Anyone who has ever truly loved a webseries will relate to how I felt about Emma Approved. It aired while I was still in college, and I remember the minutes dragging by toward the end of my 11am class on those Thursdays when I needed to know what was going to happen in the new episode that aired at noon. As soon as class was over, I would quickly duck into an empty classroom and watch the new episode (only to rewatch and analyze later), before casually meeting my friends for lunch, like a normal person. It didn’t matter that Emma was my favorite of Austen’s novels and I knew the story and all its colorful characters inside and out, EA still managed to create suspense for me and helped me consider the story in a new way–to me, the mark of a successful literary webseries.
In this version, Emma and “Alex” Knightley are still life-long friends/siblings-in-law, but they are also business partners: Alex provides the business sense behind Emma’s “life coaching” business. (It was always unclear to me why he signed on for this; Alex doesn’t get much of a backstory. My headcanon is that he made a fortune selling a start-up after Business School, and that he didn’t need to work, but chose to help out a friend). The actors, Joanna Sotomura and Brent Bailey, were (and still are, I hope?) a real-life couple. As I watched the series, I felt as if I was truly watching them fall in love. At first, Emma is just as insufferable as she ought to be (the stated purpose of her videos is to “document her greatness” - *cringe*), but she genuinely seems to grow through the series.
As in the book, a crucial turning point of Emma’s growth as a character is The Box Hill Incident. Because of the way the story unfolds so gradually across several months, Emma’s profound guilt and self-realization in the aftermath is almost painful to watch. She is truly crushed by the impact of her mistakes, which makes her rise into a more mature, self-aware, and considerate person all the more satisfying. On the other hand, Knightley’s reaction to The Box Hill Incident is probably one of my least favorite things about this series (spoilers ahead) Knightley leaving to visit family and clear his head, when translated to this interpretation, becomes abandoning his job and leaving his business partner in a lurch, seemingly to punish her. This felt very un-Knightley to me.
Some of the brightest spots of EA, however, were its secondary characters, particularly a smarter, spunkier Harriet Smith (played by Dayeanne Hutton). Equally charming was “B-Mart” aka Martin (James Brent Isaacs), the charismatic, crane-folding IT guy, who’s impossible not to love.
Maddie Bates (Nikea Gamby-Turner) was another great addition; she graced each of her episodes with enthusiasm, infectious kindness, and jars of increasingly improbable homemade jams. Overall, I thought this web series was a delight. Definitely AJAATT Approved.