Death and Poetry Party: You’re Invited!
Shipwrecked’s newest addition to the world of YouTube, Edgar Allan Poe’s Murder Mystery Dinner Party, combines humor, literature, and, of course, death.
By Joanne Paquin, Emerson College
Edgar Allan Poe would like to invite you to a dinner party.
“That sounds unbelievably lame,” Lenore, Poe’s ghost companion, says and insists that he needs to spice up his invitation. “What if we made it a murder mystery party?”
“Yes. Murder,” Poe responds. As all fans of his literary work know, Poe is big on murder.
Unfortunately, all the invitation decisions don’t go as smoothly as the inclusion of murder did. After some bickering and back and forth gibes, the two transform the lame dinner party invitation into a murder mystery, invite-only, casual dinner party gala for friends potluck. Obviously specifics hold greater value here than the economy of language, but Poe is the renowned poet, so who’s to judge?
The invitation was released on Shipwrecked’s YouTube channel at the beginning of 2015. Edgar Allan Poe invited ten distinct authors and poets from a variety of time periods to his dinner. There were those who shared Poe’s love for the grisly: Mary Shelley, Agatha Christie and H. G. Wells. There were those who considered themselves manly, Ernest Hemingway and “George Eliot,” and the not-so manly Oscar Wilde and Fyodor Dostoevsky. Invites also graced Charlotte Brontë, who holds class to the highest of regards, and the less austere Louisa May Alcott and Emily Dickinson. And then there was Annabel Lee, Poe’s love.
A year after its announcement, the misfit group of writers finally gathered to begin a foreboding evening of festivities in Shipwrecked’s newest, eleven-part comedy series, “Edgar Allan Poe’s Murder Mystery Dinner Party.” The comedy group founded in 2013 with the sole purpose of creating “comedic historical literary content,” and they succeed valiantly with this attempt.
The premise starts off simple; a group of writers gathered for an evening of fine dining and games. But, as Oscar Wilde says, “Gathering the most brilliant minds in literature? Something was bound to happen.”
And almost immediately, it does.
With the death of one of Poe’s guests, the murder mystery dinner party turns into a night of unfeigned murder and puzzle-solving as the group attempts to not only survive, but to figure out who the actual murderer is and what their motive could be. The blame shifts around the room constantly, briefly settling on certain individuals until that person either dies or has their name temporarily cleared.
But instead of panicking, like most people might have done in this situation, the literary figures remain calm and use their power of observation and witty thinking to try and make sense of the situation. But as these writers are all of distinct and varying minds, clearly they’re not going to agree with each other, which leads to often humorous bickering and futile arguments that only result in the death of another party guest.
“My, we are becoming adept at this murder game, are we not?” Charlotte Brontë proclaims at one point, voicing exactly what the viewers are thinking.
The actors—several of whom have starring roles in “A Very Potter Musical,” “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries” and “Parks and Recreation”—are what make this “Poe Party” incredible. The success of this YouTube miniseries comes from not only these actors’ innate abilities to combine comedy with drama, but their displayed understanding of the writers they are portraying. Not only do they present themselves in the ways their literary counterparts may have behaved, but they also resort to their counterpart’s writing style to assist in giving off a vivacious vibe of the writers most people, unfortunately, only know from the dull pages of books they were forced to read in high school English class.
The other part of this web series’ success comes from the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) jokes about the authors and their writing styles. Though it is not needed, a general understanding about these writers and their work helps with appreciating some of comedy in the series. If one did not know that Emily Dickinson was notable for her reclusive lifestyle, for example, a viewer of the web series may not have understood why Dickinson went practically unnoticed by the other authors the entire evening, despite her softly voiced presence. Or when George Elliot, portrayed by the incredible Lauren Lopez, spent the majority of her time at the party dressing and excessively acting like a man (“Likes: beer, sporting, talking about sporting. Dislikes: peeing sitting down, tending to the home and not talking about sporting.”) in an attempt to hide her identity. One may not have understood this was in reference to Mary Ann Evans hidden female identity with her use of the pen name “George Elliot.”
However, the comedy won’t go over the head of those who are not well versed in the literary history of these writers.
The sick burns, sensational reactions and petty bickering will leave any viewer wishing for a mic so they can drop it or giggling at lines such as, “It is a truth universally acknowledged that snitches get stitches.”
At one point during the series, Constable Jim says, “Don’t do murder,” but thankfully, somebody does not listen. It results in a quirky web series. It results in something charming. The miniseries manages a fine balance between amusement and confusion and is composed of unconventional, but lovable characters that show great affection for the literary personalities they are essentially mocking. The series is also visually beautiful, with gorgeous costumes and a fitting set that bring the viewers into the mayhem with a desire to explore Poe’s eldritch home a bit more. And the soundtrack is scintillating, adding a spirited bounce to the party’s chaos.
It also has a fulfilling finale. The series fittingly wrapped up on Halloween this year with a big reveal and an even larger twist. Though it’s not a happy ending for everyone, it feels complete due to its connection to Edgar Allan Poe’s macabre writing, as he is the main character of this story.
Mary Shelley says, “The game of life and the game of death have one thing in common: They do not care what you want.” But lucky for the viewers, this is not how the entertainment industry works. Shipwrecked seems to know exactly what their viewers want, and they deliver with flair, eccentricity and a whole lot of merriment in this witty web series.