Previously … I talked you into watching the web series. So now that we’ve watched the first couple of episodes of “Emma Approved,” let’s get to the recappin’.
Episode 1 (I Am Emma Woodhouse): In the inaugural episode, we meet Emma. “Beautiful, clever and brilliant” — her words! — this 21st-century Emma oversees the matchmaking and lifestyle division of the Highbury Partners Lifestyle group. She makes your life better and she never fails. Case in point: Emma set up her best friend Annie Taylor and Ryan Weston (who owns, of all things, a cupcake chain!). Now they’re gettin’ hitched and Emma’s planning it. In walks Alex Knightley, Emma’s practical, sensible business partner. She tells him she’s documenting her greatness on film for when she wins a “lifetime achievement award in lifestyle excellence.” Alex wants Emma to hire an assistant, but Emma’s more interested in wedding planning with Annie. But Annie drops a bomb: She wants to cancel. Duhn-duhn-DUHNNN….
Episode 2 (Imminent Success): Emma gives some background for her “audience”: A few years ago, her father said she should take her time finding her calling. But of course she knew: making lives better, Oprah-style! Alex, ever the killjoy, reminds her that Annie wants to cancel the wedding and points out that the breakup will ruin Emma’s soon-to-be-perfect 20-for-20 success record. That is NOT Emma-approved.
Episode 3 (Self Sufficient) + bonus video (Harriet’s application video): Alex catches Emma checking him out — but she’s all I was looking at your worn-out khakis. (But no really she was totally checking him out.) Back to business: He’s found Emma a potential assistant. He says Emma started the company (with, ahem, her dad’s money) and got Alex to run it, so he’s trying to make HER life better. Emma is so charmed by the application video that sweet, smart Harriet submitted she
asks orders Harriet to come to the office for an interview. In an hour. Oh, and bring Emma coffee. Which Harriet does, unquestioningly. Hmm, I see a pattern here…
Episode 4 (Right Decision): Emma raves about Harriet (mostly because she does everything Emma says) but the wedding is still up in the air. Emma guilt-trips Annie with a massive binder full of vendor contracts that need to be voided, but Annie signs the cancellation forms. Gulp. Later as Harriet comes to collect the papers, Emma tears them up, vowing to fix things for Annie.
Episode 5 (Do What’s Best): Well, now Alex is super-concerned about the wedding. He wants Emma to cut their losses ASAP, but she refuses. Harriet did some digging and found out that Frank Churchill, Ryan’s stepbrother, a globe-trotting businessman, is skipping the wedding and hasn’t sent a gift. Turns out he hasn’t exactly welcomed Annie to the family. Emma deduces that Frank is why Annie is calling off the wedding — he obviously objects. So, Emma says, they are going to make Frank come to the wedding.
Well, that was a lot to happen in six videos, huh? A lot of world-building and exposition to set the stage for the action to come. Some thoughts.
— Getting with the times: You can tell the creators put a lot of thought into updating Austen’s characters. Of course Emma is an entrepreneur: She makes things happen! And being the pragmatic, even-keeled business partner suits Knightley to a T, as does Harriet as Emma’s timid assistant.
— Who’s got the power? In the book, Emma is nearly 21 and Knightley, about 38. But modern Emma and Alex are closer in age and business partners (and clearly old friends), putting them on more equal footing so their relationship plays less like “Knightley Knows Best.” With Harriet and Emma, the power balance is tipped even more in Emma’s favor. Harriet follows Emma’s orders not only because she looks up to Emma but also because her paycheck depends on it.
— Emma is … too much?: Wow, this Emma comes on strong. She can be difficult to warm up to in the book, at first, but give the woman a vlog and she’s an even bigger force of nature. Here, she’s a bit, well, unlikable. But hang in there. She’ll grow on you eventually. (The creators did the impossible in “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries” and made Lydia lovable, so Emma is no problem.)
— Huzzah, diversity! For all the lovely cravats and empire-waist dresses, many “Emma” adaptations are pretty racially homogeneous. In this version, set in racially diverse California, it’s refreshing to see a heroine with Asian roots — and those roots never seem to be an issue. Look for more diverse characters in episodes to come.
Well what did you think? Where do you think the story will go from here? Next week: Episodes 6 to 10.
Jennifer Abella is a TV/movie/pop culture/knitting/sewing/Jane Austen geek. Oh, and a total Anglophile. Follow @nextjen on Twitter.