Friday, August 29, 2014

Bizarre, a Little Slapstick, but Absurdly Charming and Addictive: Review of The New Adventures of Peter and Wendy

Okay, so picture this: not just a modern Peter Pan, but starring actual adults playing adult characters, and not like Hook's Peter Pan who has finally grown up and started a family, but the whole Peter Pan story transplanted to the modern world with adult problems. It takes place in Neverland, Ohio, and Peter Pan is an adorable but ridiculous man-child cartoonist who would rather play video games and party than accept adult responsibilities, but is in love with the sweet-but-tough and very level-headed Wendy Darling, advice columnist. If that sounds a little silly and a whole lot weird to you, YES. You're right. It's all of that and so much more.

After watching The Lizzie Bennet Diaries in 2012 (has it really been that long??), and being caught up in the fun of watching a familiar story (Austen's Pride & Prejudice) develop in new ways, I was hungry for more like it. Watching web series adaptations is a different experience than watching film or TV adaptations--you get to appreciate the progression in bite-sized pieces, which means you always can find the time to keep up and you are even more excited for the entrance of each character. The downside can be that with short episodes, more hangs on script/acting to captivate the viewer immediately. While a viewer may be willing to stick out 45 minutes for a TV episode they're apathetic about, will the same viewer click "next video" nine times for five-minute episodes?

The day I started The New Adventures of Peter and Wendy, I had recently finished Emma Approved, Pemberley Digital (the superb company that put out LBD)'s adaptation of Jane Austen's Emma, and had just been burned by two pretty mediocre web series that I won't name. I watched two episodes, then marathoned the rest of the season in one night. The whole story unfolded in a way that felt goofy, but was absolutely charming at the same time.

A major part of that is the small, but excellent cast, who manage to take oddball characters that could so easily be annoying, and make them lovable.

Kyle Walters (Peter) is a boy-next-door type with one of those crooked cute smiles, and he takes on his role with so much eagerness and panache that he just about pops from the screen. I'd seen him before in Welcome to Sanditon (based on the unfinished Austen novel Sanditon), where he didn't get enough screentime. He's a co-creator of Peter and Wendy, so he clearly is doing exactly what he wants and it works. I hate man-children and I tend to dislike Peter Pan, so the fact that I enjoyed Walters' Peter so much is a testament to how good the man is. Walters has the kind of comedic acting that could fit in on Parks and Recreation, alongside Chris Pratt, who made me love man-child Andy Dwyer.

Paula Rhodes (Wendy) has the toughest role--making a character like Wendy be strong, especially when surrounded by a mostly male cast. She is able to portray Wendy as a young woman really torn between growing up and staying a kid. She has a lot of monologues, which are hard to pull off and can require a stretch of the viewer's imagination, but she says everything with feeling and expression. She's also comic, which you don't see often in material given to women, and I loved watching Rhodes make extreme expressions. I also was at first taken aback by, but eventually in love with her Barbie voice (she voices Skipper and Stacie in Life in the Dreamhouse). She stumbles over lines that don't sound like lines when they come out of her mouth, because they don't sound rehearsed, they sound real.

The rest of the cast, Brennan Murray (Michael Darling), Graham Kurtz (John Darling), and Lovlee Carroll (Lily Bagha, a play on Tiger Lily as an ACTUAL Indian), are superb. Murray is absolutely ridiculous playing the childish and silly Michael, but still is somehow cute the whole time--and I'm often thrown off by adults acting like kids, so that's saying a lot from me. ;) Kurtz is my favorite--he has to play straight to all the crazy comedy, and his disdainful expressions are as hilarious as when he completely loses it (plus the guy has some serious dance skillz). Carroll plays an excellent mean girl, and powers her way through every scene.
From left to right: John, Michael, Wendy, Peter, and Lily
Of course, the actors are working with an awesome script. The show starts out a little awkward, as it has to information dump a little and has to manipulate viewers into accepting their reality. I still don't know how I feel about how they do Tinker Bell--as an unseen fairy (?) character who often has the camera--but after a while I found myself accepting that too. The dialogue is funny, referential, but not too much so, and can move well at all paces. It's also surprisingly relatable--not something I expected watching a Peter Pan adaptation. But in this series, growing up is not about biology as much as it is about the awkward transition into adult responsibilities.

The characters are total millennials, mostly college-educated and single, uncertain about what to do when they're not children or parents. Wendy's search for a better job was similar to what I've been going through lately, from putting oneself out there to the nerve-racking wait to the hurt of rejection. It's not just about whether or not to grow up either--there's also the struggle of realizing you HAVE grown up, but your life is still stuck in the same place it was when you were a kid. Rhodes (Wendy) delivers her big Ep. 13 line well, but the real credit goes to Shawn de Loache for writing it. As Wendy realizes she's in a rut, she says to Peter, "I'm old. For a girl, I'm old. I'm supposed to have it all together right now--I'm supposed to have a husband and a career and kids, and I don't, I don't, I have nothing! I'm so...I'm lost." The rest of the episode veers into romance (spoiler!), but that line is so exactly what it can feel like to be a single woman without a career. You want it all, but you actually have nothing.

It's hard for a comedy to be funny but still feel genuine. Not all good comedies succeed in seeming believable, but if they're funny enough, nobody cares. Peter and Wendy requires a little bend of imagination, but the conflicts are real, as are the tender moments, and that strengthens the comedy. The bond between the Darling siblings was one of my favorite parts of the story--it's subtle for most of the series, but Rhodes, Kurtz, and Murray are wonderful together whether they're fighting or encouraging each other. The romance is a little fluffy, but Walters and Rhodes have chemistry, and seem real even when one of them hurts the other's feelings. Through goofiness and cuteness, the series gets right to the big questions: What does it mean to be happy? What does love mean? What does it mean to grow up?

And all that being said, you can bet I'm excitedly waiting for Season 2, especially since the great Jim Beaver who played Bobby on Supernatural is joining the cast as Mr. Darling and we'll finally get to meet the mysterious Hook, a powerful CEO with a vendetta against Peter Pan.

But the Peter and Wendy crew needs a little more than pixie dust to make that a reality, so they've created an Indiegogo page that will close at 11:59 pm on August 31. They need to hit $55,000 to make a full and awesome Season 2, and as of the writing of this post are only at 70%. It's climbing up slowly but surely, but they can use every dollar they can get. They have a whole lot of cool perks even for smaller amounts and if you donate you can be a part of the unique and free story that these awesome artists are creating. As if I didn't have enough reasons to love the internet, it's stuff like this that makes me love it even more. Please donate and/or share if you can.

And check out The New Adventures of Peter and Wendy, share it with friends, and give me web series recommendations because I need something to watch till Season 2 comes out!
1. P+W cast picture credit: Save Neverland on Indiegogo
2. Wendy and Peter picture credit: Ep. 5 - Pre-Game
3. Wendy picture credit: Ep. 1 - Growing Up

1 comment:

  1. I tried watching it, but gave up after the seventh or eighth episode. I think marathoning a webseries is a little hard. I might give it another try and watch it more slowly.

    (Also I have also begun blogging again because I haven't written anything in SO LONG, I blame Germany.)