I loved the Lizzie Bennet Diaries. Like many of you, I sat in eager anticipation for each new episode and then watched the episode multiple times, squeeing and over-analyzing each move the characters made. I supported the crew in the Kickstarter and was super excited when they announced they would run a miniseries of Austen's Sanditon this summer. I hadn't read Sanditon, but I trusted the team to do as good a job with it as they did with LBD.
And then they didn't.
Don't get me wrong, I still love Pemberly Digital, I am watching Emma Approved, and Sanditon wasn't awful. It just wasn't as good as LBD was. And here are the two main ways where Sanditon went wrong.
1. They chose an unknown, unfinished Austen novel as their source material.
I know that a lot of people who hadn't read Pride and Prejudice or seen the movies watched and loved LBD. However, there is a wide cultural understanding of the general plot of Pride and Prejudice. Even if you have never read the book or seen the movies, you know it's about guy and girl who hate each other and then fall in love.
Sanditon does not have that same cultural presence. Because Austen died before she completed the novel, most people have not read it. Even after seeing Welcome to Sanditon and reading the summary of the novel on Wikipedia, I still don't know what the story is about. With LBD you knew Lizzie and Darcy would get together in the end; the question was how. With Sanditon, I couldn't figure out what was supposed to be happening, and I'm still not entirely sure. What was our end-goal supposed to be beyond Clara and Edward getting together? Were we ever supposed to resolve Tom's hijacking and re-branding of the town's businesses in a false sense of progress? Was Clara supposed to have a story arc? She didn't change like Elizabeth, Anne, Emma, and Elinor did throughout their novels.
And what was with the the spin gym side story? It was introduced during the last third of the series and then didn't go anywhere. You don't introduce things that late in the game. Or if you do, it better be important. But it wasn't. It created a negligible amount of romantic tension and then...nothing.
2. They sacrificed core content for filler content, specifically the fan videos.
Don't get me wrong, I love the community that sprung up around LBD. I love that we swapped theories in the comments and created gifs and wrote reaction posts and experienced LBD together. However, these fan reactions should never take prescient over the professionally written content. I don't subscribe to see four minutes of fan videos every week. These videos didn't move the plot along at all. At least in LBD when we had filler episodes, we got to know the characters better. The Sanditon fan videos, not so much.
A better way to do "filler" episodes was Clara's ice cream videos. Even though they didn't move the plot forward much, we got to know Clara.
I don't know if Pemberly Digital was just trying to stretch out the series to make it last longer because Emma Approved got delayed or what, but I would have preferred a shorter, fan-video-less series. I think the community is great and the fans are great, but we are not the central content. The story is.
I did like Tom and Ed and Clara. I loved the late night conversation between Clara and Ed. I loved seeing more of Gigi and her growth as a character beyond her brother's expectations. Pemberly Digital made some big mistakes with Sanditon, but I think they learned from those mistakes and will avoid them with Emma Approved. I'm excited to see where this new series will go.