch, okay, and the idea that Emma sets up cameras to spy on all her employees is borderline creepy (which Jane Fairfax thankfully calls her on).
Is it as good as the LBD? In most measures, no, no it is not. Selling a fake YouTube video as a real YouTube video is (apparently) a difficult challenge. It’s one the LBD cast rises to magnificently, but several members of the EA cast fall short. Mostly Harriet. Oh, Harriet. Not only is the actress less capable than I would have preferred, the script dumbs her down to such a degree we’re left wondering how she can tie her own shoelaces. When Martin talks to her about her computer’s memory, she thinks he means her memory in a joke that might have worked in the early nineties but certainly doesn’t work in a twenty-first century piece. I mean, the show features a forerunner of the Apple Watch but Harriet doesn’t know something so basic? How even? Speaking of less than stellar acting, James Elton also raises some worries. Most of the series is written with fairly stilted language (another callback to its source material) but the actor portraying James suffers with it more than most of the cast.
Other characters include Alex Knightley, Emma’s friend and business partner and Jane Fairfax, an acquaintance since childhood. I really like how Emma’s relationship with Jane Fairfax is shown. Emma is deeply jealous of Jane but unwilling to admit it, as in the book. It’s very humanizing. I think we all have that one friend or family member everyone else puts on a pedestal, one who we can never seem to live up to. That Emma doesn’t let her jealousy keep her from hiring Jane speaks volumes about the nature of their relationship. Competitive but not combative, far from the enmity between Emma and the Mrs. Elton to be. Speaking of, Holy Crossover Batman! The future Mrs. Elton is none other than Caroline Bingley of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries fame.
I also like what this adaptation did with Maddy Bates. Her character is supposed to be annoying but the way the showed her was more exuberance and enthusiasm. You can see how it could be annoying for Emma, but at the same time you can see Maddy’s good heart and kindness. I will say that the whole Maddy Bates drama really loses something by having Emma’s insult to Maddy take place offscreen. It’s one of the dramatic high points of the novel and is really important for both Emma’s character development and Emma’s relationship with Mr. Knightley. Hearing about it after the fact really diminishes its impact.
The ending is a little mixed for me. Martin and Harriet’s ride off into the sunset is sweet but so cheesy. Emma and Alex, on the other hand… My heart just melts every time any Emma Woodhouse realizes she is in love with Mr. Knightley. Such a genuine romantic moment. And the way, in this version, he brings her flowers and they kiss and it’s all just so perfect. I’m really restraining myself here because the episode that happens makes my dumb hopeless romantic heart burst.
three out of four origami cranes