Modernized screen adaptations of classic literature are widespread enough to be their very own genre: we see them on the big screen regularly, and they’ve sprung up with even more energy on the Internet. Ever since The Lizzie Bennet Diaries swept onto YouTube back in 2012, many more updates of famous books have sprung up to join in on the fun. Everyone from Shakespeare to L.M. Montgomery to Louisa May Alcott to J. Sheridan Le Fanu (shoutout to any Carmilla fans reading this!) has gotten the contemporary reimagining treatment. There’s a great deal of innovation that comes with this format, often in ways that would never have been available to movies working off of similar goals — for instance, transmedia storytelling is a regular fixture in these kinds of productions. Characters often get personalized Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram accounts, filled with supplemental observations and interactions designed to enhance the main plot for fans of a series. On a representation level, these kinds of shows also frequently take the opportunity to reimagine older works with characters of color or LGBT protagonists, even going so far as to directly challenge examples of misogyny, racism, and homophobia in their source texts. All of this means that there’s an ocean of potential for clever storylines and interesting themes with such a setup. One of my personal favorite examples is also one of the newest: Canadian webseries All For One, an interpretation of Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers. (Spoilers to follow.)
This time around, the inexperienced-yet-passionate hero d’Artagnan is envisioned as Dorothy, a college freshman with a bad temper and intense ideals. Musketeers Athos, Porthos, and Aramis become Mu Sigma Theta sorority sisters Alex, Portia, and Ariana, while love interest Constance transforms into Dorothy’s roommate Connie. Milady, the story’s iconic villain, is now Miller, Alex’s ex. Since a 2016 university dorm is a pretty definitively different setting from a seventeenth-century military guard in the service of French royalty, there is no actual murder and only one sword to be found, but the novel’s spirit of fun, friendship, and emotional heart remains strong as ever.
As you’ve probably noticed, most of the characters’ genders have been changed for this version of Dumas’ adventurous tale, and it results in some very compelling role reversals: while The Three Musketeers is a fantastic book, it’s also very clearly affected by the sexism of its time in how it constructs women like Constance, Milady, and Queen Anne among the mostly male cast. All For One not only aims to mitigate this with a cast of complex and unique women, but takes the extra step in having these protagonists explicitly talk about feminism. Furthermore, institutional misogyny is a real factor in the plot, where problems like gendered emotional abuse and victim-blaming openly affect their lives. It’s both incredibly refreshing and a great example of how subversive these adaptations can be.
Of course, the show is more than just a soapbox for the creators’ opinions. It also has some fabulously written character arcs and fascinating relationships, which is no small feat for a relatively large cast sharing the collective screen time of thirty 5-7 minute episodes. Dorothy, one of the most immediately lovable heroines I’ve seen in a while, has a nuanced storyline about growing up and out of her worst impulses, while my personal favorite Alex struggles with her own sense of identity and feelings of responsibility towards other people. Portia, always underestimated as silly and shallow, learns to be strong as she stands up to loved ones who unintentionally demean her, while Ariana figures out how to be kinder and more empathetic. While some of these themes might sound simplistic or trite on paper, the execution is anything but. It’s a rich, honest depiction of young adults finding out who they are, caring about each other, being hurtful or cruel, apologizing, and going forward together.
The great part of all these is how even recurring figures who appear less often are packed with their own complexities and endearing qualities. Characters like Connie and Jeanne Treville make fewer appearances than the main group despite their importance, but they both have incredibly distinct personalities and hinted-at external lives that impact how they react to situations within the primary plot. It takes a special level of skill and care to make every moment of screen time the supporting cast has count towards fleshing out their worldview, perspectives, and motivations. Connie in particular only appears in eleven of the first season’s thirty episodes, yet her romance with Dorothy is hugely key to the narrative and believable enough to become a fan-favorite.
Speaking of romance, this is another area where All For One changes the game. Book fans are, of course, aware that Constance dies in the original novel. After the well-documented epidemic of dead women-loving female characters or, at the very least, living ones with continually broken relationships, it’s easy to feel disheartened and nervous when a straight relationship with a tragic ending is adapted into one between two girls. However, this is one show that’s self-aware enough to know its leads deserve a victory — not only in the context of their story, but in the context of the real world, where a sweet, healthy relationship affectionately given the ship name of “Dornie” in-universe is beyond important. Sure, there are conflicts and challenges, but the overall narrative thrust is one of hope, joy, and love between Dorothy and Connie.
On the other side of the coin, we have Portia and Ariana. While I won’t get into the specific events of their arc too deeply, it’s one of the most emotionally complicated parts of the show, and they deliver on both joy and angst in spades. Despite some painful scenes, any negativity is always towards the goal of growing both characters, not simply perpetuating misery for misery’s own sake as a default. I loved watching them be a team, fall apart, and then slowly reconnect in an amazingly organic way. It’s left open-ended as to whether they’ll also find a “happily ever after,” but if All For One gets a second season? I’ve got a good feeling about it.
Going into further detail about the series would probably result in a straight-up outline, so instead I’ll link the first season, which can be found below.
Should you have the time and inclination for a Twitter crawl, the transmedia element of All For One is an equally joyful experience. So: if stories about friendship, forgiveness, becoming an adult, fighting for your principles, and believing in yourself when no one else seems to are your jam, I’d recommend giving this one a shot. More than anything else, All For One’s strongest message is that it’s great to be an independent person, able to love yourself and stand on your own, but life is best experienced with the people you care about and connect with. More than any other new show I’ve fallen in love with so far in 2016, this is the one I hope comes back for another round of modern-day collegiate swashbuckling.