Emma Approved gives Austen a modern spin
Emma Approved, the latest collaboration between Bernie Su and Hank Green of Pemberley Digital, premiered online last Monday. The duo formed the production company Pemberley Digital after their success with web series The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, which captured the hearts of viewers and went on to win two Streamy Awards and an Emmy for Outstanding Creative Achievement in Interactive Media.
Emma Approved was announced at VidCon 2013, a conference for online video creators, as an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma, a novel about a matchmaking young woman who doesn’t exactly have her own life together.
Pemberley Digital’s Emma (Joanna Sotomura) is a 20-something member of the Highbury Lifestyle Group, Matchmaking and Lifestyle Division: In short, she’s an online matchmaker. She’s an opinionated, fast-talking perfectionist who doesn’t have time for “business development, book-keeping, boring stuff” — that’s the division of her business partner and future love interest Alex Knightley (Brent Bailey).
The series is a compilation of the vlog-style videos Emma makes in preparation for the inevitable documentary celebrating her future achievements. Su described this Emma as “Oprah for the YouTube Age” to thevideoink.com, a characterization upheld by Emma herself. She says she will one day “be like Oprah … but better!” — giving everyone a better love life just as Oprah gives out cars.
The first episode is a true pilot, introducing viewers to Emma and her world. She begins by reading a short snippet of an article written about her, lauding her success as a professional matchmaker. In this first episode, she’s on the verge of perfect success number 20: the marriage between cupcake mogul Ryan Weston (Gabriel Voss) and power homemaker Annie Taylor (Alexis Boozer). When Alex comes in to discuss business, viewers are able to see the playful relationship between the pair, which will eventually develop into a romance.
In the second episode, Alex’s role is a little more fleshed out: He’s there to make Emma think about the serious stuff, like what will happen if her perfect success rate is broken. It becomes obvious to the viewer that Emma doesn’t like to think about the negatives and only confronts the possibility of failure when forced to do so.
With an already-rabid fan base (which raised over 700 percent of the Kickstarter goal to fund The Lizzie Bennet Diaries DVD set), Internet success doesn’t seem like much of a problem for Emma Approved. However, it’s the small things, like Emma’s over-the-top winks to the camera, that could sink the project. The team should be wary of making Emma too self-confident.
Before beginning to write Emma, Jane Austen wrote, “I am going to take a heroine whom no-one but myself will much like.” Austen’s Emma meddled in other people’s lives, but she did so with only the best intentions. When she was wrong, she tried to make it right. Although the character has remained a classic, updating her story to the 21st century could prove disastrous. With so much technology at her disposal, Emma could lose sight of the good intentions at the heart of her meddling.
Even the idea of matchmaking for money seems a little out of character: Is she in it for the cash, or does she truly want to see people happy? Pemberley Digital needs to make sure that their Emma is still likeable and relatable, or else the audience will lose interest.
Installments of Emma Approved are released at 1 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays, with additional content released throughout the week.