English major and aspiring writer Alice Rackham has “always been good”. A straight-A student with a Hermione Granger-esque dedication to her studies, her intelligence and hard work have earned her a place at the prestigious Valeton University. However, when an essay is returned to her marked B-, with comments accusing her of “sterile” writing and a lack of emotional connection to a poem, Alice resolves to follow in the footsteps of classic literary characters in a bid to prove that she is able to meaningfully engage with their stories.
Created by Kate Hackett (who also stars as Alice), Classic Alice is an innovative web series that builds on the multiplatform groundwork laid by shows like The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and Emma Approved. Into the established mix of YouTube videos, tumblr and Facebook and Twitter accounts, Classic Alice throws pseudo-student forums, podcasts and character-specific social media profiles on sites like Instagram, Goodreads and Last.fm. Not so much a video series, then, as an immersive, all-round experience, Classic Alice combines criticism with creativity, presenting a myriad ways for viewers to interact with its characters, just as Alice herself gets to grips with those in the books she reads.
Over the course of the series, the stories Alice chooses become ever more eclectic, leading to all manner of fun, fiascos and outlandish shenanigans. Along the way, the series also tackles some important subject matter, delving into dilemmas and complications both within and without the texts it explores. Beyond the obvious issue of striking a work/life balance, Classic Alice deals with, among other things, friendship, romance, rivalry, responsibility, privilege, prejudice, coming out and coming clean. By attempting to “behave with the impulsiveness and passion of characters in classic literature,” Alice learns a great deal, not only about stories, but also about herself and those around her. In this, she is helped along by her music-, maths- and pie-loving roommate, Cara Graves (Elise Cantu), her party girl cousin, Reagan Starkie (Reid Cox), and most importantly, by her best friend, Andrew Prichard (Tony Noto), a film student documenting her project for his own final-year thesis.
The turbulent relationship between Alice and Prichard is to some extent almost a personification of that between their different disciplines, and this is most clear in their Pens vs Lens podcasts, which they use to compare and contrast various literary texts and their film adaptations. Easy-going, well-connected and steeped in wealth, Prichard is superficially unlike his diligent, bookish and introverted friend, but despite all this, it’s made very quickly clear that the pair are more alike than they are different, and the chemistry between them is palpable.
At its heart, Classic Alice is a passionate defence of storytelling in all its forms, exploring the relationships between different media as well as those they foster with their audiences. The life lessons that Alice learns from her literary adventures speak volumes for the value of studying stories and art, and her process of self-discovery through books serves as an encouragement to viewers to read along at home.
That said, you don’t have to be a bookworm or a film fanatic to understand this series; nor do you need to have the time to explore its every facet. Classic Alice is full of fun, humour and a quirky charm entirely its own that can be enjoyed from just the videos alone. As much as it is about telling stories, it’s also a touching and thoroughly entertaining show about life on campus that’s sure to feel familiar to 20-somethings everywhere.
To watch all video episodes, visit the Classic Alice YouTube channel, and to hear the Pens vs Lens and Cara’s The Proof is Treble podcasts, check out Classic Alice on Soundcloud. You can also get an overview of the full narrative here or interact via tumblr and the Valeton University website.