Anne—titled Anne With an E on Netflix—finished airing in Canada the other week and will be hitting Netflix on Friday, May 12, 2017. While Anne—co-produced by CBC and Netflix—is rated TV-G here in Canada, it would likely earn a rating of TV-PG in the United States. So, sit back while I review the contemporary version of the beloved Anne of Green Gables and give you ten things non-Canadian parents need to know about Anne, with minuscule spoilers. No major plot points will be mentioned.
What is Anne about?
If you are familiar with the series of books by L.M. Montgomery, or any of the TV mini-series, then you have an idea of what Anne the series is about. It follows the life of Anne Shirley as she arrives on Prince Edward Island and is subsequently adopted by the Cuthberts.
The series of books is a coming-of-age story about a young orphan. There are eight books in the series with the first book published in 1908. The events of the books take place in the late 1890s. Montgomery wrote the books to appeal to everyone across genders and age groups.
The latest installment of TV media takes a fresh look at Anne’s life while also digging deeper into the issues of that period in Canadian history. I think the best way to describe this latest installment is: A historical drama set in the world of our beloved Anne Shirley, looked at through a contemporary lens.
While the issues explored in this series are set against a late 1890s backdrop and are explored within the ideas of that time, a lot of the issues remain relevant.
How closely does Anne follow the series of books and the original CBC mini-series?
Here’s the deal: There is a five-year plan for this series, though it’s not set in stone. Moira Walley-Becket—you may know her for some of her work on Breaking Bad—has stated the producers would like to take Anne through her high school years.
As a result, this latest series is a mix of things: the books, the original CBC mini-series, Montgomery’s own life, and Canadian history and attitudes in the 1890s. The series expands upon what you may already know about Anne Shirley, while remaining true to the spirit of the original books and Montgomery herself.
While most of the content is new, there are enough nods to the original books and mini-series to make it very familiar. In some parts, this iteration of Anne is truer to the books by pulling dialogue directly from Anne of Green Gables the book; dialogue that was toned down in the 1980s mini-series. Also, where the original mini-series glossed over what could be read between the lines in the books, Anne with an E doesn’t shy away from those aspects of Anne’s life.
My favourite thing about this iteration is that it’s real. While I love, and continue to love, the original Anne of Green Gables the mini-series, it was always a little too Pollyanna for me. Life doesn’t work like that. The books didn’t work that way. Montgomery’s life certainly did not work that way. History didn’t work that way.
Having read the original books or watched the original mini-series will not spoil Anne.
How many episodes are there in season one?
In Canada, there were seven episodes. The first episode was two hours long when including commercial breaks. On Netflix, there are eight episodes. I’m not exactly sure where in our first episode they will break it up into two episodes on Netflix. I can’t think of a place, other than the ending of the first two hours, that will cause viewers to immediately want to watch the next episode.
Each episode ends with a sort of cliff-hanger, making you yearn for the next. It was very difficult to wait each week for a new episode. I watched the first two-hour episode three times in 24 hours, I loved it so much. I couldn’t get enough.
That said, there are some heavy subjects that require you to catch your breath. So, while you may want to binge-watch, you may need to take breaks in between episodes.
What’s with the opening title song?
The opening title sequence song is very Canadian. “Ahead by a Century” is written and performed by The Tragically Hip. The Hip are an iconic Canadian band that sings songs about Canadian stories while forcing us to examine ourselves. Anne is also a Canadian story and this latest installment also causes us to examine ourselves. Plus, she was herself ahead by a century and I couldn’t think of a more appropriate song to encapsulate Anne Shirley.
Why is the series called Anne in Canada but Anne With an E on Netflix?
You’ve got me. Netflix’s statement about this change is not very explanatory. The only thing I can think of to which to attribute the change is that, in Canada, people will automatically go to Anne Shirley if you say, “Anne.” Maybe Anne Murray, but most like Anne Shirley. While Anne of Green Gables does have popularity around the world, there could be some worry that unless you specify this reference about her insistence that her name be spelled with an “e”, people would not know to which Anne is being referred.
The official Netflix trailer is also very different in tone than the many Canadian video marketing materials. Canadian audiences are different than American audiences, and I can only hope that these marketing differences—poster, title, trailers—are where the changes from Netflix end and they won’t be changing anything within each episode from the originals that aired on CBC.
Why is Anne rating TV-G in Canada but would likely be rating TV-PG in the US?
I spent a lot of time talking with the GeekDads and GeekMoms about this because there are Canada-US cultural differences at play. I tend to shy away from “10 Things” articles for this reason. Canada’s content rating system is different than America’s.
Using a movie as an example, Zootopia was rated PG in the United States but rated G in Canada. In my province, way back in the 1980s, the original Degrassi Jr. High and Degrassi High series were part of Grade 6 and 7 sex ed, while some episodes were altered for American audiences and all the difference series have a TV-14 rating in the United States.
Another cultural difference is sex education. In my province and most provinces in Canada, sex ed begins in kindergarten. In the US, there is huge variation, so it’s difficult to get a sense of how parents will feel about certain issues tackled in Anne with an E.
I had to do a lot of study and ask a lot of questions to try to figure out what exactly what type of content causes a higher content rating in the US.
Let’s start with the definitions.
In Canada, the definition of TV-G is:
Suitable for general audiences. Programming suitable for the entire family with mild violence, and mild profanity and/or censored language.
And TV-PG is:
Parental guidance. Moderate violence and moderate language is allowed, as is brief nudity and sexual references if important to the context of the story. Some content may not be suitable for children under the age of 8 and parental supervision is recommended for children aged 8–13.
In the United States, the definition of TV-G is:
Most parents would find this program suitable for all ages.
To qualify, elements portrayed in programs with this rating contain little or no violence, no strong language, and little or no sexual dialogue or situations.
And TV-PG is:
This program contains material that parents may find unsuitable for younger children.
Programs assigned this rating may include some mild to moderate profanity, some sexual content, suggestive dialogue and/or violence.
While Anne does not contain profanity, it does contain mild violence and sexual content, plus a few other themes that would likely earn it the higher content rating in the US. Without giving huge spoilers, these themes include:
- How children were disciplined in the 1890s;
- Mental health issues, including PTSD and thoughts of suicide;
- How thirteen-year-old children of that period would talk about sex (indirectly with innuendo);
- Drinking—adults and that time Anne has Diana over for tea. In one scene, there is drunkenness mixed with violence in the form of child discipline;
- There is a mugging of a child in the last episode that is rather distressing;
- Same-sex relationships in the 1890s;
- Orphans as property, as other, as without value;
- A teacher in a relationship with a student, which was viewed differently during that period of history;
- There is also a house fire that could be a little upsetting to younger viewers.
Feminism is also explored and what it meant to be born a girl in the late 1890s. I’m not sure this would also increase the content rating, but maybe it could?
I’m probably missing a couple themes simply because I wouldn’t think of them. Each of the above things, I had to ask how the FCC ratings system would likely view the subject matter.
Will I like Anne?
I can’t answer that question for you because you are you and we may like and appreciate different things. What I can say is that this iteration of Anne is by far my favourite. It is also my favourite new show of 2016/2017. As already stated, I watched the first episode three times within 24 hours. It took me on a full roller-coaster of emotion, from full belly laughter to gut-wrenching tears. I have never been so satisfied after a first episode of television. This fulfillment continued with every episode. Most Canadians like it better than the original CBC mini-series.
As already stated, it is very true to the original books, the period, and Montgomery’s life, and life in general, as it expands the world of Anne Shirley, which will spread, hopefully, over five years. It also has enough direct nods to the original mini-series to wrap yourself up in some warm Pollyanna nostalgia.
Some people call it “gritty.” I don’t like that word. “Gritty” to me means adding shock value or darkness simply for the sake of adding it. I’ve also seen some call it “dark.” I don’t like this either. The exploration of real life issues, especially the mental health issues tackled in Anne, are done so in a very realistic, thoughtful, and responsible way. I would very much like to live in a time where mental health issues and the realities of some people’s lives aren’t thought of as “dark,” “gritty,” or “edgy” and we can talk about them openly and honestly, without shame.
As an adult survivor of childhood abuse and trauma, who has PTSD as a result, I find this version of Anne much more believable. Don’t get me wrong. I adore the original mini-series, but there were always some aspects of that version that I looked at with a side-eye or couldn’t swallow because it wasn’t believable to me. You just don’t go through what Anne Shirley went through in her early life and come out of it without profound effects. I wish every series that includes PTSD did it with such accuracy and care as it is done in Anne with an E. Anne says a line in either the second-to-last or last episode that so very nicely sums up the state of disassociation that occurs when someone’s PTSD is triggered.
Also, the acting is amazing. Amybeth McNulty is also my favourite Anne. Megan Follows is also an amazing Anne, there is no doubt about that. But, Anne had a very difficult life pre-Green Gables, and this resulted in PTSD. I’m not sure Follows would have been able to accurately portray what it is like to be truly triggered or other aspects of the extra depth found in this iteration. Also, this version of Anne reminds me a lot of Marian Call with the way she expresses her love for words and language.
Geraldine James also does an amazing job bringing extra layers to Marilla. Though, I have no doubt that Colleen Dewhurst would have also done a formidable job with the extra depth in this character. It took me a little longer to warm up to R.H. Tomson as Matthew, but after the second episode—which would be the third on Netflix—he had me.
The entire cast of Anne does an amazing job. The material contains a lot of depth. Both the writing and acting is some of the best in television.
Finally, you don’t need to be a fan of any of the source materials to enjoy this latest version.
Will my children like Anne?
Again, I’m not sure I can answer that for your children. Both of my kids are now adults. That said, they would have liked it at a younger age. Probably more so than the original because it deals with subject matter within a context with which they are familiar, simply as a by-product of culture and how issues are tackled and discussed in Canada.
The exploration of friendships that drew younger audiences to the originals is of course still there. Anne is still very much a heroine. There is plenty at which to laugh and plenty of things they will find relatable.
Is Anne safe for my younger children?
This is very much a matter of parental value judgement. I would definitely allow my children to watch it at any age. Though, I’d prefer it if they were at around the age of eight so that we could better discuss some of the subject matter.
They would already know about puberty, how babies are made and sex in general, and same-sex relationships by that age. But, they’d be better equipped to have discussions about how discipline was carried out in that period of Canadian history; at which age people got married and had children; how orphans were viewed; a society where mugging a young teenager (don’t worry, it’s not Anne who is mugged) was the reality of the time.
My suggestion is that you watch the first episode. You’ll have a good idea about whether your child will be able to handle the subject matter. The show has parts that are upsetting to adults. It will be upsetting to children if they are capable of understanding the “whys” of certain situations. Otherwise, some of the more upsetting parts may not even register to them because they do not have a frame of reference simply because of shorter lived experiences.
Regardless of age, Anne will create a lot of opportunities for excellent discussions. Discussions about mental health issues and what “triggered” really means. You will also have the opportunity to discuss depression, something with which Montgomery struggled and it ultimately took her life; how not only circumstances can lead to suicidal ideation but also, that it can be as simple as brain chemistry and wiring.
Discussions around menstruation and how Anne’s experience with her first period was not only the norm for the day but still happens in this day and age—we haven’t necessarily come as far as we’d like to think. Discussions about marriage, the age at which this happened, and gender roles. Discussions about values in a historical perspective and why we must remember these histories if we’re ever to continue to move forward. And much more.
What is the bottom line about Anne?
Simply put, Anne or Anne With an E is a superbly written, brilliantly acted, with gorgeous production value, historical drama set in the world of Anne Shirley. It will take you on a roller-coaster of emotion and provide plenty of opportunities to discuss critical issues of both the late 1890s and today. This newest version expands the world of Green Gables while staying true to all the source material, not just the original books. In my opinion, Anne is must watch TV.