New “Dystopian” Little Women Might be Missing the Point

Little Women is described as a hyper-stylized, gritty adaptation of the 1868 novel by Louisa May Alcott, in which disparate half-sisters Jo, Meg, Beth, and Amy band together in order to survive the dystopic streets of Philadelphia and unravel a conspiracy that stretches far beyond anything they have ever imagined—all while trying not to kill each other in the process.

What the actual f***? Have The CW’s executives actually read Little Women? Probably not, though they likely patted themselves on the backs for having Rory Gilmore be seen reading it on Gilmore Girls a decade ago.

Lifetime already tried transplanting Jo, Meg, Beth, and Amy into modern-day, and it was disastrous. I never thought that there could be a worse version of the adaptation where Jo ghost-writes tweets for a pop star and then Amy leaks said star’s naked photos from Jo’s phone… but here we are. Let’s take it point by point:

  • Why would this be set in Philadelphia when the novel was the quintessential New England book?
  • Why are they half-sisters? What purpose does that even serve, unless they want to pair up Marmee (I have to believe the girls have her in common) with a revolving door of love interests?
  • What even is this dystopia? Will it be Handmaid’s Tale-esque, with a title like The Pilgrim’s Progress? Or are the girls, different archetypes that they are, pitted against one another a la The Hunger Games?
  • Why do they want to kill each other?! Like, jeez, sure Jo and Amy had some problems involving burning manuscripts, but never death. That heaviness was reserved for Beth’s plotline.
  • Beth is totally going to die again, isn’t she? We don’t get anything good in this world.

Or, no, let’s beat The CW at their own game—this vaguely dystopian Little Women is not nearly gritty enough. Let’s wrap Meg, Beth, and Amy in rags and make them the sister-wives of Immortan Laurie, resigned to birth his heirs until they’re busted out by Jo (after she’s shaved her head in sacrifice, or something) and taken on the Little Women: Fury Road! Or go all Orphan March, with the next Tatiana Maslany portraying identical clones named Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. At least in either case you could actually retain some of the little women that we know and love.

Little Women gritty dystopian remake wtf

“To save your asses, what do you think?”

I’m not against reimaginings themselves. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, while cheesy, still inserts its undead into the plot of the original book, so that learning to be ladylike for the Bennet sisters also includes defending one’s very life. The Lunar Chronicles succeeds where most crossovers fail in uniting several famous fairy tales under futuristic commentary about space colonization, aliens, citizenship, and politics. It is absolutely genius to fashion Pinocchio’s nose into a weapon, and making that weapon a stake for hunting vampires is even more delightful. Hell, even Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, the cheesiest of them all, wins by balancing its steampunk-y weapons with Hansel’s magical diabetes.

The genre of dystopia itself has evolved, too, in showing how women can overcome the horrifying futuristic societies subjugating them. There’s a long progression from Offred surreptitiously recording The Handmaid’s Tale to Katniss Everdeen taking down the Panem hierarchy with a single arrow. (Sacrificing her own happiness and mental state along the way, I might add.) These dystopian tales work because they tackle of-the-moment issues such as female autonomy and the intersections of war and reality television.

What doesn’t work is applying that dystopian gloss with the same glibness as an Instagram filter. The March sisters persevered in the face of the Civil War, not some futuristic government takeover complete with country-wide conspiracies. The setting just doesn’t match their characters; and to force these beloved literary figures into more futuristic tropes strips away the important details that I grew up reading (and rereading, once I was actually the same age as the characters). Look, one of my favorite plays in recent memory is WOMEN, in which Jo, Meg, Amy, and Beth are written as if they embody Girls‘ foursome of Hannah, Marnie, Jessa, and Shoshanna—but again, it works. Because Jo does think she’s the voice of a generation, and Meg does experience serious Fear-Of-Missing-Out once she settles down super-quickly, and Amy is an entitled little brat, and Beth’s slow death is pretty inconveniencing.

Little Women gritty dystopian remake wtf

Careful, Beth, that baby’s a biological weapon.

If dystopian Little Women truly has to happen, I at least hope that the writers don’t erase the March sisters we know. Jo has to write the propaganda that fuels the underground rebellion. Hard to say if Meg or Amy will be more likely to side with whatever Capitol-esque governing body rules Philadelphia (again, what?). And I like Beamly’s suggestion that Beth become some sort of immortal science experiment. Because if there’s only one reason for this gritty remake to exist, it’s for Beth to kick. some. ass.

Natalie Zutter is going to sit by the fire and reread Little Women, quietly weeping. You can read more of her work on Twitter and elsewhere.

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