I just finished the first season of “Anne With an ‘E’”, and I mostly hate it. I say “mostly” because there is a lot of good in this reboot, but there is also a lot of bad. Bad with a capital ‘B’. I guess it isn’t a surprise, since it was written by Moira Walley-Becket, a producer on “Breaking Bad”. But I don’t think badness this dark belongs in a series based on “Anne of Green Gables”, a tale about an orphan who overcomes a bad (with a lowercase ‘b’) start in life to be a total success. It’s supposed to be uplifting. It’s not supposed to completely depress you.
The cast and acting is phenomenal. I expected to hate everyone and compare them to the cast of the Megan Follows version, but they’re all incredible. Megan Follows still wins — she was born to play the fiery and imaginative Anne— but Amybeth McNulty is doing an amazing job (even though she’s been asked to portray this role in a blasphemous way. One review described her portrayal as “Anne with PTSD”, which is really the best way to put it. She gets sucked into a flashback from her much-more-traumatic-than-the-novel past and spaces out in a creepy way. Then she she starts babbling manically. You start to fear she might actually snap and kill someone. With this tone, I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s where they’re going, but let’s get back to the good.)
The whole cast is killing it, honestly:
- Geraldine James is strong yet vulnerable as Marilla Cuthbert. And I’m not bothered by her interest in feminism, like some other reviewers.
- R.H. Thomson plays Matthew Cuthbert as quiet and shy, yet conveys a lot more going on under the surface, which isn’t easy.
- Dalila Bela is a more realistic version of Diana Barry, which is interesting. She doesn’t just become Anne’s best friend overnight publicly. She requires that Anne first learn to fit in with the other girls, which seems pretty real and, at least, isn’t depressing.
- Lucas Jade Zumann is cocky yet charming as Gilbert Blythe. Even critics who hate the show, which is many, seem to agree about that.
It’s also beautifully filmed. With these ingredients, it could’ve been so good. It’s a shame it so mishandles the subject matter.
The Bad and the Ugly
This is going to be all spoilers, so don’t read if you’re still considering a binge.
The bad in this reboot is pushed in so forcefully where it doesn’t belong it’s basically rape:
- Anne’s flashbacks show her foster dad beating her so hard that he has a heart attack during and dies. Just because you can think of something really awful, doesn’t mean you should put it in a show.
- Apparently the other girls at the orphanage rubbed a dead mouse on Anne and then locked her in a room with it. Could’ve done without that.
- Speaking of mice, Anne tells all the girls at school that her foster dad had “a mouse” in his pocket that he sometimes made his wife pet, which resulted in her either laughing or screaming bloody murder. One girl calls her trash for this. She’s not trash, but this unnecessary anecdote absolutely is.
- Anne is bullied so hard by one boy you wonder if he’s about to beat or rape her before Gilbert rescues her. Ugh times two.
- The inappropriate teacher/student relationship, which weirdly is present in the novel, between Anne’s teacher and one of her classmates is pushed much further than anyone wants. The teacher passive-aggressively harasses the girl during class for rejecting him. Ick.
- Gilbert’s father dies way earlier than he’s supposed to rendering Gilbert an orphan who has to drop out of school and earn money to keep his farm. Because let’s just make everything worse.
- Matthew Cuthbert tries to shoot himself to give Marilla the life insurance to try and save their farm. WHAT?
- Green Gables takes on two nefarious boarders that you expect to rape or kill someone at the opening of the next season. Great.
No. These things do not happen in the novel. At all. (Except the weird teacher/student relationship thing, which possibly wasn’t as taboo when the story was written.) So why torture us?
I suspect it’s the writer’s clever vision to turn “Anne of Green Gables” into a blood bath, which I’m reasonably certain was not L.M. Montgomery’s intention for her novels.
This Anne is not worthy of an ‘e’ or your time.