‘Looking for Alaska’ does try to seek a Great Perhaps

Sunday, October 20, 2019 - 4:40pm

NOSELL

Hulu

If you were a teenager between 2010 and 2016, you’ve probably been caught with the smoky cover of John Green’s “Looking for Alaska” propped open on your lap. It’s the now-classic tale of the skinny loner at a new school who gets mesmerized by the mystifying girl with the strange name, only to have his friend group rocked by tragedy. The book is filled with cigarettes, books, sexual promiscuity and pranks. It’s halved in two sections — “Before” and “After” — centered around the tragedy. Fortunately, all of this finds its way into this aesthetically-polished adaptation for television.

Miles Halter (Charlie Plummer, “Granite Flats”) knows famous peoples’ last words. Anyone could quiz him on them. But no one would because he’s a bit of a loner. So, he leaves Orlando, Florida for Culver Creek, a boarding school in Alabama, trading beaches for sweat and oak trees, so that he can “seek a Great Perhaps,” in the final words of François Rabelais. There, his roommate — The Colonel (Denny Love, “Lucifer”) — shows him the ropes of Culver Creek. This brings him to Alaska Young (Kristine Froseth, “Sierra Burgess Is a Loser”), the troubled yet alluring girl with a room full of books and a knack for trouble. 

The first episode follows the Colonel instructing Miles (dubbed “Pudge,” for his slim physique) how to smoke. But when Alaska’s roommate gets kicked out for drinking, smoking and “genital contact,” drinking and smoking, the Weekday Warriors — a collection of rich students who go home on the weekends — think someone ratted on her and her boyfriend, and they mean to make them pay. So they go after Pudge.

“Looking for Alaska” takes place in 2005, but it certainly doesn’t feel like 2005. Everything about the show — from what the kids are wearing to the music featured — feels very modern. At first, this felt like a bad thing. It felt wrong, lacking the grungy, sweatiness of puberty that the novel so eloquently utilized to its advantage. It almost felt fake, too polished and false for the kind of emotions the novel induced. Hulu’s “Looking for Alaska” did not feel like the one I grew up adoring, then growing out of, then loathing.

Realizing this made me understand that the show wasn’t meant to feel like the “Looking for Alaska” that helped usher me through adolescence. The unfortunate fact of adulthood is very much upon me. If the same is true of you, then you, with the dog-eared, creased-spined copy tucked discreetly in the back of your bookcase, will also not see yourself in any of the main troublemakers of Hulu’s version.

But after coming to terms with my youth’s mortality, it became evident that “Looking for Alaska” serves much the same purpose for modern disgruntled teenagers that it did for the ones of yesterday. For all its sleekness and freshness, “Looking for Alaska” does resemble its source material in many ways. It is still the same story with the same message, stylized in its “Before” and “After” chapters. It also suffers from the same pretentiousness that plagued the novel. Ultimately, whether or not “Looking for Alaska” is good depends purely on where you’re at in life. If you’re older than the novel’s target audience, the show will fall flat. But if the novel currently has you torn to pieces, the show will be a great supplement.