Channel Vision: Jane Austen’s classic remains, well, classic

TV columnist Crystal Duan on why you should read “Pride & Prejudice,” watch “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries” and heck, read “The Secret Life of Lizzie Bennet,” too

If you fell asleep during English class reading “Pride & Prejudice,” don’t disregard the fact that it’s still a pretty good story. And if you’ve been following the Creative Arts Emmy Awards over the last few years, you’ll know that even 200 years later, Jane Austen’s classic has received some updated critical acclaim in the form of the likable web series, “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.”

When the character of Elizabeth Bennet made her literary debut in 1813, she was, and remains, relevant because she had the mannerisms of an 19th century lady (to the extent her snarky personality would allow), but thought and followed her ambitions like a typical 21st century millennial.

It’s no wonder that the YouTube-hosted series got a lot of buzz when Elizabeth effortlessly got a 2012 makeover, morphing into an avid vlogger (Ashley Clements) studying mass communications in graduate school. This Bennet goes by Lizzie.

On top of a lot of fretting over her career, Lizzie also has to to evade her mother’s off-screen attempts to wife her up with the neighborhood boys, and look out for her two sisters. Promiscuous and troublesome little sis Lydia (Mary Kate Wiles) engages in too many crazy antics, and older sister Jane (Laura Spencer) is naive and uncertain, especially in the face of her developing romance with Bing Lee (Christopher Sean), the alias of Charles Bingley in the novels.

And the cherry on top to the drama with everyone else, is Lizzie’s own turmoil concerning the infamous Mr. Darcy (Daniel Vincent Gordh), who just goes by Darcy, and is also the wealthy heir to an entertainment corporation that Lizzie seeks to get involved in.

The most interesting part is how the web series modernized plot points without being cheesy about it. Lydia’s tryst with a sex tape, Bing Lee’s success stemming from his attendance of medical school and Lizzie’s personality driving her interest in a contemporary media career all make the story accessible to non-Austen-enthusiasts, but also do justice to lovers of the original.

But the series won a Creative Arts Emmy for Original Interactive Media because it went beyond the act of watching a small screen.

Lizzie tells most of the story through video diaries, in which she re-enacts various scenes and plays multiple characters until the series decides to show other faces on screen. These awkward encounters usually happen when Bing, Darcy and others walk in on Lizzie while filming, and a running gag is the fact that most aren’t aware that Lizzie has a huge Internet following.

The following became meta, too, as Clements and the other actors tweeted from character accounts in real life, and hosted various Q-and-A videos that answered YouTube users’ questions.

I only bring up “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries” now because the interwebs recently announced that a novelized version, “The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet,” is coming out some time this year. Even though it’s been two years, people are still buzzing about this uniquely formatted show, and the fact that it’s still relevant enough to have another book only further indicates the hype.

It’s the perfect time to revisit a story that touched thousands of viewers, some who may have not harbored much of a fondness for the book it’s based on, but who may find themselves liking Lizzie nevertheless.

More Stories