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'Looking for Alaska' Has Found Its Way to Hulu
October 18, 2019  | By David Hinckley

Some 14 years passed between the time John Green's Looking for Alaska became a prize-winning debut novel and the arrival of its video incarnation.

Looking for Alaska, the TV series, becomes available Friday on Hulu. It's a closed-end production, running eight episodes, and it isn't until the midpoint that viewers who haven't read the book will understand the challenges the adaptation it posed.

It only became an extended TV series after several futile efforts to make it as a movie.

Green's story, which he always said was based partly on his own experiences as a teenager, begins with some seemingly standard setups.

Miles Halter (Charlie Plummer) feels stifled by his clueless, two-dimensional, cartoon-like parents in Orlando. So he persuades them to send him to Culver Academy, a boarding school in Alabama.

Exactly why this would be his field of dreams isn't clear. Maybe it's just because his dopey father went there, which means it was an easy sell. While Mom doesn't want little Miles leaving home yet, Dad is all-in, since Dad clearly remembers prep school hijinks as the creative peak of his life.

Miles' life changes pretty much the minute he arrives and meets his roommate, Chip "The Colonel" Martin (Denny Love). A rare black "scholarship kid" in a nest of white privilege, The Colonel has assembled a posse of outliers.

Miles is granted admission to this exclusive club because the Colonel thinks it's cool that Miles memorizes the last words of famous people. Like Oscar Wilde saying, "Either this wallpaper goes, or I do."

The Colonel's team includes Takumi Hikohito (Jay Lee), a droll fellow with the school's widest intel net. It also includes Alaska Young (Kristine Froseth), your classic high school girl who understands way more than the boys and always says exactly the right cool thing, and underneath all that cool has some serious problems.

Miles, whom The Colonel nicknames "Pudge" because he's built like a popsicle stick, has an awkward manner that appeals to Alaska, and the two become friends.

Which, of course, means she can play him like a puppet. Not in a cruel way, but because that's just how she rolls.

Miles, The Colonel, Alaska, Takumi, and the rest of their crew engage in a running battle with The Weekday Warriors, a gang of spoiled, entitled, and one-dimensional rich kids who see themselves as rulers of the campus today and the world tomorrow.

The annoying part is that, to some extent, they're right.

The Weekend Warriors turn out to be mostly a warm-up act, however. The good guys are better developed and more interesting and thus much more devastated when the story's Bad Thing happens.

No spoilers here. It's just one of those events that takes the slow process of self-knowledge and social awareness for all these characters and slams it into overdrive.

Sometimes that makes Looking for Alaska a little tough to watch. It also lends depth and a relatively fresh angle to what could have become simply another coming-of-age tale.

And one FYI: While the characters here are teenagers, the language and some of the subject matter can get pretty graphic. Welcome to Teenage 2019.

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