When I first heard that John Green’s emotionally profound award-winning debut novel Looking For Alaska was going to become a miniseries on Hulu, I wasn’t that optimistic about it. I thought it might be interesting to see 2005 YA put to 2019 television, but didn’t expect much beyond that. Well, after watching all eight hour-long episodes, I can definitely say that Looking For Alaska is…Look, I don’t like it, okay? I didn’t like the book when I first read it, and the series does a fantastic job of reminding me of the book, and how much I don’t like it, and how I think John Green is one of the most overrated YA authors ever, and…yeah, I have a lot of thoughts about this.
Here’s all you need to know about the story of looking for Alaska: Boy reads books. Boy goes to boarding school because of book. Boy meets cool group of friends. Boy meets quirky cute girl, who is also into books(though not the same kind as boy) Boy falls in love with quirky cute girl. Pranks, smoking and drinking, hatred of snitches, quirky cute girl [REDACTED} two-thirds through, wow deep philosophical questions about life and death bro, the end. I think that pretty much sums it up.
I watched the first two episodes of the show thinking that the story might actually become better in my eyes, that the adaptation to screen might actually make me get why so many people love it and made them cry when they were in middle school, but that just didn’t happen. I still thought Miles was the most generic, milquetoast character ever written, and I still thought Alaska was made out to be this mysterious, brooding layer-cake of a teenage girl when in reality she’s just a kiddie pool that’s barely a foot deep. Why am I supposed to feel sad for her again? Why am I supposed to care about Miles finding his stupid “Great Perhaps”, or that the dean of the school is newly divorced, or the whole conflict between the weekday-warriors and the scholarship kids, or that Lara is Romanian and has an accent. Why am I supposed to care about any of it?
I guess there are some positives, but they only come from scenes exclusive to the series. The philosophy professor having a backstory is cool, but it so obviously feels like a way to make the story less dated than it already is. The colonel’s character is a bit more fleshed out, and there’s actually a decent message about race and class during the scene with his girlfriend Sara’s Debutante ball. There’s a really cool indie soundtrack that is way better than the show deserves, filled with early aught bands like The Killers and Bloc Party. It became apparent to me about midway through that I have a problem with Looking For Alaska as a story, and nothing short of a fundamental rewrite will ever make me enjoy it more than a light 6.
The second half of the series is where I completely lost any interest I had in it being good. So much of it felt like petty teen drama to me, and as I’ve said in previous posts, I love teen drama (when it’s done well) The pranks between Miles’ group of outcasts and the weekday-warriors were so stupid and boring, and there’s this whole thing about Alaska being a rat, which is the absolute worst thing to be at Culver Creek, and how Miles and the colonel don’t wan’t to be friends with her, and I’m sitting here like, what did the weekday warriors do that was so horrible in the first place? I mean, they insult the kids on scholarship sometimes, and they got some of Alaska’s precious books wet (which she even says were mostly from garage sales), and that’s enough to warrant illegally tampering with their college transcripts? I was so confused when the colonel was trying to defend the prank to the eagle, calling it a harmless crime. He literally wanted to ruin their chance at attending college, and the eagle kindly informed him that it was illegal, yet he still wanted to fight the charge. Then there’s Alaska’s super urgent reason behind why she needs to stay at Culver Creek: her dad is mean to her and blames her for her mom dying. Okay, couldn’t the book or the series at least show me an example of her dad being abusive, so that it’s literally not a one-line explanation?
The supporting characters in the group, Takumi and Lara, don’t really do anything. Takumi’s just there to show off 2000’s fashion, and Lara gives Miles a face to suck on before he realizes that, gasp, he does indeed love Alaska. And forgive me if I’m being a little over-dramatic here, but HOW does Miles, a sixteen year old boy in 2005 with access to the internet, not know what a damn blowjob is? I seriously can’t wrap my head around it. He watched porn with Alaska, presumably knows about sex, and you’re telling me he just hasn’t seen the act before? Please, I need to know if John Green also didn’t know what a blowjob was when he was sixteen, because that scene was physically painful to watch.
Alaska’s death in the series was even more overblown and dramatic than in the book, and it didn’t make me feel anything for her, even with the added context surrounding her last moments. People are mad, people are sad, questions remain unanswered, and it ends in the same way the book did: with a pointless philosophical monologue about the afterlife and the beauty of ambiguity, and here’s John Green to pick up his literary achievement award.
I’d like to think of the “Great Perhaps” as the chance the story could’ve actually been good, which is very slim under John Green’s hand. I don’t want to rag on him too much, because he’s a pretty cool YouTube personality, and he has improved as a writer (Turtles All The Way Down is legit a good book.) But watching Looking For Alaska reminded me of how much YA has changed since 2005. It’s gotten so much better, and we don’t need to settle for sub-par stories that pretend to be deep and complex when there are actual stories a thousand times deeper than a girl smoking cigarettes because she wants to “die quicker”. We have authors like Angie Thomas, Becky Albertali, and Adam Silvera that make fun and interesting books about real-world issues that don’t make you want to reel your head back and cringe from reading. I’m sure Looking for Alaska was groundbreaking for 2005, but it came out at a time when one of the most popular YA books was The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (for real, the movie adaption is miles better than this series.) It may have been a story people needed then, but it’s not the story people need now. There are people who enjoy Looking For Alaska way more than me, and that’s perfectly fine, but I just can’t vibe with it.
I tried looking up some famous last words as a kind of ironic way to end the post, so here’s the best one I found. The last words of convicted murderer Thomas J. Grasso were used to complain about his last meal. he said, “I did not get my Spaghetti-O’s; I got spaghetti. I want the press to know this.” Likewise with this series, I did not get what I was looking for. But at least I know where Alaska is, because she’s dead.