Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Anne with an E, Season 2

For those who thought Season 1 of Netflix's Anne with an E took enormous liberties with a classic children's novel so as to make it almost unrecognizable, then beware of Season 2. Season 2 makes use of the structure and main characters of the original story to tell a completely different tale. You thought Anne was the main character? No more. A charmingly gawky teenage boy named Cole upstages Anne as he comes to terms with his homosexuality while dealing with persecution from the ignorant rednecks of Avonlea.

Remember Gilbert Blyth? In the books Anne refused to speak with Gilbert while trying to beat him in spelling bees, and in everything else, while secretly being in love with him. Well, in the latest version of the Anne-Gilbert romance, there is no rivalry, no tension; Gilbert and Anne are buddies. Gilbert quits school to work on a steamer. He works his way to Trinidad where he makes friends with a black shipmate named Bash and delivers the baby of a prostitute. Gilbert brings Bash back to Avonlea to live on the family farm but the rednecks proceed to marginalize him for his skin color.

Meanwhile, Anne and Diana are escorted by Cole to a party in Charlottesville at the home of Miss Josephine Barry, Diana's wealthy great aunt. Now, according to the novel, Miss Barry was a curmudgeon with a heart of gold who becomes Anne's benefactress. In the Netflix rendition, Miss Barry is the Alice B. Toklas of P.E. Island whose very own Gertrude died, leaving her heartbroken. Her bohemian party is described by the producers as a "queer soirée" which Anne thinks is wonderful. She declares Aunt Jo's "marriage" with Aunt Gertrude as "spectacular." Cole comes "out" and Diana hides in the spare room. Diana, of course, is exposed as being no better than the other rednecks of Avonlea, and so Cole replaces her as Anne's "bosom friend."

It goes on and on. In the words of World:
Let’s get one thing straight: Extrapolating on and even profiting from a classic isn’t new. It isn’t even necessarily a bad thing. Michael Landon did it with Little House on the Prairie, and he’s practically a national hero. Neither is including a gay character in a historical drama: Downton Abbey did it with the nuanced character of Thomas Barrow, and in the end, we were all rooting for him to rejoin the downstairs staff.

Season 1 of CBC and Netflix’s Anne with an E was gritty, in many ways departing big-time from the book, but it still made pretty good television. Season 2, though, feels as if it were written by a different team of writers, brought in mostly to drive buzz about the show. It’s hard to list comprehensively every modern issue this season touches on. There’s school bullying, bullying of homosexuals, guns in the classroom, teenage suicide, racism (both overt and via microaggression), white fragility, and the definition of marriage. Two more topics top it off: consent for vaginal checks during birth, and prejudice against people who never marry.

A giveaway to what’s coming is found in the show’s magical opening sequence (featuring an artistic blend of owls, gold leaves, and the image of actress Amybeth McNulty, who plays Anne) where a singer croons, “You are ahead by a century.” A century is right. It’s hard to imagine TV writers of past decades using lines like, “A skirt is not an invitation,” or, “How can there be anything wrong with a life if it’s spent with the person you love?”

As one of the first shows to capitalize on our post-#MeToo world, this one seems not to know how to handle it. It fumbles with dialogue like an awkward teenager. The writing is bad (see above), the plotlines contrived. Writers might think they’re bravely breaking barriers, but they’re really just taking their values—the good and the bad—and cracking them over our heads like a school slate.

Not every storyline is insidious. But nowhere does the show feel more forced than with the character of Cole (Cory Gruter-Andrew), a sensitive and artistic classmate who supplants Diana (Dalila Bela) in Anne’s life—in essence, replacing her kindred spirit with a gay best friend. Cole attracts attention not only from the class bully, but from attendees at a “queer soirée” (the producers’ term), who drape pearls around his neck. Even his male teacher in Avonlea, the one engaged to Prissy Andrews, has some sort of awakening during a moment of sexual tension with Cole. Eventually Cole is symbolized by a fox being hunted by the whole town, and moves in with Diana’s Aunt Josephine (Deborah Grover)—hinted to be a lesbian last season, and now confirmed to be so.

Redeeming plotlines: a sweet love story, and performances by Geraldine James and R.H. Thomson, who play Marilla and Matthew and shine as the strongest stars of the cast despite some seriously silly storylines of their own. We also get a semi-satisfying ending to the school bully situation. It’s unclear but possible that Cole is basically written out of the show, since, by the end of Season 2, he lives in faraway Charlottetown. (Read more.)

 From Decider:
 So making Gilbert an orphan and putting him on a steamer headed for the Caribbean (because that, dear friends, is why he’s on the steamer) certainly opens up the world of Anne With An E, but it limits the scope of what Anne and Gilbert’s relationship is supposed to be. Anne Shirley is also not supposed to take on the name Cuthbert, and Green Gables isn’t meant to be in such terribly bad economic straights. There’s not supposed to be a scrappy servant boy named Jerry, but most of all, Gilbert Blyth is not supposed to be on a steamer on an overseas adventure.

These are all choices that make me wonder who Anne With An E is for. I’m not such a purist that I need TV adaptations to hit every beat of a novel, but I do think that television made for families should understand what their own core philosophy is. While Walley-Beckett’s instincts are good, I think this show is too enamored with its trappings of darkness to realize that Anne of Green Gables has endured this long because people love the small specificity of the characters’ lives. Warping these details for showier TV kind of dilutes the story.

What is Anne With An E? Well, it’s a family show shot to look like Wyeth paintings, it’s a reimagining of a classic for our modern age, and it is revisionist version of Avonlea history. It’s pretty to look at, but challenging to rectify with its source material. (Read more.)

According to Paste Magazine:
 Why is any of this bothersome? What’s so terrible about a character who wasn’t in the books suddenly appearing ex nihilo and taking center stage for like eight episodes? What’s so terrible about extrapolating, “Well, but what if you didn’t conform to the societal mores of this time and place; what might happen to you?” Arguably nothing. It’s about the execution. With a property as well-known as this one, you can play. You can play with utter fidelity to source. (Think Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings). You can see the source and raise it a new level of character depth within the confines of the original world’s themes and rules. (The Handmaid’s Tale is pulling this off so well it turned a book I detested into a must-watch show.) You can bank on the familiarity of the characters and settings to create distortions that are funny or even profound. (Keep the actual characters pure as that PEI snow and plunk them into modern day New York? Captain America has leveraged that to both hilarious and affecting effect, and he’s a freaking comic book character. Or go the other way, keep the story untouched but tweak the characters.)

Anne With An E doesn’t really do any of those things. This show tramples the source material in a way that dilutes and arguably betrays the protagonist. What’s the power in Anne’s legendarily overwrought imagination once the world around her is darker than anything she could ever come up with? What’s the point of scenic and linguistic fidelity to the time and place once you’ve powder-coated it with an incredibly unsubtle overlay of 2018 sensibilities? It’s not postmodern, it’s not sardonic, it’s not playful, it’s not transgressive. It’s a ham-handed dissertation on “feminism” and “diversity” and how only the terribly, terribly outcast can ever understand when something is a good idea and it’s sanctimonious twaddle that would have made the book’s author break out in hives. And it’s agonizing because it is visually lovely and incredibly well-acted sanctimonious twaddle. You’ll tear up in spite of yourself twice per episode, just because the expression on Geraldine Davis’ face is so perfect or because you remember that exact line from the book, which you read three times when you were 10. McNulty is a really, really good Anne. She’s exactly as endearing and annoying as the original. Many of the other characters, even if they’ve been adulterated by the story or the script, are elevated by solid-gold performances. (Read more.)

Personally, I resent a beloved novel being distorted in order to be wielded as a sledgehammer of leftist propaganda.  I resent the character of Anne Shirley being used to lure people into watching a show that they would never watch otherwise. I resent the fact that parents might think the show is one which they can plop their children in front of to be entertained while really they are being indoctrinated.


julygirl said...

My main contention is, as you say, luring viewers based on their previous love of the character and story line, into a plot line of current cultural issues. Do not take the innocence of a beloved story and use it to promote such an agenda. L.M. Montgomery would be horrified that her efforts to share life of her beloved Prince Edward Island was used as a vehicle to thrust an unsuspecting into a world of lost innocence.

elena maria vidal said...

Well said!

Evelyne said...

Here's what happened when I saw the second season. So there is a character that was in the book names Gilbert, and Anne despised him pretty much, she even hit him with a slate. He went on a boat and explored the world or something. They also added a black character who is his friend, and has this strong British accent. His name is Sebastian and I will admit that he does have a really cool accent. I would say that I like Sebastian, but I can't and it's the same for most of the other characters, which I will explain later.

Now I will discuss the main reasons why I wanted to talk about this show, and some particular episodes and characters. So we get to learn about Anne and her life at school, when we are then, without warning, are introduced to a gay character named Cole. Similar to Sebastian, I can't say that I like this character, and the only relatable quality I can say from him is that his is an artist. Like Sebastian, he is another character that was not in the book, except I feel like the only reason why Cole exists in this universe is to advertise LGBTQ.

As I said earlier, the episode that triggered me to write this was about Anne going to a party for the first time. That may not seem bad, in fact when she did enter the house/mansion that she was in, everything was covered with flowers. It as pretty over the top but it was at least pleasing to look at for the first three minutes of it. Similar to that dumb play I mentioned earlier, I didn't get what this party was about. I assume that its a party/funeral for someones girlfriend. The lady who was in charge of this party was by the name of Jo. Well you were triggered seeing Cole, now I feel that our message didn't get across enough on LGBTQ+, so how about we add another gay character in, except she is a lesbian and she morns the death of her girlfriend. I still don't think you get our message, well how about we shove it in your face on purpose just to annoy you that there are tons of gay men at the party too. Anyway, we get to learn more about Jo and she tells us how much she love her girlfriend. What I'm wondering is what happened to her girlfriend? Did she die of old age?

The big mean homophobe is Diana. So near the end of the party, Anne, Cole and the horrible Diana sit together and talk about the party. Diana does not understand what is going on and tells the other two that what she had seen was....(trigger word) unnatural. From here on out, the personality of Anne and Cole just completely flies out the window. Somehow Anne gets how ok it is to be gay. This adds up to the whole Mary sue trait of Anne'

To sum things up, this show is a huge pity party. Remember when I mentioned that I would like to like Sebastion but can't and it's the same for the characters? Well it's because most of them have to much good qualities and zero bad ones, they're not that likable. The characters remind me of those cute animal side kicks in Disney movies, the only reason you would like them is because they are cute and such. They don't have any bad characteristics and are there just for laughs.

Speaking of animals, one positive thing I can say besides the aesthetic is how Anne would visit her clubhouse and see that fox appear. If anything that fox is my favorite character.

Another good thing I can say about this show is with the acting. Some of the characters are accurate with the book, some of the accents are really cool, but with some other characters like the British Barry family and that silly teacher Mr Philips, they overact. The teacher's voice makes me cringe the most, it sounds like he drank too much caffeine. The best characters in this show are Matthew and Marilla. Marilla has good and bad traits. She is a negative character and is harsh, but loves and cares for Anne. I would give this show either a 4/10 or a 5/10 for the quality of it.

Evelyne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
elena maria vidal said...

Thank you for your reflections, Fran!