2005 was a somber time in teen TV. It was the year One Tree Hill was beset by drug addiction and cancer scares. Everwood was consistently plagued by a bummer of a muddy earth-tone palette, and Veronica Mars was Veronica Mars, a drama with sexual violence and murder in its DNA. The O.C. was the sunniest teen drama on television — and that season would conclude in the death of Marissa Cooper (Mischa Barton).
2005 was also the year John Green’s novel Looking for Alaska debuted. A whopping 14 years later, the teenage favorite is entering the world as a Hulu miniseries, premiering Friday, October 18. Looking for Alaska the series enters a wildly different YA landscape than the one its source material would recognize (though the show is still set in smartphone-free 2005). This is a universe where the blood-drenched melodrama of Riverdale or the dazzling and depressing mania of Euphoria reigns supreme.
Yet Looking For Alaska would be much more comfortable at the lunch table with Everwood and The O.C. than shrieking through the hallways of Riverdale High or popping Molly with Jules (Hunter Schafer). It would even be intimidated by the glitz and glamour of Gossip Girl, the hit show also created by Alaska scribes Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage. In a sea of fizzle rocks-amped teen shows, Looking for Alaska is a cup of melancholy chamomile tea sipped while staring wistfully out of a window.
Although the Hulu drama is called Looking for Alaska, its technical protagonist is Miles Halter (Charlie Plummer), the boy bound to fall in love with the titular Alaska Young (The Society's Kristine Froseth). Floppy-haired Miles is his way into Culver Creek, an Alabama boarding school that looks exactly like sleepaway camp. Culver Creek is fueled by teenage horniness, secret smoking, and a pitch-perfect nostalgic soundtrack of bops like Franz Ferdinand’s “Take Me Out.” Because the school is located in Alabama, Alaska never has to lose its optimistic summery glow; even as the story heads into the heart of winter — and tragedy.
But before we arrive at the foreboding edges of this teen drama, we need to get through the major players. Miles’ roommate is Chip “The Colonel” Martin (Denny Love), a comically hard-boiled veteran of Culver Creek. While the Colonel’s self-serious behavior may be off-putting to some viewers, Alaska puts in the work to eventually make you care for him. A big chunk of that empathy will come from questioning how it would feel to be the only Black boy in a down-home Alabama school for the white and wealthy. The rest of the cast includes Takumi (American Vandal’s Jay Lee), the most pragmatic person in Culver Creek, Lara (Sofia Vassilieva), a Romanian-born student with the kindest eyes, and Sara (Landry Bender), the Colonel’s girlfriend and possibly the most underrated person in Alaska.
Since the first few episodes of the series are as slow as molasses, this cast is what will drive you to keep pushing play. Together they can make you feel the very high highs and very low lows of teendom — particularly if an overblown prank is afoot.
No one is more important in this world than Kristine Froseth's Alaska Young. Between Sierra Burgess Is a Loser, The Society, and now Alaska, Froseth is having a great 13 months. Froseth’s Alaska, in both Green’s novel and Hulu’s series, is the prototypical YA manic pixie dream girl. Like many Green heroines, Alaska is more a beautiful puzzle for her romantic lead than a person. Miles' only clues to solving the object of his crush are a collection of facts: Alaska’s death-obsessed quips, her library of unread books so big it’s more of a home, her passion for hard drinking and chain smoking, and the way she always needs him. It is this collage of enigmatic personality whispers that keeps Miles tethered to Alaska.
After nearly two decades of watching shy white guys like Miles pine for inscrutable waifs like Alaska, it’s easy to feel like this dynamic has been beaten to death by a ukulele. At least Froseth plays her character with a knowing and willful hatred for the narrative Miles has foisted upon on her. Here, Alaska can be mean, jealous, and manipulative, all with a glance. Unfortunately, even when Alaska is out of Miles’ purview, you can sometimes still feel his rose-colored glasses as a filter on the screen.
Still, the series isn’t all teenage navel gazing. It can’t be. Each episode ends with a countdown to some mysterious and seemingly awful event. If you’ve read the book, you know what that is. If you haven’t, I cannot stress enough how much you should not Google what the twist is — at least if you plan to binge Alaska. Those search results will turn this crescendoing journey into something much darker. However, if you watch Alaska’s premiere episode and aren’t sure if the series is for you, maybe take a peek and then decide. Sometimes knowledge is power.
If you do make it all the way through Alaska, you’ll find an undeniably heartwarming conclusion with some smart points about life's big questions. In the immortal words of Franz Ferdinand, it will take you out — emotionally, that is.