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Series / Looking for Alaska

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Looking for Alaska (2019) is an American teen drama television miniseries created by Josh Schwartz, based on the 2005 novel of the same name by John Green. The series premiered on Hulu on October 18, 2019, starring an Ensemble Cast that features Charlie Plummer, Kristine Froseth (of Sierra Burgess is a Loser and The Society fame), Denny Love, Jay Lee, and Ron Cephas Jones.

The story follows Miles “Pudge” Halter (Plummer), a boy enamored with famous last words. Driven by a desire to understand what poet Francois Rabelais meant in referring to a “Great Perhaps” right before his death, he enrolls in Culver Creek Boarding School, his father’s alma mater. His new friends — Chip “the Colonel” Martin (Love), Alaska Young (Froseth), and Takumi Hikohito (Lee) — rapidly introduce him to the excitement and companionship he craves. Their problems, however, soon rise to the surface.

After a film adaptation was repeatedly delayed for over a decade from reasons including executive disinterest and tension between Green and the studio, Hulu finalized a deal with Schwartz and Savage and instead ordered an eight-episode limited series adaptation of the novel.

Tropes found in this series:

  • 20 Minutes into the Past: Set circa 2005 (the year the book was published).
  • Actually Pretty Funny: Dr. Hyde is shown cracking up at the stripper prank. Later, it's revealed that even the Eagle found it hilarious, even though he doesn't want anything like it to happen ever again.
  • Adaptational Curves: Inverted. Pudge lovingly devotes a few paragraphs to praising Alaska’s curves in the book. Here, she’s more of the lanky type, as fashion models like Froseth usually are.
  • Adaptation Dye-Job: Alaska was described as having mahogany brown hair, which is a darker reddish brown hue than the TV Alaska’s (medium brown with a blondish undertone). Likewise, Lara is a brunette in the book but blonde in the show; Sara is blonde in the book yet a brunette in the show.
  • Adaptation Expansion: When turning a 200-ish page book into a miniseries of eight hour-long episodes, this is inevitable. The book is narrated exclusively from Pudge’s point of view, and the show opens up the world significantly, giving backstory to more minor characters like the Eagle, Sara, and Dr. Hyde. There are also scenes from the perspectives of supporting characters that Pudge isn’t even present for: for example, a good chunk of episode 4 is told through the Colonel’s eyes as he goes home for Thanksgiving.
  • Adaptation Personality Change: Lara is a lot more headstrong and envious than she is in the novel, where she comes across mostly as a wide-eyed blank slate of a sweetheart.
  • Adaptational Sexuality:
    • The religion teacher Dr. Hyde gets more of a backstory, including that he was in a relationship with a man named Diego who died of AIDS.
    • Culver Creek's dean Mr. Starnes (aka the Eagle), who’s a relatively asexual authority figure and gets little backstory in the book, starts a relationship with the French teacher Madame O'Malley toward the end of the series.
  • Ambiguous Situation: By far the show's most mysterious scene (and not present in the book at all) occurs during the truth-or-dare game in episode 6, when we suddenly cut to a Flash Forward to 2016, featuring Alaska as a bookstore owner, preparing a book-signing event that will feature Miles, now an author - apparently their responses to the question "Where do you see yourself in ten years." This is the sole fully-acted "fantasy" sequence in the entire show, and Alaska's death would seem to contradict the idea that it's an actual Flash Forward, leaving it up to the viewer to decide whether it's simply an unusual speculative sequence, a Red Herring thrown in to keep audiences familiar with the book guessing, or a legitimate indication that Alaska, consummate trickster that she is, has tricked death itself and will one day be reunited with Miles.
  • Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: Sara and Chip’s first moment falling under this category is, unfortunately, cut short by them arguing once again. But the hubbub caused by Chip setting off the fire alarm at the country club ball surprisingly culminates in Sara truly softening for a genuine scene of affection. They break up not long after, but it’s something.
  • Big Guy, Little Guy: Scrawny, tall Pudge with the “long-ass chicken legs” and the Colonel become best friends.
  • Book Ends: A clip of Alaska from some of the opening shots of the series is reused in the final moments, because Pudge is remembering her after her death.
  • Both Sides Have a Point: in the face-off between The Colonel and Starnes in Episode 6 when The Colonel is threatened with expulsion, he protests that the Weekday Warriors and their rich parents want to leave him holding the bag for the entire prank war because they are racist. Starnes agrees that that's entirely possible, but if it is true, The Colonel still legitimately did something bad and in doing so gave the Warriors exactly what they wanted. It's one of the few moments in which Starnes manages to come off as a legitimately effective authority figure.
  • Destructive Romance: The Colonel and Sara. He says that he’s a bad boyfriend and she’s a bad girlfriend, so they deserve each other. Episode 2 lets the audience see they do love each other, but it’s also truly a messed-up relationship for both of them.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: The Weekday Warriors breach Culver Creek tradition of ultimately harmless first-day pranking and put Pudge’s life in actual peril. Why? Because they think he’s friends with Chip, whom they suspect to be the rat that got their classmates expelled.
  • Downer Beginning: A fatal car crash occurs in the opening sequence. Most of the rest of the series shows the events leading up to it.
  • Foregone Conclusion: The main group of friends will soon be overtaken by grief and mourning. The opening sequence is the aftermath of a car crash. Although the fact that Alaska is the main character who dies isn’t explicitly shown, presumably to maintain the mystery for those who haven’t read the book or anything.
  • Foreshadowing: Pudge remarks that he’s happy the Weekday Warriors didn’t ask him to say the last words of a former president like Franklin Pierce; apparently, no one knows his last words, as he died alone.
  • Hidden Depths: The Eagle, who gets a much more detailed backstory in the show, has only been the dean of Culver Creek for two years. His dedication to the job not only ended his marriage, but he struggles after Alaska's death as much as any of the students, because it's his job to keep 200 rowdy teenagers safe and he was unable to do that for her.
  • Honor Before Reason: As detailed in Serious Business down below. Whatever happens, keep your mouth shut about things that have nothing to do with the faculty. Dolores, Chip’s mother, refers to it as a juvenile code of honor.
  • Informed Attribute: Chip repeatedly calls Longwell extremely pale, even though he's noticeably tanned next to Chip's own girlfriend (and later Longwell's girlfriend) Sara, who is white like Longwell and even paler.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: The genuinely broken, unhappy Alaska is a Deconstruction of the trope, as she is in the novel.
  • The Nicknamer: Chip, better-known as The Colonel.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: The Colonel gives Miles the nickname “Pudge,” because he’s skinny.
  • Privileged Rival: The Weekday Warriors, especially their ringleader Longwell.
    Longwell: I’ll have you know I worked my ass off this summer, valeted at the country club, and caddied. No golf cart either.
    Chip: [to Longwell] Wow. You know, you might be the only person who could spend all summer in the sun and somehow end up whiter. Is it possible to be 150% Caucasian?
  • Promoted to Love Interest:
    • Kind of. As the novel is purely from Miles’ POV, it’s a lot more difficult to determine whether Alaska really had any sort of romantic attachment to him. Miles thinks she does, but Chip (and, less directly, his other mourning friends like Lara) snap him out of this obsessive infatuation. Chip, for one, holds the belief that she never liked Miles in the manner that he wants her to, and merely fooled around with him because she cheats on all her boyfriends at some point; that’s just what she does. Alaska notes that Pudge is physically attractive in the novel, but also turns Pudge away when he gets too comfortable, in ways that could very easily read as her simply not reciprocating his feelings. In the TV show, however, we’re treated to some shots of Alaska seemingly pining for Pudge, and we clearly see her appreciation for him more than we do in the novel. This adaptation supports the notion that she may have been truly attracted to Pudge more than the source material.
    • Less ambiguous examples are Mr. Starnes and Madame O'Malley, and, following Alaska's death, Takumi and Lara.
  • Race Lift: Of sorts. Chip’s race was never specified in the novel, but a lot of readers just assumed he was white. Now that he’s African-American, however, it adds another dimension to Longwell’s privileged douchiness. It also makes the scene where his very white, rich girlfriend Sara’s father tells him that he’ll never fit in Sara’s world all the more horrid. Chip’s expulsion is also surrounded by racism, as well as classism.
  • Red Herring: A very unusual example. Episode 6, the series' climax, sets up a Not His Sled twist by focusing mainly on the adaptation-exclusive subplot of The Colonel being threatened with expulsion, as if to persuade the viewer that this, and not Alaska's death, will be the story's big tragedy. To drive it home, there's even a mysterious Flash Forward sequence in the episode showing a living adult Alaska as a bookseller and Miles as a writer. Then, in the last few minutes, we switch focus back to Miles and Alaska, and the inevitable occurs.
  • Riddle for the Ages: Dr. Hyde states that "all the greatest questions have no answers," and accordingly, this trope is a major theme. All the riddles from the book are present, with the addition of:
    • Was Jake actually contemplating leaving Alaska for Fiona, or was Alaska just as paranoid about her as Miles was about Jake?
    • Did Miles and Alaska have sex in Episode 6? This is more of a riddle than in the book, where the answer is explicitly "no."
    • From the same episode, what on Earth was up with that enigmatic Flash Forward sequence showing Alaska still alive in 2016? Just a drunken fantasy, or something else?
    • On a lighter note, how is it possible to lose your virginity twice, as Takumi claims he did, and then refuses to answer any requests for clarification?
  • Satellite Love Interest: Whereas the Eagle gets more fleshed out, there isn't a lot shown to Madame O'Malley beyond being lovely and sweet and the Eagle's girlfriend.
  • Serious Business: Whatever happens, don’t rat, not even against your enemies. Otherwise, you’ll be ostracized by everyone, including your friends.
  • Shorter Means Smarter: Chip is noted to be a short guy, and is also the smartest among a group of generally smart kids.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Possibly - but by absolutely no means certainly - Alaska; it all depends on how the viewer interprets the Flash Forward sequence in Episode 6. Was it just a fantasy, or did the queen of staying out of trouble somehow dodge death itself?
  • The Stool Pigeon: A Berserk Button of Culver Creek students. Don’t be that person!
  • Straw Feminist: Downplayed. Alaska’s feminist statements are played out rather comically, but only because of how a bit discordant or inordinate they sometimes sound. (Justified — she’s a teenager.) Her feminism is treated as a good thing, all things considered, and is honored after her death.
  • Token Minority: The Weekday Warriors are mostly a concentrated mass of rich white privilege. But they do have Kevin, played by a mixed-race Chinese-American actor.
  • Upper-Class Twit: The Weekday Warriors, a gaggle of obnoxious rich kids. Longwell and co. are of the Jerk Jock variety.
  • When He Smiles: The main gang are surprised when the Eagle lets out a laugh, an unfamiliar sound.