A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Looking for Alaska is a dramatic miniseries based on a young adult book of the same name and features the kind of fascinating character development and teen insight that has helped author John Green become a mainstay in the genre. That said, the series is rife with strong language (pretty much anything goes, from "damn" to "f--k" in every possible use) and other adult behavior that the teens have to work hard to obscure in order to avoid expulsion from their boarding school. A bedroom scene reveals a guy's naked backside as a couple makes out, several teens drink and buy alcohol with fake credentials, and smoking is fairly commonplace. There's also a subtle darkness to some of the characters and their backstories, hinting at unpleasant realities in their lives. This story touches on issues like racial and socioeconomic inequality, prejudice, and the challenging of society's norms in honest and sometimes uncomfortable ways, encouraging viewers to think on them after the show's end. Because of its mature content, this series is intended for older teens and adults.
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What's the story?
LOOKING FOR ALASKA opens to 16-year-old Miles "Pudge" Halter (Charlie Plummer) embracing the unknown and heading off to boarding school out of state, much to the puzzlement of his parents. The quiet loner -- whose passion is recalling famous people's last words -- is searching for something intangible and as yet undefined in his life that he calls his "Great Perhaps," but whether or not he will find it at Culver Creek Academy is yet to be determined. What he does find is a new group of friends: his roommate, Chip, aka "The Colonel" (Denny Love); resourceful Takumi (Jay Lee); and the mysterious and enchanting Alaska (Kristine Froseth). As Miles settles into his new surroundings, he gets drawn into an existing war of wills between his friends and their snobbish classmates, the Weekend Warriors; faces off with the sharp-eyed dean they call "The Eagle" (Timothy Simons); and falls head over heels for Alaska and her charms.
Is it any good?
This series does well to not cut corners on developing the intoxicating characters John Green developed in his first award-winning novel. The eight-part format allows for each one to be introduced and revealed over the time that their complexity demands, and this is Looking for Alaska's real treasure. Obviously, Miles is at the forefront from the beginning, relatable in his determination to find life's inspiration and surprisingly solid in his willingness to stick to his values while still broadening his experiences among new company. Self-assured Alaska coaxes him out of his shell a little at a time, but even as they get closer and he gets to know her better, she's still mysterious and captivating to Miles and to viewers. And therein lies the show's hook.
While this central relationship evolves, others fill the background in similarly fascinating fashion. The Colonel is a thoroughly intriguing character, a hard-working "scholarship kid" as Alaska coins them (herself included), completely out of his element and at odds with those more privileged by money and, in his assessment, by race, which makes his choice of girlfriends in the sharp-tongued debutante Sara (Landry Bender) that much more perplexing. Even The Eagle and the resident baddies, the Weekend Warriors, have backstories that hint at further depth and leave viewers wanting more. Looking for Alaska is an authentic dissection of the teen experience as seen through the eyes of several heterogeneous characters expertly crafted by Green and portrayed by this show's talented cast.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how successful this series is in adapting such a popular book. Have your teens read the book? What parts stood out as especially well interpreted on-screen? Did any strike you as less well done? What challenges exist in bringing a beloved story to the small screen?
What, if any, stance does this series take on teens engaging in adult behavior like drinking, smoking, and sex? Is this content presented in a way that teaches any lessons? Are there consequences attached to any of these behaviors? What motivates the characters to break the rules in these ways? How does this behavior square with your own teens' experiences with peers?
What does Miles hope to discover by leaving home? Is he well suited for the life change? How does he adapt and deal with challenges? What examples of determination and courage do you see in any of the characters?
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