REVIEW: ‘Looking For Alaska’ is an Angsty Teen Drama Worth Binging

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Looking for Alaska

Looking For Alaska, a Hulu Original, is an eight-episode limited series based on the John Green novel of the same name. The series, like the book, follows Miles “Pudge” Halter (Charlie Plummer). Looking For Alaska is framed through flashbacks. The series opens with a horrific car crash then quickly moves back into the past with each episode counting down until the fateful day. That foreshadowing continues throughout the series.

At the start of the episode, Miles feels lost and after becoming obsessed with the last words of French poet, François Rabelais (“I go to seek a Great Perhaps”) he enrolls in boarding school, Culver Creek in hopes to find the “great perhaps,” or at least a greater purpose in his life. Pudge finds a lot of that purpose in Alaska Young (Kristine Froseth). But once he finds his footing with a new group of friends, including Alaska, a tragedy leaves the entire student body shook as Pudge feels even more lost. 

Miles is a lot like a traditional John Green protagonist. He seems relatively ordinary but once you peel back the layers it is easy to see just how odd and eccentric he really is. To be honest, most characters in the show could be framed that way. From Alaska’s unshakeable confidence while buying booze with a fake ID claiming she is 28, the Colonel’s (Denny Love), Miles’ roommate, quick wit and sharp tongue while dealing with the school’s run-of-the-mill bullies, to Takumi’s (Jay Lee) ability to fact-check just about anyone, none of the teenagers in Looking For Alaska are ordinary.

Looking for Alaska

But Alaska goes beyond ordinary, in the first episode of the series, “Famous Last Words,” through Miles’ perspective, she is framed as an ethereal being. The first time Miles sees her is as he is still driving to school with his parents, as he passes her walking out of the convenience store with a case full of rosé, the camera slows down focuses on the flip of her hair. Throughout the series their moments together are framed in a similar way. For Miles, Alaska’s character relies a lot on the “not like other girls” trope. While speaking together for the first time alone, the two have an awkward chemistry that feels real. Miles’ pines for a girl way out of his league but Alaska is never unkind to him. She hones in on his love of last words and the two bond over the strange fascination.

Alaska’s charisma and relationship with the other characters make her likable despite how fleeting and flakey she can be. You want her to be your best friend. Froseth does well at never making Alaska seem too perfect. While Miles has trouble seeing the cracks in her facade, the show’s dialogue and Froseth’s performance give weight and show just how damaged she really is. There are a few moments where Alaska allows herself to truly be vulnerable with Miles. Alaska often speaks in riddles and quotes poetry to explain the complexity of life but at the end of the day, she uses fancy quotes as a way to hide the ugliness of how she is really feeling and how she really sees herself.

Looking for Alaska

Alaska plays a big role in the series but the main focus prior to the tragedy is the ongoing turf war between the Colonel and Weekday Warriors, the rich, popular kids who go home on the weekends. As the pranks increase, Miles gets caught up in the rivalry and trying to impress Alaska. However, it becomes apparent Alaska is hiding a lot about the ongoing feud and herself.

Looking for Alaska is the quintessential teen drama that mixes comedic moments with a dramatic story centered around the relationships between characters. The thing that really separates it though is intellectual and philosophical themes the show explores. From the existential meaning of life to classism, Looking for Alaska’s characters act a lot more grown-up than they actually are. But they soon realize are they not as old as they want to be and still have a lot to learn about life and its meaning.

A lot of the most emotional moments in Looking for Alaska end up being foreshadowing. This primarily the case with Dr. Hyde’s class. Dr. Hyde teaches religion and often asks his students about the deeper meaning in everything. During episode four, titled “The Nourishment is Palatable,” Dr. Hyde’s conversations with Alaska and Miles during their Thanksgiving break, as he retells how the love of his life died, are some of the most emotional moments in the show. The episode also features a similar beautiful moment with the Colonel’s mother, Dolores Martin (Deneen Tyler). Between Dr. Hyde’s class and field of study and Dolreses’ faith, the show offers an interesting take on religion and how it coincides with the overarching questions of life.

Looking for Alaska

This balance is also featured on the soundtrack is a mix of melancholy and angsty teen anthems that fit the mood of the story perfectly. From a cover of Kelis’ “Milkshake” by Buddy, which is a softer and more sensual take on the famous song, to The Postal Service’s “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight” the soundtrack is filled with a Spotify playlist of teen hits that hit right in the feels.

The ominous conclusion at the start hints at what is coming and builds a lot of tension as the episodes go on. Knowing that death, or at least serious injury, is around the corner makes the relationships, no matter how deep, Miles’ building with his new group of friends feels that much more temporary. It makes the traditional hijinks and war between the Colonel and the Weekday Warriors seem a lot less important by the end.

High school friendships rarely last after diplomas are handed out but the idea of them ended much sooner is always haunting. My only caveat with the series is at times the pacing seems incredibly slow as if it has to be to fill out the eight episodes in the limited series. That being said, this series, as a fan of the book, was still just about everything I hoped it would be. Fans of the book and similar teen dramas should definitely hit play on Looking For Alaska

Looking For Alaska is streaming now on Hulu.

Looking For Alaska
  • 8/10
    Looking For Alaska - 8/10
8/10

TL;DR

My only caveat with the series is at times the pacing seems incredibly slow as if it has to be to fill out the eight episodes in the limited series. That being said, this series, as a fan of the book, was still just about everything I hoped it would be. Fans of the book and similar teen dramas should definitely hit play on Looking For Alaska