Check It Out! THE MISSELTHWAITE ARCHIVES

Courtesy Pencil Ink Productions

Hey folks! We know our special features have been MIA over the summer. We’re slowly getting back into the swing of things, and easing our way into the fall season with a bit of a revival! 

I’m going to be upfront: until now, I have never watched a transmedia-based show. Unlike our resident social media guru Cassidy (who’s already given YouTube smash hits some love on this site), I’m a complete web series novice. (I know, I fail as a millenial.)

That is, until now. I recently caught up with one such production, and managed to mainline its entire season just in time for its run to wrap up!

Show: The Misselthwaite Archives

Original Premiere Date: January 2015

Status: Currently finishing its first season.

Time Slot: The series is updated on Wednesdays and Fridays by 9am PST, and will be airing its finale this coming week. (So you better binge now to catch up!) You can find all episodes on its YouTube channel, and extra content on its website.

The internet is inundated with web adaptations of literary stalwarts. The Misselthwaite Archives follows that grand tradition, taking a modern spin on Francis Hodgson Burnett’s classic children’s novel The Secret Garden. It gets a bit of an edgy twist here: instead of being set in turn-of-the-twentieth-century England, Misselthwaite takes place in twenty-first century small-town Oregon. Main character Mary Lennox (Sophie Giberson) is not a rich, coddled, spoiled preteen living in India and ignored by her parents until their untimely death, but a snarky, cursing, cigarette-smoking, attitude-spewing seventeen-year old who is sent to live with her absent uncle- and aunt-by-marriage in the Pacific Northwest after her parents are tragically killed.

Courtesy Pencil Ink Productions

Courtesy Pencil Ink Productions

The best way to describe her is prickly: she’s got a comeback for everything, and her rebellion is painfully cliché as a cry for attention. (I mean that in the nicest way possible.  There’s a reason that tack gets used so often in teenage coming-of-age stories — it’s basically a default setting for troubled kids.) Yet, what surprised me at first glance is that the new family she is forced to live with isn’t trapped in the evil-guardian stereotype. Sorta-Aunt Sarah (Kelsey Tucker) means well, and certainly puts up with Mary’s sarcasm and smoking with more patience than most parents would, I’d imagine. Uncle Art (Brett Vail) is largely invisible from the narrative, but still manages to convey the widower’s deep pain and inability to connect with his family after tragedy. Tutor Phoebe (Jack Wells) and her brother Declan (Bryce Earhart) are so cheerful they could be Disney characters, and could occasionally be accused of veering too far into fairytale land, but they too manage to ground themselves when they call Mary out on her crap.

As in most teen dramas, Mary feels alone in her new surroundings, far away from her home in Georgia — though I wouldn’t be surprised if she were just as much an outcast there too. Her big-city style and attitude clash with the locals, and she cares so little about school that even her tutor is at a loss, in spite of herself. Her only friend is a cat she “finds” in the yard, who she names Robin. One day, she chases him into the nearby woods, where she comes across a beautiful glade that obviously was once a special place to someone. Her own secret garden, if you will. (See what I did there?) She enlists nature-lover Declan’s help to clean up the space and restore it to its former glory. It’s there where she finds peace for however brief a time she can, until she has to return to real life.

Real life, it seems, is topsy-turvy.  The only person she ever related to in her family was cousin Callie (Ella DeVito), but she’s supposedly away at boarding school. However, Mary one day finds out the truth about Callie’s whereabouts (Spoiler alert!), and eventually makes it her mission to bring her cousin out of her self-imposed shell, healing her body and soul in the process, and in so doing, trying to reunite a family that has been fractured for so long. There are inevitable bumps along the way, but why would I reveal them all to you here? Go watch and find out for yourselves!

Like I mentioned before, I’m really not up on the web series format. All I knew going into this is that they’re usually done confessional-style, with the actors talking directly to the cameras standing in for their YouTube fans. Misselthwaite approaches it a little differently, and mixes the webcam-friendly format with more traditional fourth-wall scenes, along with some camera-as-character’s-POV “episodes” as well. I have to say that I’m surprised how well it all works for me, and I’ve found the series as a whole clever in this respect. (My hat’s off to showrunner Aileen Sheedy and her crew.)

Admittedly, at first it took some getting used to: jumping from Mary’s video diary entries to her psychiatrist back home, to her class presentation rehearsals FaceTime-style, to standard single-camera vignettes depicting conversations between characters, to episodes told from Robin the cat’s vantage point, the show is definitely a whirlwind of filmmaking techniques. (Full disclosure: the standard cinematic episodes are still my favorites. I’m a luddite, apparently.) Yet as a former media student in a previous life, it was actually kind of neat to sample all of those in the same season, and it definitely appeals to me more than I thought it would. Moreover, it’s intriguing to see how the directorial style has evolved over the course of the series, and has adapted to its surroundings; the lush beauty of the glade is easily the highlight of the show, and sharply contrasts with the confines of the house. The production values definitely took me by surprise.

Courtesy Pencil Ink Productions

Courtesy Pencil Ink Productions

As someone who also enjoys a flawed female protagonist in her shows, Misselthwaite fits the bill nicely. Mary is nobody’s fool, and I can see how she might even rub some viewers the wrong way. That being said, there is obviously a deep well of emotion barely concealed underneath her aloof exterior, and Giberson demonstrates her vulnerability with as much depth as her unease, particularly in some of the latest episodes. She passes off Mary’s snappy dialogue believably (actually a little reminiscent of Gilmore Girls to me), which is no easy feat given how much exposition is needed in some scenes. Furthermore, Mary’s relationship with Callie has evolved nicely, and what could be trite is, for the most part, developing into genuine affection between the two girls. (I must admit, the Rocky-esque training sequence made me chuckle.) I’m probably most shocked at the bond between Mary and Declan; though it was obvious they were being paired off upon their initial encounter, I really do feel like their friendship now goes both ways. While I’m not completely sold on “shipping” them yet (I’m notoriously resistant to such endeavors), I definitely enjoy seeing them as BFFs right now. (I’d totally watch a spinoff with those three — just saying.)

So there you have it: I might not be a transmedia convert yet, but I’m astonished and pleased to acknowledge that I’m a fan of The Misselthwaite Archives. I’m only sorry that there are just two episodes left with this bunch; had this been a traditional TV series, I’d definitely be tuning in for more every week. If you’ve got some time to spare this week, do yourself a favor and catch up on the show on its YouTube channel, before its grand dénouement this week.

Will Art go through with selling the glade? Will Callie reconnect with her father and face the world beyond her home? Will Mary get into college? Will Declan save the world, one plant at a time? Will Robin ever get some love from the Cravens? Tune in and find out, just like I will.

Nels
Nels knew how to operate a TV remote control before she knew how to talk. As a result, she has spent an inordinate amount of time pretending she actually lives on a soundstage. When she isn’t watching whichever show is currently capturing her heart, she is writing about how said show is currently capturing her heart. She loves pie.

4 Responses to Check It Out! THE MISSELTHWAITE ARCHIVES

  1. Cassidy says:

    I need to catch up on this! I watched a few episodes and it looked so good — the overall production was just so, so good. I’m glad you watched one webseries at the very least! (Come to the dark side!!)
    Most of them are tv episodes, but only five minutes long.

    • Nels Nels says:

      Ha, I don’t know if I’m ever going to have time to keep up with all of the series out there. But it was definitely impressive how slick an experience it was for an independent production. Definitely a step up from my camcorder productions from my student days to say the least.

  2. Devra says:

    Thank you so much for watching and reviewing our series. We really appreciate it. Glad you were able to “tune in” before it ends!

    Devra Dato-on
    Multimedia Creator
    The Misselthwaite Archives

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