Let’s hope Netflix keeps it that way. Upon learning the news that the streaming service is rebooting the beloved Canadian children’s book series from the 1890s into another TV show, fans simultaneously cheered and feared. Both Lucy Maud Montgomery’s “Anne” novels and the 1980s miniseries adaptations are some of the most beloved Canadian exports ever (sorry not sorry, Justin Bieber). Much is at stake here, and Netflix, showrunner/writer Moira Walley-Beckett and director Niki Caro cannot, dare not mess this up.
Caro – the “Whale Rider” filmmaker who will direct the two-hour first episode – clearly has experience telling the story of a young, plucky girl. But she also wrote and directed the New Zealand series “Mercy Peak,” about a doctor who becomes disenchanted with city life and moves to a rural town to work in a small country hospital. This bucolic and small-town setting, with all of its quirky denizens, is akin to Avonlea, where “Anne” is set.
As for Walley-Beckett, she may not seem like an obvious fit for the family-friendly series, given her Emmy-winning writing on “Breaking Bad” and role as the creator behind Starz’s very gritty and racy “Flesh and Bone.” She is Canadian by birth, however, and therefore understands growing up reading “Anne” and the national pride associated with the books. Also, beyond the ballet, sex and drugs, “Flesh and Bone” was able to deliver some nuanced female relationships, which should serve “Anne” well.
From a fan perspective though, credentials don’t mean much if the love isn’t there. In the wrong hands, “Anne” could come off as corny or maudlin. Here are eight essential things we love and need for Netflix’s reboot:
1) A relative unknown as the lead: As far as literary orphans go, Anne stands among the most iconic like Harry Potter, Madeleine or Oliver Twist. Therefore, casting a fresh-faced Canadian girl to play Anne spelled with an “e” is almost a requirement so that there’s no taint from previous roles. The “Anne of Green Gables” miniseries from the ‘80s made a name for and set the bar high with Megan Follows, who is still the epitome of the heroine despite any actresses who came before or after her to play the part. Another benefit of having an unknown is that Netflix can monopolize her for potentially multiple seasons because, let’s be real, Netflix can’t say no to renewing a show.
2) Prince Edward Island landscapes: The gorgeous and lush uniqueness of the island province holds its own mystique for outsiders and really informs how its citizens in the fictional Avonlea can be so proud and self-satisfied. With such beauty around her, is it any surprise that Anne would find the island full of “scope for imagination”? (Plus: Can we get some seafood in “Anne”? Were mussels or lobsters a big deal during that time?)
3) Smoldering chemistry: Miniseries star Jonathan Crombie (RIP!) became everybody’s 19th-century Canadian boyfriend when he made his acting debut as Gilbert Blythe. It wasn’t just that he had conventional good looks, but he had the right amount of maddening charm to be a match for Anne as the nemesis-turned-beau who could see through her melodrama. Walley-Beckett mentioned that the new series will explore “Anne” with “new depth,” and although we wouldn’t want too much explicitness, ramping up the interactions could deepen our affection for them.
4) Great female friendships: Anne was so psyched to have Diana Barry as her “bosom friend,” and that relationship is one of the keys to her acceptance into Avonlea society. As different as the two girls are, and as much as Anne admired Diana’s looks, there was never any cattiness or jealousy between them. In the books and miniseries, Gilbert often got the credit for really helping and understanding Anne, but Diana’s unconditional love was part of the bedrock to Anne’s growth. Less remarked upon but just as strong is the older friendship between Marilla Cuthbert and her frenemy Rachel Lynde. It will be intriguing to see how modern women like Walley-Beckett and Caro frame such relationships.
5) Feminism and other social issues: Anne was always a strong example of a feminist character: her personality and spirit earned her place with the Cuthberts even though they had requested a boy from the orphanage to work on the farm; she often beat out her fellow students (including Gilbert!) when it came to scholarship; and her outspokenness often yielded results when others held their tongues.
“Anne” created for the 21st century should be no less bold, and according to Netflix’s press release, the series intends to tackle social issues:
“While the new series will honor the foundation of the novel held as a Canadian treasure and global phenomenon, ‘Anne’ will also chart new territory. Anne and the rest of the characters will experience adventures reflecting timeless issues including themes of identity, sexism, bullying, prejudice, and trusting one’s self.”
The wealth of characters in Avonlea could provide endless opportunities to explore these themes.
6) Shenanigans: The appeal of the “Anne” series was not just its sweet and inspiring nature, but also that it was plain fun, a mandate that is not always required for today’s TV. Some of Anne’s most endearing traits can also be her biggest faults: her pride, her wild imagination and her impulsiveness, all of which naturally leads to some scrapes. The ‘80s miniseries was wise to include many of theses adventures, and a short must-see list include: getting Diana drunk, green hair, walking the ridgepole, cows and nearly drowning.
7) Puffed sleeves: “It is ever so much easier to be good if your clothes are fashionable,” Anne once noted. Our heroine’s coveting of the ridiculous fabric excess is one of the joys of the series. Let there be puffed sleeves… but not too soon. Someone’s got to pay for that fabric, Anne.
8) Megan Follows: Of all the actors from the miniseries we’d like to see return, many have sadly died. Follows is still around though, and if The CW’s “Reign” can spare her for a bit, it would be a lovely passing of the baton to have her appear even for a brief cameo.
“Anne” begins shooting in Ontario in September and will premiere on Netflix in 2017.