The sophomore slump trope is described as this on tvtropes.org: “after a stellar first installment/season, a series has a second installment/season that either feels suspiciously like the last or just isn’t as good.” Many modern and classic TV shows have suffered from sophomore slumps. It can either make or break a TV show. If the show in question survives the second season, then the viewer can almost guarantee that the show will continue to a natural or, at least, a satisfying end. Sometimes, however, that isn’t the case. I was certainly hoping that Netflix’s hidden darling Anne With an E wouldn’t suffer that fate.
Anne With an E can only be described as being unique. I’m sure there are other words in the dictionary that I could use but none of them will accurately describe the emotional response this series has evoked in me. The first season was uneven. I will admit that. You can read our season one review here before you plunge into this one. However, despite the uneven tone and the darkness that producer Moira Walley-Beckett has infused into the loveable and familiar tale, season two of Anne shines brighter than any television show I’ve seen for a while. It certainly shines much brighter than the second season. Walley-Beckett is out to prove something. The CBC and Netflix have allowed her to do so with startling and beautiful results.
The second season of Anne With an E diverges the most from the familiar novels penned by Lucy Maud Montgomery. Not only has Gilbert Blythe (Lucas Jade Zumann) boarded a steamship from Charlottetown to Trinidad, but Green Gables has taken on a pair of boarders, Nate and Mr. Dunlop. While at sea, Gilbert befriends Bash, or Sebastian (Dalmar Abuzeid), a man from Trinidad who is quite proud of his heritage. He wants to make something of himself, but, seeing as he’s a black man, he has a hard time fitting in when he and Gilbert return to Avonlea so Gil can take over the farm left to him by his father’s passing.
Plenty happens while Gil is out to sea. The boarders, Nate and Mr. Dunlop, are actually grifters who manage to swindle the village out of money, claiming there is gold in the soil of Avonlea. Their little scheme only lasts three episodes. Honestly, they’re the three weakest episodes of the season. Once Nate ran away and Mr. Dunlop was captured, the show found its footing again and was better for it. Many familiar scenes made it into the following seven episodes, many of them expounded or cut short, literally. Anne (Amybeth McNulty), after dying her hair green, has to have it chopped off and is ridiculed by the school bullies.
New student Cole (Cory Grüter-Andrew) is bullied as well, mostly for being artistic, gentle, and not at all manly. At a party thrown by Diana’s Aunt Josephine (Deborah Grover), it is revealed that not only is Aunt Josephine an out and gay woman among her peers but Cole is gay too, only not as out. In fact, only Aunt Josephine and Anne know about it. By the end of the series, Cole has been pushed too far by Billy Andrews and ends up staying in Charlottetown with Josephine. Which is great because Cole is a fantastic addition to the series. (So is Bash. More on him later.)
Other familiar scenes include Anne’s recital at Aunt Josephine’s party, Gil wanting to become a doctor, Gil and Anne’s rivalry on several occasions, and the Christmas panto. Many of these scenes I remember from the Megan Fellows adaptation of the series only they happened in different parts or happened in entirely different ways. For instance, in Anne, it’s revealed that Gil wants to become a doctor after helping an abandoned woman in Trinidad deliver her baby daughter. Little details like this are great additions to not only enrich Avonlea and the story LM Montgomery wrote but they also give us character development opportunities that previous adaptations did not.
On the topic of characterization, let’s talk about the inclusion of Bash and how he affects Gil and shapes him. In the Fellows version, Gil was not given an ample amount to do. Anne Shirley has always been the center of her own story, as she should be, but Anne has allowed the character of Gil to be fully formed alongside his female counterparts. For a show that touts feminism in every avenue, it’s refreshing to see that Walley-Beckett and the writers are remembering that feminism is more than just allowing women to take center stage. So not only is Anne’s character more fully formed, so is Gilbert. Bash is the perfect foil to Gilbert. Bash is a world-weary man with ten years at sea under his belt. Gil is just getting his sea legs. Eventually, the tables turn but those few episodes where Bash is the one teaching Gil are phenomenal. It lends to who Gil is as a character and Bash gives Gil a reason to stay in Avonlea which is great because, you know, the love of his life lives there.
While Gil and Anne aren’t in many scenes together this season, the chemistry between them is palpable. When Bash gets married in a place called “The Bog”, Gil and Anne share a moment on the steps of the church and it had me yelling at my computer. The good thing about TV shows is that you get more characterization and more great plot points. The bad thing about TV shows is that you have to wait to see ships mature and blossom. That’s exactly what happened in Anne this season. Anne and Gil’s relationship has started to take shape and both Bash and Cole are aware of the pull the two have on each other. Only they’re not aware of it. It’s frustrating for the viewers but watching them grow has been a pleasure and I hope that season three will bring us more in line with the novels so that we can continue to watch them fall in love and be hopelessly adorable.
Another amazing addition this season is none other than Miss Stacy (Joanna Douglas). Finally, Mr. Phillips has been replaced and Anne fans everywhere can breathe a sigh of relief. An Anne adaptation without Miss Stacy is something unheard of and, thankfully, she rides in on her motorbike to save the day. Yes, Miss Stacy is everything I hoped and dreamed for in this adaptation. The woman uses potatoes to paint the walls of her house, rides a motorbike, and wears pants and doesn’t wear a corset. She’s just the type of role model this iteration of Anne needs and the chemistry between Douglas and McNulty is exquisite. I felt that not only had Anne gained a kindred spirit, but I had as well.
While the issue of an uneven tone is still present in the second season of Anne With an E, this season was filled with much more whimsy and brightness which is what led to this season being better than the first. Die-hard fans may still have troubles with the changes Walley-Beckett make but this season does return us to something that much more closely resembles the Anne we know and love and it’s made better because of it.
Shelby is currently adapting her favorite novel into a screenplay as well as toying around with a few spec scripts for a few of her favorite TV shows. She hopes to walk down the red carpet at the Emmys one day. She contributes a long list of actors, writers, friends and co-workers as the inspiration for her dreams and goals.
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