What could be better than reading a book? Basically nothing. But there may occasionally come a time when you go through a reading slump, where nothing you pick up gives you that reading excitement spark, for whatever reason.
During my reading slumps, there are a few things I like to do that are “book-adjacent,” or in other words, things that are not actually reading a book, but still make me feel like I’m getting bookish content, which often leads to my eventually picking up a book I’m excited to read again!
One of those things is to watch a literary webseries, and there are so many to choose from! Many are modern adaptations of classic novels or other literature, and others simply have sort of a bookish flavor. Here are my seven top five favorites:
1. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries
The one that started it all.
The premise of this 2012 Emmy-winning webseries was really clever: what if Pride & Prejudice was retold in a modern-day setting, a la Clueless, but in the form of Lizzie Bennet’s weekly video blog?
Its conceit is clever, but it does have its limitations; how, for example, did the most dramatic story points just happen to happen right in the 10-minute window in which Lizzie is filming her weekly video?
The way certain events unfold can seem a bit contrived, I admit. But this series is so funny, and when you get swept up in the storytelling, you don’t notice those flaws so much. Plus, points for trying to bring in some racial diversity!
(One weird thing, though: Lizzie and Charlotte say their mothers met at a book club that was reading Sense & Sensibility, so Jane Austen exists in this universe, obviously, but does that mean Pride & Prejudice also exists? And if so, wouldn’t Lizzie and the gang start noticing how similar their lives and names were to the book? Or maybe LBD is in some alternate universe where Jane Austen exists, but she never wrote P&P for some reason? I guess we’ll never know.)
2. The Cate Morland Chronicles
Northanger Abbey is my favorite Jane Austen novel (and probably my favorite novel, if I had to choose), so of course I was excited to discover this webseries adaptation.
Cate Morland is the ultimate pop culture geek/fangirl, in a very believable modern interpretation of Catherine’s obsession with Gothic novels; she goes to Comic Con, she argues with Henry Tilney about The Force Awakens, and she runs the premiere fan blog for an obscure, decade-old TV series called The Mysteries of Udolpho (which you’ll recognize if you’ve read the original novel, or are familiar with the Gothic writer Ann Radcliffe).
The series conceit is similar to LBD (and really every adaptation series on this list–there are only so many ways you can explain why the modernized heroine of a classic novel is talking to a camera) in that it unfolds as Cate’s vlog that she’s started to go along with her popular Udopho blog.
This one might actually be my favorite of all the series on this list, not just because Northanger Abbey is my fave, but also because all the performances are somehow both earnest and lighthearted. You really get the sense that the actors and production staff just had so much fun making this. Highly recommend.
3. Emma Approved
You know I couldn’t do this list without referencing at least three Jane Austen novels. Emma Approved was produced by the same team as The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, and while I enjoy it, I don’t think the conceit works quite as well this time.
Emma Woodhouse is a “lifestyle coach” who runs a consulting business (think Goop, which is run by Gwenyth Paltrow, who played Emma in the 1996 film… I wonder if that was intentional?) with friend-of-the-family Alex Knightley. The story kicks off when Emma hires a new assistant, Harriet.
Like I mentioned, I don’t feel like the conceit for the vlog format works as well in this instance. Emma claims that she is filming herself to “document her greatness” or something like that; she’s not intending to put the videos online at all. It just doesn’t quite work for me.
But aside from that, there is a lot to like about Emma Approved. I think the acting in this one is actually a bit better than that in LBD, there’s a lot of humor, and the actors are all very likable. If you start this one, though, it will probably make you want to watch Clueless.
4. The Autobiography of Jane Eyre
This series, in keeping with its source material, is a little darker in tone and not as humorous as the Austen-inspired series discussed above.
It’s also a little more “artsy” or avant garde, with some experimental/student film-esque elements–which makes sense, as in this iteration Jane Eyre is an aspiring photographer and filmmaker (as a nod to her drawing talents in the original novel, no doubt). Of all the series on this list, AoJA by far has the best acting, as well.
This is a Canadian series, and it takes place around the Vancouver, BC area. There’s a rare lighthearted sequence in which Jane and Mr. Rochester (for whose daughter Jane is a live-in tutor) go on a day trip to the Granville Island Farmers’ Market. It was a very “Hey, I’ve been there!” moment.
5. Classic Alice
This series is not an adaptation of any one novel, but it’s a sort-of adaptation of many classic works.
Alice is a college student majoring in English (hey, relatable!) who decides to live her life according to classic literature, choosing one work each month for inspiration, and documenting everything via her vlog.
Of course, things don’t quite go the way Alice or her friends expect them to. She eventually finds that living your life as if you’re in a story means that you’re often missing out on real life (a lesson Hamlet would have done well to learn, amirite?).
This series was so popular that after its initial run it came back for a second season, but I don’t feel like Season 2 was quite as enjoyable or believable. It had the same premise as the first season, but I felt like that premise had already run its course. I still watched all the way to the end, though, so what can I say?
6. Black Girl in a Big Dress
This one isn’t strictly literary, but I think if you like literary things you will like this. The series follows a woman living in Los Angeles who is in love with the Victorian era and attends reenactment events, while balancing the normal struggles of a modern single black woman.
Adrienne seems like a kindred spirit to me: she feels as though she was born in the wrong era and longs to escape into another time, of manners and elegance, and if beautiful, puffy-skirted ballgowns and lace gloves come along with that past era, then so be it.
This is the series from which I learned the term “trollop shaming” and the idea that a gavotte is an inherently more romantic dance than a polonaise. Be forewarned, though, this series is addictive, and we are STILL waiting for season 2!
7. Edgar Allan Poe’s Invite Only Casual Dinner Party/Gala for Friends Potluck
What if Clue, but with authors? And comedy?
That’s the concept here. Edgar and his ghost roommate Lenore host a Murder Mystery Dinner Party for some very literary guests, like Charlotte Bronte, H. G. Wells, and Ernest Hemingway. But then the murders turn out to be real!
Also, there’s a fun cameo from Jim O’Heir (who played Jerry/Gary/Larry/Terry on Parks and Rec).
Also definitely watch this:
And this. Make sure you watch to the end,
Have you watched any of these literary webseries? Or any that I haven’t named here? Which are your favorites?
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