My Anne of Green Gables history is different from others. I first heard about it in 2009, via Before Green Gables, namely the anime version. I thought it was cute, so I read the book by Budge Wilson soon after and then the original Anne of Green Gables. Then I saw the 1979 anime version of Anne of Green Gables, which I consider to be the best adaptation--animated or otherwise--due to its faithfulness to the books and the effort it made to really develop the characters and make the story really come alive. I never saw the 1985 live-action mini series, and only just recently saw it. But then I heard from an online club that Netflix was making their own Anne of Green Gables adaptation, called Anne With an E, and I saw that it was getting a LOT of backlash, and it still is. Many of the comments on the trailer Netflix posted on YouTube were just stupid! People were complaining up the wazoo. "Oh, this isn't really Anne of Green Gables!" "Oh, this is gonna be so bad! The Megan Follows version is the best!" "Oh, it looks super angsty and grimdark and edgy and trying too hard to be relevant to 2017 and ewwwww!" "Oh, this isn't like the novel at all!" "Oh, it's probably another piece of PC feminist trash!" And all of these comments were posted BEFORE the series ever came out. I felt kinda bad, because I thought it genuinely looked good. Plus, I needed something to watch since everything else I was watching was either ending, were reruns, or getting really bad, so I thought this would be a nice change of pace, since I'm still in my anime rut.
After seeing the series in its entirety (For now, at least), I can wholly say that I honestly don't feel Anne With an E deserves all the backlash it's gotten. It's actually a very genuinely good show in its own right! Sure, it's not a straight adaptation of the book and it does things differently from the book, both for better and for worse, but compared to all the crap I've been seeing on TV lately, Anne with an E is definitely one of the better shows to come out on Netflix.
The basic premise is still the same as the book: Anne Shirley, a red-headed, imaginative orphan, has spent her whole life being used as free labor for ladies who bore too many children. After she spends a stint in an orphanage, she is miraculously adopted by the Cuthbert family, and goes to live with them in Prince Edward Island...only to find that they requested a boy, not a girl. They wanted a boy so Matthew, one of the Cuthbert siblings, could receive help on the farm. But through trial and error, Anne manages to win both Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert over and become part of their family. One of the many things people are up in arms about is that Anne With an E takes a slightly darker and more realistic path in showing the unpleasant parts of Anne's unhappy childhood in detail and how her unstable upbringing affects her and those around her, like her classmates and other members of Avonlea.
Many people don't like the change in tone, but personally, I really like it, namely because unlike most Anne adaptations, Anne With an E manages to bring something very important to the table: conflict. Obviously, a story can't thrive without some kind of conflict, whether small scale or large scale. Stories without conflict are like food without flavor--bland, boring, and uninteresting. Don't get me wrong, Anne of Green Gables is very good, but it can't be denied that both the book, 1980s movies, and the 1979 anime series were very slow paced and had very little in the way of conflict, and were very episodic in nature. They were masterpieces when it came to characterization, but it lacked that extra ounce of drama and bittersweetness to really make them stand out even more. Before Green Gables, both the book and the anime, had much more conflict than the original did, and Anne With an E is throwing in its own dose of conflict, some of which works very well, and some don't, which I'll elaborate on. Of course, I do agree that if something goes TOO dark and gritty, it can be cumbersome to watch. For example: Magical Girl Site, this one anime I know of, relies so much on darkness and trauma and melodrama that it leaves no room for literally anything else, to the detriment of telling a decent story and developing its characters. For me, Anne With an E manages to avoid those pitfalls in that while it is darker than the book and the TV series, it still has its genuinely nice, heartwarming, and funny moments sprinkled throughout to keep things in balance.
Furthermore, considering the material they have to work with, I think the actors all do a splendid job. R. H. Thomson and Geraldine James are definitely the standouts as Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, and they practically own those characters. Matthew is still his quiet, bashful self, and Marilla is still the shrewd, old-fashioned, overly stern and sensible woman we all know and love. I admit that I do like the 1985 miniseries with Megan Follows, but...please don't shoot me when I say this: I think Amybeth McNulty plays a better Anne. I felt like sometimes, Follows wasn't trying hard enough to really play Anne, and that she came off as more cheesy and unnecessarily restrained, especially during moments where she has to apologize to Mrs. Rachel Lynde. I felt McNulty managed to do very well playing Anne Shirley, maybe even better than Follows. Yeah, I said that, and I don't feel one bit bad about it. Fight me.
However, now that I've seen both seasons, I will agree that some complaints against the show are valid and do need to be addressed. While I do like that Anne With an E is trying to go into more details about Anne's past, before coming to live with the Cuthberts, I felt like sometimes they were trying too hard in doing so. For example, there's a scene where Mr. Hammond is shown whipping Anne, then immediately dying of a heart attack right afterward. I mean, really? Having those things put together just seemed way too melodramatic, and I thought the Hammonds' portrayal as a whole was just too stereotypically evil. Personally, I thought Before Green Gables, both the book and the anime, portrayed them much better and in a more nuanced way: They still used Anne as help around the house, but the Hammonds were genuinely nice people a lot of the time, if a bit distant, and they did appreciate her efforts and hard work, far more so than the Thomas family did. Plus, in regards to trying a bit too hard, I do feel like the messages of prejudice and open-mindedness towards things and people that are different do come off as rather forced and heavy-handed, which gets especially thick in the second season. I do understand the points the creators are trying to make, but sometimes less is more, and doing a more subtler approach would have been better in some areas.
No surprise, Anne With an E also suffers from the problem of having a little bit of modernisms thrown in that are really out of place. For the most part, the dialogue in the show is faithful to the book. Other times, the characters say things such as "Are you serious?" "What's your problem?" "What is wrong with you?!" "Not a chance" "Women should stay in the kitchen!" "Newsflash" or anything of the like, none of which had ever been said during the 19th and early 20th century. Granted, this isn't that uncommon for modern writers attempting to write historical stories or adaptations of stories. Heck, I've done it a few times myself even while doing extensive research on various time periods. It's an easy hole to fall in, and yes, Anne With an E does struggle with this, so in that respect, the complaints about modernity in a 19th century story are valid. But the modern ideas in a 19th century setting aren't limited to just dialogue. A lot of people took issue with season two in that it had episodes focusing on LGBT issues, with complaints going from "We can't have this in our beloved Anne! It'll corrupt the little children and teach them bad messages!" (eye roll) to "This stuff has no place in Anne of Green Gables. It doesn't make sense for the time period" (This one makes the most sense to me) or "Ewwww! The writers are pushing a PC SJW feminist agenda!" (Facepalm)
On one hand, I can somewhat see where they're coming from. Back in that era, homosexuality was seen as a mental illness, and anyone who was homosexual or anywhere on the spectrum back then was deemed a disgrace to society or put in an asylum. Nowadays, such things don't happen anymore, but I do agree that trying to fit modern ideologies into media that take place in the 19th/20th century isn't really a good idea. They don't really mix well, and trying to make the past seem politically correct not only makes the messages feel out of place, it isn't accurate to history as a whole. On the other hand, I feel like some overzealous people/moral guardians are blowing things way out of proportion when they claim the writers are trying to push an agenda or "corrupt the children with bad messages." Nobody's corrupting anyone, and the writers are people. They make mistakes and the decisions they make are hit or miss, but Anne With an E is a work of fiction. I feel like people who say something is propaganda or pushing an agenda don't really know what they're talking about. When I think propaganda or pushing an agenda, I think of those old World War II reels or all of the crappy documentaries and commercials that Autism Speaks makes that try to make autism seem like a horrible disease that absolutely ruins everyone's lives and makes autistic kids out to be nothing but tantrum throwing idiots who burden their poor parents with their inconvenient existence. It's one thing to constructively criticize a TV show, but it's another thing to look for problems in it that don't exist or blow its flaws out of proportion or claim it's some sort of brainwashing propaganda.
Is Anne With an E a perfect show? Of course not. Nothing ever is. It's not entirely faithful to L. M. Montgomery's novel, and some parts of it could have been written better or with more nuance and subtlely, and focused less on trying to be dark and overly dramatic. But honestly, I still think it's a fine show. I think the hate it's getting is really overblown and undeserved, though I do agree with a lot of the more reasonable critiques on it. If I had to choose between watching this or...say, Jersey Shore, I'd pick Anne With an E in a heartbeat. It's definitely not the best adaptation of Anne of Green Gables. For me, nothing can beat the 1979 anime series, but I feel it's still a relatively good show in its own right and does have a lot to offer if you're willing to give it a chance and take it as its own entity. Now to wait for season 3 to come out.