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Frankenstein, MD: Blood is Spilt to Underwhelming Results

Frankenstein, MD: Blood is Spilt to Underwhelming Results


Pemberley Digital, the studio behind the Emmy-winning webseries The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, debuted its latest show on Youtube last week. The series is an adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein that reinterprets the story with Victoria Frankenstein as a brilliant young medical student on the verge of obtaining her MD. Highly driven and slightly eccentric, she’s focused on obtaining a successful career in the male-dominated field of medical research. Her malleable colleague Iggy DeLacey (based on Igor from the novel) assists her. Her mentor Dr. Waldman and old friends Eli and Rory make occasional appearances as well.

Pemberley Digital is one of a handful of digital studios that has the funding and resources to create lengthy, well-produced webseries – yet, with each series it produces post-Lizzie Bennet Diaries, it continues to disappoint. I previously reviewed Emma Approved, which, while beautifully cast, was determinedly mediocre over the course of its 72-episode run. With every episode, the potential to be more- to have Emma be less sharp-edged, to experience growth faster, to develop Harriet and Jane beyond their one-note archetypes, to expand the world such that major events were shown on-camera instead of off-camera – shone through – and yet was never executed.

Frankenstein, MD, while very different in tone and concept, suffers from the same limitations. Casting, always Pemberley Digital’s strength, is good as always – Anna Lore as Victoria is expressive with a very strong camera presence, and Steve Zaragoza as her wry partner Iggy delivers some of the funniest lines with great panache. But plot is unfocused and there’s no clear focus again, nothing particularly important at stake here.

The series is framed not as a video diary but as an informative science show filmed by Victoria to educate the audience and track her scientific experiments – but there’s no timeframe given. Instead of being a series of videos that are part of a PhD thesis, for example, or videos that are working towards a specific goal, these are simply a whim of Victoria’s as she finishes up her medical degree, and feel slightly narcissistic – why the need to film her experiments? Webseries and in particular vlogs always run the risk of coming across as either self-indulgent or dull (unimportant snapshots of an individual’s life) and it’s important that they have a specific purpose or an endpoint with an arc in order to counterbalance this.

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Frankenstein, MD would work if it either introduced fascinating, quirky characters, or, better, set forth an immediate problem that must be resolved, whether it’s relational, personal, or professional. For example, Victoria could be particularly fascinated with the thin line between humans and animals since childhood, and announce in the first video that she plans to pursue this line of experimentation. Victoria could be written as someone who is so emotionally detached that she doesn’t know how to engage with others, and this could also be compelling as the show worked to open her up and grow her as an individual. Or, she or someone she loves could have a longterm illness, and her drive springs from a need to find a cure or at least the cause of said illness. Since the approach to adapting the story is already so fluid as far as time period and gender (all for the better), it only makes sense to tweak it so as to add higher emotional stakes or a clear through-line of plot.

Victoria is a fun character to watch, and her experiments are mildly amusing as she zaps, paralyzes, and even briefly kills Eli, Rory, and Iggy, respectively. And episode 4 closed on the first hint at both a professional mystery that must be solved and a developing relational element – Iggy, unsurprisingly, is attracted to his domineering research partner. The series is cute and entirely watchable. But it’s nothing more than competent. If Pemberley Digital continues to produce mildly entertaining, entirely underwhelming series, it will never become the destination for new, creative, exciting content that it was poised to be after the success of The Lizzie Bennett Diaries, and that would be a pity, because webseries are an exciting and fluid medium that allows for great and innovative storytelling.