Review: “Anne with an E”, the complete series

The ongoing television challenge in our house is: What show can my wife and I enjoy together? This is especially critical question during this unprecedented Corona Virus mandate that has forced all of us to shelter-in-place for an extended undefined period of time. Admittedly, when left to my own devices, I often gravitate to shows like Homeland or Jack Ryan, but high testosterone choices cut out my wife. So, finding common viewing ground, especially now, is a must.

Recently, my wife suggested that we try a show called Anne with an E on Netflix. I had heard something about this show and I knew that it was loosely based on the classic children’s novel Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery. I had never read that book but I am always intrigued by any feature that is based upon classic literature. As a career educator, I felt compelled to bone up on the classic children’s canon, even if only via an adapted television show.

After just 2 episodes, I fell in love with this engaging show!

As mentioned, Anne with an E is based upon the classic youth novel Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery, and adapted for screen by Emmy award winning writer and producer Moira Walley-Beckett. It originated on CBC in Canada and premiered on Netflix in the USA in 2017.

The outstanding cast includes Amybeth McNulty as Anne Shirley Cuthbert, Geraldine James as Maurila Cuthbert, R.H. Thomson as Mathew Cuthbert, Dalilia Bela as Anne’s friend Diana Barry, and Lucas Jade Zumann as Gilbert Blythe. The rest of the large cast make up the villagers of Anne’s new home in Nova Scotia.

Anne with an E tells the story of brother and sister Mathew and Marilla Cuthbert’s decision to take on an orphaned boy to help on their farm. When Mathew arrives at the train station to pick up the boy, he discovers the young girl Anne, instead of a boy. Anne, who is auburn haired, vivacious, and a non stop talker, convinces Mathew to take her home. From that point on, after a period of indecision, Anne convinces the Cuthberts to keep her and, after many ups and downs and difficult adjustments, Anne becomes a beloved family and community member.

The strength of this show resides in the capacity of the all key actors to establish, embellish, and humanize their characters. In season one, the primary nature of all the key characters – Anne, Anne’s adopted family of brother and sister Mathew and Marilla, Anne’s close friends Diana Barry – is wonderfully established and woven into the S1 story lines, which keyed on the arrival of such a vivacious, loquacious red haired free spirit into their small rural staid Nova Scotia town.

Season two built upon the characterization established in S1 and then expanded each of those characters with layers of complexity that provides viewers with a deeper understanding of the totality of each character. The strengths, weaknesses, and complexities of the main and ancillary characters animated their S2 successes and failures respectively. All the characters presented in S2, including the new characters, dealt with situations that required them to draw deep into their souls to navigate the conflicts and issues that challenged them all and their entire small community.

Finally, in S3, which we have not yet finished, the entire cast of characters, especially Anne and her rapidly maturing school mates, begin to deal questions of identify, nascent feminism, bullying, and sexual/gender identity.

It must be noted that Anne with an E is not flawless creation: First, the structure of the story lines, along with each character’s development, must find ways to be understandable to a target youth audience. However, the stories and characters must also hold the interest of older viewers, likely the parents of young viewers. Consequently, some stories possessed story arcs that, at times, seemed predictable and shopworn.

Second, starting in S2 and continuing in S3, a determined presentism surfaces in some story and character arcs and this seemed a risky move. For purists and devotees of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s classic Anne of Green Gables, Anne with an E episodes which deal with sexuality and gender will likely seem too modern and afoul of the original novel’s inspiration and epoch.

For example, an episode in season 7 had Anne, her best friend Diana, and Cole, a decidedly metro sexual boy classmate, attend a lavish party at Diana’s aunt Josephine’s. The fact that the milieu of this particular party strongly resembles a soiree created in the elaborate imagination of Oscar Wilde will startle, and likely offend, more conservative viewers of the series.

That said, I personally loved that particular party even though I acknowledge that the presentism inherent in the pan gender/sexual party scene was definitely heretical and, given the story’s era and place, strained credulity.

Anne with an E is a heartwarming series, filled with stellar performances, and animated by three seasons of engaging story lines that touched my heart, made me laugh, and, at times, brought a tear to my eye. And, the introductory song – Ahead by a Century by the Canadian band Tragically Hip – for all episodes not only aligns with the prescience of this particular updated Anne in Anne with an E, it always rocks my socks off.

Best of all, it was a series that I enjoyed every bit as much of my wife and for that, I give Anne with an E a full-throated recommendation.

Available on Netflix

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