By Susan E. Clarke
It has been a little while since I have read any Jane Austen. I am the kind of girl that swings past “Pride and Prejudice” on a rainy day more than the gothic romances, but it’s important to know that even if you aren’t familiar with “Northanger Abbey”, as this series reports to be based upon, you can still get swept away in the adventures of The Cate Morland Chronicles.
While very much a ‘YouTuber’ structure, with newbie vlogger issues – jump cut choices, wide lens edits, Cannon camera sound without ambience and proximity focus hiccups, this linear story arc of a fangirl meeting her teenage crush will have you hooked all the same.
While the show stays true to the overall storyline of Austen’s novel, it tells the tale in a very modern way. But essentially this story is about me. It’s about you. It’s about every genre- loving fan girl and boy you could stumble across at Comic Con, and as such Cate becomes your best friend instantly.
With a Bridget Jones bounce mixed with a ‘He’s Just Not That Into You’ innocence (and by the way, it is astonishing how much the lead actress resembles a young Gennifer Goodwin) Madeline Thatcher is a strong and passionate actress who is completely unshakable and convincing while depicting Cate as a girl who could quite believably trip over her own shoelaces in a world she doesn’t fully understand. With her enthusiastic and yet doe-like charm it is practically impossible to outshine her in a scene.
The comraderie in this series is very strong and it is refreshing to genuinely dislike the antagonist of this first season without him doing anything classically ‘evil’. All the characters are very human, and while you can feel a taste of the hyper-reality it very much is grounded in real life. Even Cate’s best friend Isabella (Amanda Taylor) is equally complex. Sometimes she is there to support Cate and sometimes as a viewer you think she is really rather selfish – but that’s what real humans are like. I think there is a lot to be said about how much you love Cate with how you automatically react to those around her. Ultimately, if she is uncomfortable then so are you. And there is nothing more uncomfortable in this series than the claustrophobic presence of John (Frankie Madril), Isabella’s brother and sleazeball who cannot take a hint.
But thankfully your frustration with him is swiftly pushed aside in favour of the chemistry between Cate and her favourite actor (the love of 14 year old Cate’s life) and now adult heartthrob, Henry Tilney (Dele Opeifa). This is something that is very difficult to get across in just 5 minutes of run time but the FEELS ARE REAL, PEOPLE!
This is a very real romance in the eyes of the viewers, backed quite cleverly by an ‘online fan base’ who watches Cate’s vlogs. Essentially you! And before you know it you’re joining in and feeling part of a larger community. You want to see what happens next between them. No spoilers but there is a ‘juxtaposition moment’ within these first 26 episodes that is put across so well you can’t help but hold your breath. And the quickfire relationship between Isabella and Jimmy (Rob Zimmerman), Cate’s brother, is sold so expertly that they spend a whole episode quite successfully without speaking a single word. This has not been achieved to such high a standard since ‘The Hush’ in Buffy The Vampire Slayer – albeit, accompanied by a soundtrack.
The matriarchal figures, Henry’s agent, Eleanor (Erika Ovuoba) and Cate’s boss, Lesile (Charla Cochran), along with the ominous ‘General’ that is Henry’s father fall in line, but aren’t overused, to create a very realistic world.
Each episode ranges from a swift 2 minutes to a longer form 6 minutes and depending on the topic it can leave you feeling a little unsatisfied either way – one, because you aren’t quite sure what you gained from such a short visit but even in the longer episodes it’s primarily because you want to have more to watch. It seems so unnatural that the episodes should end at all when the 2 – 3 set locations allow such a fluid and continuous form of storytelling. I felt like I could have watched this quicker and gained more from it if they were sewn together. But then that wouldn’t be a YouTube format so they face the same questions all creators face when they are using that platform – how much is too much and how short can I make it so that I can get it into festivals at the same time as not boring our fans?
Viewing numbers are light as of this writing, but it is early days for the season as the last episode was only launched earlier this month. What is certain, looking at the comments – the viewers the series does have are very loyal and just as excitable as Cate when she is watching her favourite show. This series speaks to a niche audience and, rather like the ‘Browncoats’ of Firefly, they are loyal!
As a series which talks about the heartbreak of certain cliffhangers, I was surprised I didn’t see the latest one coming. But with the promise of the enigmatic and mysterious Northanger house (in Napa Valley) – Henry’s family home – soon to be gracing our screens I have a feeling that things are about to get rather spooky and that is worth the wait!
Over all, whether you are a fan of the book or not it is highly likely you will find something to love about The Cate Morland Chronicles.
Catch up with The Cate Morland Chronicles on YouTube.