We live in a truly connected world. A world in which television has been transformed by the internet. Streaming services have been de rigueur for the TV connoisseur looking for the very best in entertainment. Battles between traditional broadcasters and streamers are a regular occurance – often ending in the two working together to create, produce and distribute a series outside of a broadcaster’s home country.
Netflix’s first original TV show was produced in conjunction with Norway’s national broadcaster, NRK1. It was called Lilyhammer and featured The Soprano’s Steven Van Zandt as Frank Tagliano, a former underboss in an American Mafia family who testifies against his former boss who placed a hit on him. Under federal protection, he opts to go and live in Lillehammer, Norway, under a new identity of Giovanni “Johnny” Henriksen.
We had three wonderful seasons of Lilyhammer. It was almost the perfect show – especially after Breaking Bad. It mattered not that Johnny only ever spoke English and everybody else spoke Norwegian (with English subtitles) .- the excuse WAS plausible. This was a true “fish out of water” comedy drama which exuded charm. And it all came to a sudden end at the end of season three – with the only episode directed by Van Zandt himself.
There were rumours that NRK1 did something that Netflix didn’t like. Some said it was the other way around. But in any event, Netflix pulled out of the deal and we were left with a great show that ended suddenly, leaving at least one major plotline unresolved (that of Sigrid, Johnny’s former girlfriend and mother to his children).
Fast forward to 2019. Moria Walley-Beckett, a former actress turned writer-producer and showrunner, who has won more awards and nominations than I can count on my fingers (including three Emmys), announced that season three of “Anne with an E” – her more modern take on Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables – has not been renewed for a fourth season.
Quite frankly, I’m pissed off.
You may think it’s rather odd for a 43-year old straight bloke to enjoy a show whose demographic – well, I’m not and never was going to be the key demographic for this genre am I? But trust me, I do like this show. I really do.
Firstly, Anne (with an E) has such a fine cast and crew for a historical drama that’s as complex and endearing as Upstairs, Downstairs or Downton Abbey, two shows that I never expected to love and enjoy as much as I did (and still do – and I also include The Crown in that bunch – something I wouldn’t normally have ever touched 20-30 years ago).
The show absolutely found its Anne in Amybeth McNulty, its Marilla in Geraldine James, and Matthew in R. H. Thomson. The supporting cast are equally as brilliant – and you really appreciate the work that casting directors do – a very overlooked profession that doesn’t truly get the recognition it deserves.
The crew is equally superb – some of Canada’s finest directors including Anne Wheeler, Ken Girotti, Helen Shaver, Amanda Tapping (of Stargate fame) and Norma Bailey, amongst others. The first episode was directed by none other than New Zealander Niki Caro, whose Whale Rider was a triumph of filmmaking. Anne (with an E) doesn’t feel like regular episodic television – the cinematography, direction, writing, performance and production design makes it feel that you’re watching a cinematic masterpiece each week.
I think Anne (with an E) is an important show as it’s an exceptionally positive adoption story. That and Dreamworks Kung-Fu Panda trilogy. It may seem silly to compare a big live action drama with a family animated film – but having gone through (and unfortunately due to a variety of reasons never completed) the process of (international) adoption some time ago, the meaning of belonging, acceptance, and dealing with things like attachment is important.
I tell you right now – the second episode of the first season of Anne (with an E) had me literally in floods of tears when Matthew, who instantly warmed to Anne’s strong personality and intelligence after meeting her for the first time, managed to find her after running away from Green Gables and exclaimed to everybody in the room that she was his daughter. Anne started crying. I started crying. It was such a bloody lovely moment.
Moria Walley-Beckett’s Anne (with an E) goes beyond the books and introduces themes that simply couldn’t or wouldn’t have been addressed in Victorian Canada at the time. Not just issues surrounding adoption, but other social and personal matters. It’s truly an inclusive drama which I’ve seen critics have a go at the show for – but the beauty of transformative works is that they can be whatever the writers want it to be.
Now while I haven’t yet read the Green Gables books – I’ve bought the whole lot on Kindle as soon as I started watching the show. I know certain key points in Anne’s life, and how the series ends. It would take a considerable number of seasons to cover it all – and you’ll find that previous adaptations (including a version of Studio Ghibli’s Isao Takahata) only go up to a certain point in the book series. But from what I gather of season three (which hasn’t yet aired internationally) it’s a rather bittersweet ending.
My question is – who put the knife in? Netflix? CBC? I doubt it’s CBC – a national broadcaster is unlikely to have killed off a series which is universally liked – especially in its home territory. Did CBC manage to piss off Netflix? Is it Netflix data? Did the computer say no? (I always say, computers are generally good for some things, but without humans behind them, cold facts can get in the way of doing good deeds.)
That there are several petitions (which I’ve signed) with over tens of thousands of signatures each to ask to reinstate a fourth (and maybe fifth) season goes to show that this show has a solid fanbase. It IS a good show. It’s a damn good show. It is one of the best, most lovingly produced shows I’ve ever seen, and everybody involved with it has clearly poured their heart and soul into it.
If Netflix did pull the knife, it has got to be careful about how it does so in the future. I can terminate my Netflix subscription at any point. Anybody can. There are alternatives now. There always will be alternatives. It’s difficult to ask us to invest ourselves in a show, then cancel the bloody thing two or three seasons in. Who are you? The SyFy Channel (or as I like to call it: The Cancellation Channel).
Save Anne (with an E). It makes sense. It keeps people in employment. It’ll continue the excellent storytelling. It’ll make the fans happy.