By Kyle Price-Livingston
Alice Rackham (Kate Hackett) is entirely too invested in her GPA. She is also totally unequipped to deal with criticism. She’s extremely smart and hardworking, and as a result, the aforementioned character flaws haven’t presented her with any great difficulty…until now. Now, though, the unthinkable has happened; Alice has received a B- on a paper, and the metaphorical shit is about to hit the allegorical fan.
The paper in question was for a poetry class, and it was marked down because, though Alice displays total technical proficiency when it comes to describing literary devices, her professor found it to be “sterile,” and suggests she doesn’t have the “feel” necessary to understand poetry. I empathize with Alice’s outrage at this. “Feel,” by definition, isn’t something you can teach. If you can’t teach it to your students, what right to you have to grade them on it? It’s like a gym teacher punishing a student for being unathletic. So this is either a dick move by a bad teacher or a misguided attempt to convince a bright pupil to put down her books and experience life a little. I say misguided because, within 5 minutes of meeting her, anybody and everybody should know better than to try to come between Alice and her books.
When I started this series and heard the name “Alice Rackham” I expected to see a Bernie Su-style retelling of Alice in Wonderland. Bernie has found a great deal of success in recent years adapting classical literature to the modern vlogging style of the millennial generation (See: The Lizzy Bennett Diaries), and I assumed the creators of Classic Alice had chosen to follow in his footsteps. This was not the case.
In Bernie’s work, his characters don’t realize they’re in a story. They just go about their lives and let the viewer draw the lines between show and book. Alice, on the other hand, chooses a book and deliberately sets out to recreate it in order to teach herself to feel literature. That may (should) seem crazy to you, but what’s even crazier is the book she chooses. I mean, if I were going to pick a book to try to model my life after I don’t think Crime and Punishment would even occur to me. Everybody in that book is miserable the entire time! We’re given to understand that Alice has never read the book, but, come on, it’s called Crime and Punishment! Even Andrew (Tony Noto), her good-natured-but-less-scholarly-best-friend-cum-documentarian thinks it’s a weird choice. It’s the choice of someone who doesn’t really fear punishment because they’ve never really been in trouble before. In short, it’s the choice of an impulsive child, but in some ways maybe exactly what Alice needs.
Alice doesn’t recreate the plot exactly (as that would require her to murder a shopkeeper) but she does plan and execute a daring crime. While she initially has her sights set on a bottle of nail polish from the school store, Andrew convinces her that, to truly understand the book, she needs to think bigger. Then he convinces her to steal a test. Oh you young idiots!
Alice’s burglary attempt is successful, to a point, but the test gets out (of course) and her professor gets suspicious. Over the course of the next few episodes, an increasingly exhausted, terrified, and guilt-wracked Alice nears her breaking point. In the face of ever worsening pressure, she decides to confess, only to have Andrew (rightfully) fall on his sword. In true overachiever style, rather than being relieved, she is furious with him for interfering and preventing her from learning her intended lesson.
I have never understood the motivations of obsessive students, and something tells me I never will. Still, Alice is charming, witty, and a lot more charismatic than she gives herself credit for. Andrew is a privileged doof, but I liked him, too. The acting from all four members (Elise Cantu as the cool roommate and Gentry White as the creeper RA) of the show’s cast is beyond solid, Josh Compton‘s directing and Hackett’s writing ensure that the episodes and dialogue are fast-paced enough to keep things interesting throughout the first season. Kate Hackett is an immensely talented writer and performer, and I hope to see a lot more from her in the future. No word on a second season yet, but the show only premiered in March. Be patient, people!
EDIT: There has been a second season and SO MUCH MORE since this review was written. Go and see for yourself!