Anne with an ‘E’

When will I learn to listen to my friend Susan?

Susan begged me to see Hamilton when it was at the Public (I didn’t). She begged me to meet my now-husband (I almost didn’t). Still, when she begged me back in April to watch Anne with an ‘E’ with my kids—“It’s based on Anne of Green Gables!!!”—the 10 year-old in me turned up my nose.

I’d been too much of a tomboy to read Anne of Green Gables, Little Women or 
The Secret Garden when I was supposed to, because I thought they were about girls frollicking around in frilly clothes. I wasn’t a frilly frollicker. 

Adult-me is a bit girlier, so after two months of dragging my feet, I finally sat us down as a family to give it a try. We’re hooked.

A few disclaimers: The first episode is 90 minutes (it’s on Netflix), and contrary to what I’d expected, it’s rather intense. Anne is not a comely maiden in petticoats playing piano and having her pigtails tugged, but an orphan outcast who has suffered abuse and neglect. It’s dramatic and at times disturbing, so keep that in mind if your kids are young or especially sensitive. 

After the pilot, the episodes run about 45 minutes, and are transporting and wonderful. Having never read the books, I can’t tell you how faithful the show is to them, but I’m guessing that creator-showrunner Moira Walley-Beckett, has darkened the tone a shade or two, and augmented the storylines for maximum impact.

Now for what I love: At the heart of the show is plucky, tempestuous, hyper-articulate Anne, played to perfection by Amybeth McNulty. Her reluctant adoptive parents, Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert (Geraldine James and R.H. Thompson) take turns tugging at your heartstrings, depending on which one is struggling with Anne, or coming to her rescue.

But one of my favorite aspects of the show is the relationship between Anne and Diana (Dalila Bela), her first real friend. Even though Anne proposes lifelong friendship to her practically at hello, their friendship takes time and work to develop. It’s the truest depiction I’ve seen of tween female friendship: The borderline romantic high of finding a kindred spirit, matched only by the pain of the inevitable rough spots.

I’m also wildly impressed by how timeless societal ills—bullying, trauma, sexism, classism, racism, even sexual assault—are treated with modern sensitivity, while still staying true-ish to 19th century mores.

Then there’s the escapism. Spending hours on Prince Edward Island in 1896 is medicinal. The one-room schoolhouse, the the horse-drawn carriages, the costumes, Anne’s obsession with “puffed sleeves,” and Marilla’s signature leather belt take me the hell out of 2020.

Underpinning it all like a snug-fitting corset, are sturdy, well-built scripts that are as eloquent and gripping as any show you’re streaming right now. Each episode has enough twists and turns to make you worry that everything won’t be okay, even though deep down, you know it will be.

Lastly, Anne with an ‘E’ isn’t just for families with young kids. My sister and brother-in-law—empty-nesters who typically binge shows like Money Heist—are addicted, and the other day I overheard two women in their seventies bonding over it. So it’s settled. Anne with an ‘E’ is your next show.

But don’t take it from me. Take it from Susan. She tends to be right about this sort of thing. ❏

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