Podcast Recommendation: Classic Alice’s Pens vs. Lens

Classic AliceI mentioned Classic Alice‘s podcasts in my review of the series earlier this month, but I thought I’d tell you a bit more about Pens vs. Lens, since it fits so perfectly with the aims of this site – and since a new episode came out last week after a bit of a hiatus.

Pens vs. Lens is a podcast done in character – though you don’t necessarily need to follow the show or know the characters to enjoy it – and the basic gist is this: lit major Alice and film student Andrew debate a book and its movie adaptation, and listeners vote on whose argument was better. (The loser has to dress up as a character from the property at hand.) So you can see why you guys who read this site might like it! Some of the episodes offer more substantive critique than others, but they’re all a lot of fun to listen to, and the subjects range from classics like Alice in Wonderland and Treasure Island to recent phenomena like Gone Girl, The Hunger Games, and Twilight.

Want to listen? The podcast, made by Kate Hackett and Tony Noto, lives at Soundcloud, but the easiest way to get to the episode of your choice is through the show’s archive. You can also subscribe on iTunes. To learn more about Classic Alice in general, check out their site, and support them on Indiegogo so they can make more.

Web Series Review: Classic Alice

Classic AliceThere are a lot of literary web series out there, and one of my goals for this year is to start watching and reviewing more of them. But first! Let’s talk about Classic Alice. It’s different from a lot of the literary web series out there because it isn’t a direct adaptation of one book, and this is one of its main strengths. In standard adaptations, the characters don’t know they’re in adaptations, which means that the shows don’t necessarily challenge the viewer’s understanding of the source material beyond some fun logistical puzzles involving modernization.

Classic Alice, though, takes things in a different direction. Main character Alice Rackham, after getting a bad grade because her professor didn’t think she related emotionally to the books she was reading, decides to start making life decisions according to actions of characters in classic novels she hasn’t read before, and her film major friend Andrew films her experiment for a school project. This means that the characters in the show aren’t actually book characters. The main character is deliberately reacting to the text, rather than living in a world in which the text doesn’t exist, which allows the show many more opportunities to interrogate the source material. And while sometimes the people in Alice’s life react to the text to some extent, they have free will and are not book characters, so they don’t react to Alice’s actions in the same way that supporting characters reacted in the original. Moreover, the show covers multiple books (seven so far), so there’s no prescribed path the plot must take. (As stressed as we all got about Emma Approved, say, we knew Emma and Knightley had to end up together; here there’s no such safety net.) All of this means that things are a bit more abstract, and that the audience winds up thinking more about themes than about specific plots, and about potential actual consequences of previously fictional events.

That all sounded very serious, but the show is also a ton of fun. The writing – by creator/star Kate Hackett – is extremely smart, full of literary references and humor. Some of the story arcs are stronger than others, of course – I particularly liked Pygmalion, Macbeth, and Rip Van Winkle – but they all tie together into an overarching plot, and by book two I was completely invested in the lives of Alice and her friends. There’s plenty here for shippers – Hackett and leading man Tony Noto have great chemistry, and the relationship between Alice and Andrew has evolved in a deliciously torturous slow burn. But the story, refreshingly, never becomes all about the potential romance; as Alice says at one point, “this . . . isn’t completely about whether or not a guy is going to change your life. Because that’s gross.” And there are great friendships and other interpersonal relationships as well, especially involving Alice’s roommate Cara, whose sexuality is hinted at and then revealed and reacted to in interesting ways.

Classic Alice is also delightful in that it extends far beyond the videos that comprise the main narrative. As with many web series, the characters are on Twitter and interact with fans and with each other, but they’re also on Tumblr and Goodreads and Instagram, and the characters even have two separate ongoing podcasts – one about music and the other about books and their movie adaptations, which is obviously a favorite of this site. (You can get a taste of how all that works together on the show’s Narrative page.) These various elements come together to create an immersive experience for viewers who want to do more than just watch (and, of course, read along).

I’ve been into this show for a while, and partially decided it was really time to tell you about it because the show is currently doing crowdfunding for the next season. (Full disclosure: I’m a funder.) If you like the show, or are just interested in learning more, I’d really recommending watching the video on the crowdfunding page – it’s way more entertaining than a fund-raising video has any right to be (there’s even a cat cameo!) and showrunner Kate Hackett says some important things about wanting to actually pay her people a reasonable amount, which is not something that happens very often in the world of online video, especially independent productions.

A few quick links if you want to give the show a try: Here are the videos from the beginning (starting with two quick prequels), and the videos and social media combined. And hey, if you’re skeptical about the show but like Game of Thrones, you might enjoy this Purple Wedding puppet show.