Anne: Prestige TV meets a Canadian Icon

Anne

 

I just finished watching the last episode of Anne on CBC television and I could not wait to blog about it.

Full disclosure first, as a Canadian and Anne of Green Gables fan, I am very biased. I have reread the entire series of Anne books (all 8 novels) countless times since middle school. Additionally, I have read many of author L.M. Montgomery’s other works of fiction. I loved Megan Follow’s performance in the TV adaptions of the first few novels; so much so, that I haven’t had the desire to watch the most recent Anne of Green Gables TV movie starring Ella Ballentine and Martin Sheen, despite owning a copy. By happenstance, in 2008, my family was visiting Prince Edward Island during the 100th Anniversary celebration of the novel’s publication. We found ourselves immersed in this cultural icon at the Avonlea Village and were delighted with Anne of Green Gables, The Musical at the Charlottetown Festival.

So when I found out there was to be another TV adaptation, a short series of 7 episodes, I feared anticipointment. Then I learned that Moira Walley-Beckett, the Canadian born, Emmy award-winning writer (for Breaking Bad) was in charge; I was intrigued.

So yes, I am very, very biased, and glad to say I loved this new TV series. I was hooked at the opening credit sequence. Poignantly selected Tragically Hip song “Ahead by a Century” accompanies beautiful images of the beloved heroine of this underdog tale. For those unfamiliar with her story, the setting is turn of the previous century. Anne is an 11 year old orphan who is adopted by the Cuthberts, an elderly brother and sister who live on a farm in fictional small town Avonlea, Prince Edward Island. Anne is a spirited, intelligent, imaginative girl who desperately wants to be loved and accepted.

Amybeth McNulty is perfectly cast; she embodies Anne’s earnestness and awkwardness like no other. Anne is an underdog, coming-of-age story that touches on themes of community, love, friendship, bullying, social privilege and financial hardship. In addition to Anne’s casting,  Geraldine James and R.H. Thomson inhabit the roles of Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert exquisitely. The period sets and costumes are wonderful.

The original novels were rather innocent with just a hint of darkness. Sadly, I have yet to persuade my daughters to read them. However, I hope that the dark realism that is dialled up (not to 11, rather a 7) in this TV adaptation will appeal to a broad audience. I hope Netflix will continue to support it; especially if it finds new young fans in addition to those of us who are young at heart and fond the previous screen adaptations.

The first season (7, 1 hour episodes) loosely follows the first part of the novel and ends on a cliff-hanger. I watched newly adopted Anne adjust to her role in the Cuthbert family and got flashes of her pitiful life before the Avonlea arrival. Some of the plots are directly from the book; whereas others are what I would like to call “new chapters.” I found these embellishments fresh and compatible with the original spirit. A bit more darkness is not incompatible with Anne’s story; especially now that new biographical information is available about author L.M. Montgomery life’s struggles.

If you are a fan of Anne of Green Gables, the novel, this is TV series is definitely worth a look. I am curious to know what others think of it.

For now i must wait and hope for more new chapters. Perhaps it is time again to dust off my novels for another reread.

For fans of the series who want to know more about the cultural impact of Anne of Green Gables, especially on an international scale, here is a link to an essay by Margaret Atwood. It taught me why the Japanese love this fictional character so much and continue to visit Prince Edward Island because of her.

Master of None: a Review

masters-of-none

I just finished mainlining Aziz Ansari‘s new Netflix original series Master of None (10, 30 min episodes) and was absolutely charmed. My familiarity with Ansari was restricted to a few interviews and a stand-up comedy special. He was a regular cast member of TV show Parks and Recreation, but I may have only caught a few episodes of that.

Master of None was getting some great buzz from Entertainment Weekly, the A.V. Club, so I thought I would give it a try. Ansari plays Dev, whom I suspect is a fictionalized version of himself. Dev is the 30 something, American-born, son of immigrants from Tamil Nadu, India. He is an actor, living in NYC, who is trying to make it into the movies after a string of successful TV commercials. Like many adults his age, he is trying to figure out his life, especially his career and romantic relationships. Along the way we watch him navigate not only those troubled areas but also his relationships with his parents and a fun and diverse group of friends.

 

This show is billed as a comedy and it is funny, but not in a traditional jokey sit-com way (no laugh track). The dialogue is super clever and there is some physical comedy too. At times it can be quite dark and at other times quite sentimental. Each episode deals with a specific and often refreshingly unique approach to a theme (i.e. parents, the portrayal of Indians and other minorities on TV, the elderly, cheating, gender differences) with an authentic voice. This show does not dodge controversy. The main and the supporting characters are richly portrayed, uniquely distinguishable and wonderfully acted. I was especially pleased to learn that Ansari cast his non-actor parents as Dev’s parents on the show. As an added treat, Master of None offers a great array of guest actors including Claire DanesH. Jon Benjamin, Noah Emmerich and Danielle Brooks.

Kudos to TV show creators Ansari and Alan Yang for successfully and humourously tackling subjects that are usually eschewed by traditional TV shows. Although not a visible minority, I, as a, North American-born, child of immigrants (from Eastern Europe), could relate to many of Dev’s stories. Except for his career trajectory (sorry no spoilers here), how he managed to avoid a professional career path as a doctor, dentist or lawyer  (listed in hierarchical order of prestige, at least according to the way my parents thought) with the support of his parents is a story that I wish I knew more about. Maybe I will find out next season? I look forward to there being one. In the meantime, I think I will wait a few months and watch it again with my daughters. This will be a fun show to revisit and use as a springboard for discussion with them.

TV mini reviews 2015

I guess I am trying to make up for some lost time here. I have been watching but haven’t had a lot of time for writing. Here are some thoughts on some shows that I have checked out recently.

*****

*****

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*****

*****

I binge watched this Netflix original with my husband. It is a fantasy series produced by the Wachowskis (The Matrix) and J. Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5). It features 8 unbelievably attractive adults, scattered over the globe, who slowly discover that they are psychically linked. Crazy stuff happens to them as they try to figure out what is going on. What more could we ask for? We enjoyed it but it was a confusing journey. If you like linear story telling, then avoid this. But if you like cinematic yet cryptic  and deliberately paced, ethnically diverse, action packed, character-driven story telling, then you may want to check this out. The actors are very charismatic; the exotic locations are beautiful (Iceland, India, Germany, Kenya, South Korea, Mexico). Their struggles are interesting and their psychic connections are a source of tense drama and light comedy. They are being pursued by a “big bad” but that is the least interesting aspect of the story. This 12 episode first season was a satisfying experience. Free of Network time-slot restrictions, this show was a bit indulgent at times with long drawn out montages (some worked, see video below and some did not). It is definitely aimed at a mature audience with its visuals (lots of typical cable TV nudity and sex, gay and straight) and themes (geo-politics, class structure, gender, identity, sexuality). I can’t wait to see what is in store for season 2.

*****

*****

*****

*****

*****

Daredevil
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*****
*****
Yet another Netflix original that I watched at the suggestion of my husband. It was produced by Stephen S. DeKnight (beloved by me as the producer of Spartacus an all-time favourite show). In so far as superhero stories go, this is a dark gritty mature drama with a bit of comedy. It had pretty good action sequences and an interesting villain. The performances are adequate but nothing earth shattering. I am rather tiring of superheroes in general. Unless it is something that I haven’t seen umpteen times before, I can’t get too excited. If you still like superheroes, this may be worth your while. I can take it or leave it.
*****
*****
 
*****
*****
*****
Silicon Valley
silicon-valley
I loved this HBO comedy about a bunch of tech nerds starting their own company and navigating the pitfalls along the way. Just because you are a brilliant coder doesn’t mean you know how to share it with the world. After watching Big Bang Theory (BBT) repeatedly with my family and friends (because they love it) and thinking “What is wrong with me? Am I too nerdy and sensitive to find BBT funny?” Now I know it is not me. BBT is just not for me, but this nerd-centric show very much is. Well-drawn characters with distinctive voices, great acting, funny dialogue, realistic situations and a level of earnestness come together for a super compelling binge watchable show. It is created by Mike Judge (Office Space-a brilliant film, King of the Hill, Beavis and Butthead) so I was intrigued. I watched Season 1 (8 episodes) on my own when it was available on demand and watched season 2 week to week as it aired. My 13 year old daughter was intrigued by my laughter, so I rewatched season 1 and part of season 2 with her and before long she was caught up. It was even more fun the second time round.
*****
*****
*****
 
*****
*****
*****
*****
Call the Midwife
Call the Midwife
This is a BBC show that also airs on PBS on this side of the pond that I heard lots of good buzz about. Luckily, I could watch all the previous seasons on Netflix in time to start the 4th season. I am so glad I did. What a pleasant, heartwarming, complex, moving TV show this is. I was leery at first; medicine and nuns are do not spring to mind when I think compelling TV. But I was still looking for a real world period piece I could sink my teeth into after I got fed up with Downton Abbey. I tried the Knick (more about that later) but that wasn’t doing it for me. Call the Midwife is a beautiful ensemble piece of episodic story telling dealing with women stories. It centres on Nonnatus houseMen are very peripheral, how novel. It is set in the 1950’s and 60’s in a poor area of East London. I am fascinated by the portrayal of medical partitioners of the past. We have come a long way. This show has a great balance of comedy, drama and heartwarming sentimentality. It is a great look back to a simpler time. It allows me to appreciate the societal strides for equality that were a direct result of the birth control pill. This show does not eschew controversy and deals with homosexuality in a way that painfully reminds me just how far we need to go.
*****
*****
*****
*****
*****
*****
VEEP and The Thick of It
VEEP
 *****
This HBO comedy, starring the amazing Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the Vice President of the United States of America, has been getting serious positive buzz for a few years. It was created by an Englishman, Armando Iannucci, so I was intrigued. I binge watched it and found it to be pretty funny but chock full of such unlikeable characters that it was hard to get emotionally invested in major plot developments. If you enjoy seeing politicians and their flunkies scheming and making asses of themselves, while tossing around vulgar insults, then you may want to try this show out. It certainly made me laugh at times (mostly at the insults being hurled, very creative use of language). The videos below should be listened to with headphones if at work or near young children.
*****
*****
*****
*****
I am very cynical about politics and have loved political satire ever since I stumble upon BBC’s Yes, Minister as a radio play. Six degrees of separation time. Iannucci is well regarded for his BBC series The Thick of It, starring current Dr. Who, Peter Capaldi (who has put a neat spin on an old character). This series spun off a critically acclaimed movie, In the Loop, starring Capaldi and James Gandaolfini. I stumbled upon a box set of the TV series The Thick of It and gave it a try before approaching VEEP. I enjoy experiencing the evolution of an artist’s craft. As a Canadian, it was easy to navigate the political differences between a parliamentary political system and a presidential one. I enjoyed the BBC series a bit more, probably because I watched it first and by the end of the 4th season of VEEP, some of the themes felt repetitive.
*****
*****

Orange is the New Black: a review of a Netflix Original series

OrangeitNB

I mainlined the first season of this TV show recently. It is a Netflix Original program that has been lauded by many critics, so I couldn’t resist. I don’t watch much on Netflix, so I was happy to get my money’s worth and more.

Based on a memoir of the same name by Piper Kerman, it takes place in a women’s prison in the U.S.A. The protagonist, Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) is beginning her 15 month sentence for a youthful indiscretion (peripheral involvement in an illegal drug organization). Chapman, as she is now referred to in her new home away from home, is a fish out of water. An artisinal bath product entrepreneur suddenly surrounded by women from the other side of the tracks

The strength of this show is in the ensemble of characters that populate the prison, the inmates and the guards. Some are characterized more vividly than others, but they all seem interesting. The narrative deftly travels back and forth between the present and the past. My favourite segments are the flashbacks; the result is rich characterization. The acting is superb; a special mention goes to Kate Mulgrew who is tough yet vulnerable as Red, the Russian-American mother hen. I also enjoy seeing Laura Prepon as Alex Vause, Chapman’s ex-girlfriend drug dealer who set her on this path of delinquency.

I watched Piper Chapman navigate the written and unwritten rules of prison life (note to self, never insult the food in front of the inmate who runs the kitchen). I watched her mourn the life she once had. I watched her build  new connections among a motley crew of addicts, dealers, petty thieves and murderers. Truth be told, she was not that sympathetic a character. But it didn’t matter, she served as my entry point to a world I had only rarely seen on screen (both small and large). She was surrounded by a treasure of interesting stories as I got to know the other characters. Every day was a power struggle, whether it be among the guards, between the guards and the inmates, or among the inmates themselves. I found it fascinating. The themes encountered included work place politics, corruption, smuggling, sexuality, fidelity, barter economy, loyalty, tribalism, birth, abortion, motherhood, long distance relationships, religion, mental health, remorse, adaptation and survival of the fittest.

What I especially liked about this show was its representative depiction of minorities, many of who were not simply racial stereotypes. And the main cast was mostly women, women who were of a broad age range, varied skin colour, diverse ethnic background; some used to be men, some of them liked women, some liked men, some seemed to like both. Not since Desperate Housewives was there such an ensemble of female characters (ignoring shows that have “Real Housewives” in the title). The TV show ACES the Bechdel Test.

The first season is primarily episodic and well executed by Jenji Kohan. She is a TV producer of Weeds fame, a show I could never get into. It has a great soundtrack that starts with the opening sequence.

There are 13 solid episodes that kept me revisiting the treadmill. I am looking forward to season 2.

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