Looking for Alaska review: Beautifully acted teen drama
Helen Archer | On 19, Oct 2019
This eight-part drama, adapted by The OC creator Josh Schwartz from the young adult novel by John Green, introduces us to a motley crew of prank-loving youngsters who attend Culver Creek boarding school in remote Alabama. Miles ‘Pudge’ Halter (Charlie Plummer) is the newcomer, finding a group of friends in his roomie Chip (Denny Love) and Takumi (Jay Lee), not to mention the titular Alaska (Kristine Froseth) – a high-spirited yet complicated manic pixie dream girl, whose spell he instantly falls under.
They’re overseen by headmaster The Eagle (Timothy Simons, best known as Jonah from Veep) and theology teacher Dr Hyde (Ron Cephas Jones, pretty much reprising his role as William Hill in This is Us). The school itself seems like more of a summer camp than a place of education, all idyllic sunlit-dappled backwaters and surrounding leafy glades.
The first few episodes are fun yet repetitive, as the group bond by playing tricks on their more popular classmates, but there is a constant darkness lurking just below the surface. We know something bad is going to happen from the start, via flash-forwards, and yet when fate befalls one unlucky character it’s simultaneously shocking and strangely underwhelming.
The programme has a very old-fashioned feel – it’s set in the mid 2000s but feels more like a 1960s throwback – and there is a issue with the writing of the female characters, who are ultimately there to teach the boys valuable life lessons, rather than exist realistically in their own right. Ultimately, this coming-of-age story is beautifully acted and filmed, but may prove a hard sell to an increasingly savvy teen audience.
Looking for Alaska is available on BBC iPlayer until November 2022
This short review was originally published as part of a fortnightly BBC Three reviews column.