This week’s web crush is the just-concluded webseries Emma Approved. Brought to you by Pemberley Digital, the creators of the wonderful Lizzie Bennet Diaries, Emma Approved is an excellent modern adaptation webseries of Jane Austen’s Emma.
A few slight spoilers for the webseries below.
Emma Woodhouse is a businesswoman, professional matchmaker, life coach and anything else you need to help you make your life better. Alex Knightley is her friend and business partner who is constantly concerned about keeping the business afloat. Harriet Smith is her assistant. The webseries follows life at their office as Emma records it for a future documentary about her work.
The plot of Austen’s Emma largely focuses on Emma trying to make Harriet a lady and, quite unsuccessfully, match her with an eligible bachelor. Emma Approved doesn’t emphasize this arc so much and, instead, benefits from focusing on shorter character arcs. The series is divided into chunks of Emma dealing with individual clients. These clients are quite often her family and friends, all the familiar characters from the novel: her best friend Annie Taylor, Mr. Elton, who is now a senator, Miss Bates, and others. Jane Fairfax, who is a well-educated orphan destined to be a governess in the novel, later in the series comes to work for Emma as a consultant to expand Emma Approved’s philanthropic efforts, and Frank Churchill, who is a charming young man visiting his father in the novel, is now an investor who becomes involved in some of Emma’s projects.
There are, of course, overarching character stories as well—most notably Emma’s and Harriet’s. While it’s lovely to see Harriet to develop into a business-smart and confident woman (something the Harriet from the novel never manages to do), this is Emma’s show and her character development is wonderful to see. Her changing from self-centered and self-absorbed to a better person is even more pronounced in the series than it is in the novel. It’s especially great because it’s a character arc which male characters usually get and which usually makes us admire them (see, for instance, Mr. Darcy).
The casting by the Pemberley Digital team is brilliant and mindful about racial representation once again. Joanna Sotomura as Emma Woodhouse is poised, elegant, passionate, insightful, and multiracial. Frank Churchill, played by Stephen Chang, is charming, eccentric, rich, and Asian. Jane Fairfax (Tyra Colar), a Black woman, is serious about working to make world a better place and holds true to her principles. This means that Frank and Jane are an interracial couple from two people of color. Also, let’s not forget Miss Bates (Nikea Gamby-Turner)—the talkative accountant with a big heart and a love for jam-making, who is also Black. All the characters are brought to life by insightful interpretations of and sometimes changes to the original novel and actors who are perfect for their roles.
Speaking of changes to the original story, I love that the writers didn’t feel the need to stay constrained by the ideas Austen expressed in her novel. Instead, they worked on adapting the novel’s spirit and ideas, especially the feminist ideas, to the 21st century. They created female characters who stick to their principles and who learn to work together instead of competing, and male characters who see their own faults and put in the effort to earn the love and respect of the women they love.
You can watch the entire series on the Pemberley Digital YouTube channel and find more about the characters, and where to find them on Twitter and other social media, through the Pemberley Digital website.