Anne with an “E” Reaction
I didn’t mean to binge watch the whole thing yesterday, but I did. Well, not the whole thing, I started Anne with an “E” the day before, watching the first two episodes before going out to grab my husband. But the whole thing minus two episodes is still like five episodes and that’s a lot of Netflix watching for one day. I’ve been on an emotional roller coaster these past two days. Not the good kind where the show makes you feel things overwhelmingly, the kind where it enrages and then you think, okay, maybe it’ll be okay and then they enrage you again and you scream for a while because you can’t handle it. These are my thoughts on Netflix’s Anne with an “E”.
I suppose I should preface it by saying the show itself is probably not bad. If you’ve never had dealings with Anne or if you are not particularly attached to her in any way, you might well enjoy the show for what it is. You might even enjoy it if you are an Anne fan. I have a friend who rather guiltily enjoyed the series, though she’s rather ashamed of admitting that, so we won’t name names. After a rather heated rant at my best friend about the show, I’ve calmed down enough to look objectively enough at the show and recognize that it is well done, the acting is very good and the story, despite several glaring faults, is actually pretty good and very compelling. I did binge watch the whole thing in one sitting, so there’s that. That being said, this is not Anne of Green Gables.
I know, I know, I went in knowing it wasn’t going to be the movie series of my childhood. I was prepared for it to be its own thing, but I didn’t expect them to tear up the book and pick little pieces out of the scrap pile to paste into a story they wrote themselves. I didn’t expect them to “Man of Steel” it, as my husband put it. You know how in Man of Steel they take everything good about Superman and throw it out the window and replace him with a floating figure who broods over everything? That’s kind of what they did here, only instead it’s an over-emotional 13-year-old who lacks any of the charm that won over so many hearts in both book and movie.
Here’s the thing about Anne: she’s a hopeful dreamer who uses her imagination to turn her poor situation into something tolerable. She believes that there is good in everyone and wants to think the best of people, even those who aren’t necessarily kind to her. She can and will find beauty in everything and though she’s flighty and often makes mistakes or slips into daydreams, she always tries her hardest. She doesn’t lie, she makes clear when she is telling stories. She’s awkward, but in a charming way. One of her greatest talents is winning people over.
This Anne that we see in Anne with an “E” is not the Anne of my childhood. She’s a 13-year-old who has trouble coping with the abuse she’s suffered and has issues trusting the people around her. She isn’t excited to meet people and make friends, she’s afraid and wary and pushy. I understand, seeing what they’ve put this character through, that she would have some issues, but she’s just not the Anne I was expecting. She’s a very different Anne. She’s not really charming, she says and does things that are clearly inappropriate, but doesn’t seem to realize it. Despite being 13 and growing up in that time and society she’s oblivious to social norms. That’s not her fault, but it is a thing and then she wonders why people are treating her weirdly. She’s often rude, even to the people who took her in, she’s a bully to the hired hand because she feels threatened by him and she snubs him at every turn. Anne isn’t mean to people like that. She has this “I can do everything boys can do” complex and it’s very pushy. She’s not my Anne.
A lot of the faults with this new Anne’s character are due to the feminist agenda the writers were trying to push. They really wanted Avonlea to be this progressive society that is all for gender equality and promoting women’s education. They want to push the gender equality thing so badly that they sacrifice consistency and setting to do so. I know the suffragist movement was a thing around that time, but I just don’t buy a group of rural mothers gathering over tea and needlework to discuss the movement dreamily and talk about how it’s a bright new world for women. Also pushing Anne to talk about things that would be inappropriate at the time, and she would know were inappropriate, like they shouldn’t be a big deal is awkward and unbelievable. They want so much for her to be progressive and the thing is, Anne is a strong female character all on her own. She doesn’t need to be pushed around like this to get the message that she can do anything the boys can do. She doesn’t need to yell about it and throw fits because she’s not allowed to do farm work or they hired a boy to do the work when she could. She just needs to be Anne.
Marilla and Matthew also suffer in this adaptation. Marilla is insecure and awkward, not just with Anne, but in general. For some reason they’re not part of the community, even though they’ve lived there their whole lives and should know everyone, they keep introducing characters like they’ve never met before. Marilla is involved in things, and while Matthew doesn’t socialize, he is known and liked by people. Marilla knows right from wrong, should be quick to realize and admit when she’s in the wrong and make things right. She’s learned from a lifetime of experience, but they took that away and replaced it with a dead brother. They take away the fact that Marilla was too proud and missed her chance, and replace it with an ailing mother she felt obligated to take care of, and thus kill the beautiful parallel between her relationship with John Blythe and Anne’s relationship with Gilbert. She interacts awkwardly with the rest of the community because she’s not sure of herself and is grasping for acceptance. Matthew talks far too much. He’s not shy he’s just sort of awkward and bumbling and much less lovable than the Matthew I’m used to. I won’t even get started on his poor choices in the show.
The whole of Avonlea is awful. They’re just terrible people who judge Anne super harshly for absolutely no reason. They threw poor Billy Andrews in there, who is supposed to be a sweet, but quiet older brother to one of Anne’s friends, and turn him into the token jerk at school who torments Anne for no reason so Gilbert has someone to defend her against. Billy spews insults at Anne from the beginning to the end mostly just because he doesn’t like girls? He only ever talks about how she’s trash and girls are useless. But even at the church picnic, the entire community is cold and unfeeling and talk about how she’s a dirty orphan to her face. This is 1900s Canada! They had more manners than that! Diana is the only one willing to give her a chance and everyone else looks down on her and she can’t win them over until she runs into a burning building. Then we kind of see a little bit of the kindness and charm Anne is known for, but only a little.
They cut a lot of the books’ plot and threw in a lot of their own stuff and it’s all sort of a mess. I’m not sure whether to say they didn’t finish the book or to say that they just scrapped most of it and picked a few plot points to make it look something like the same story. They have an event from the end of the book in there, but it’s much too soon in the timeline and it didn’t kill Matthew, so I don’t know if they’re just not killing him off or if it’s still coming. Either way, it didn’t have the emotional punch that it could have. A lot of the stuff in this series is emotionally stunted, I feel, but then I may have just been blinded by my rage at all the twists they were pulling.
I’ve discussed this vaguely with a few friends and having heard what they think, I’m not sure if I can recommend this series or not. If you’re a die-hard Anne fan, you may find yourself experiencing the same fits of rage that I did, however, you may also find that you enjoy the new series for it’s own sake, in a guilty pleasure sort of way. They do some interesting things and they changes aren’t all bad from a story telling standpoint. They integrate the new material pretty smoothly, though their agenda is still clumsy and feels super out of place. They are not subtle creatures in anything they did here. I guess if you think you can handle it, you should go ahead and watch it. If you don’t want your childhood ripped apart and mashed up with something completely different, maybe don’t watch it. As for my hopes that they might do the rest of the series well, as Anne would say “My life is a perfect graveyard of buried hopes.” I pray they don’t touch the rest of the books.