Now that the entire first season of the Netflix original series "Anne With an E" is available for streaming as of May 12, some parents may be wondering if this new TV adaptation of L.M. Montgomery's classic novel "Anne of Green Gables" is something they'll want to show their children.
"Anne With an E" is rated TV-PG according to Netflix, and it certainly is darker and more serious than Montgomery's light-hearted, often humorous book. This new series portrays Anne Shirley in perhaps a more realistic light as a traumatized young orphan who's been neglected her young life.
One of these more realistic additions to the series is Anne's exposure to sex while she lived with rougher, more abusive families prior to moving in with the Cuthberts. However, the show handles this topic almost innocently, Anne describing it in a childlike way that could easily go over another child's head.
When she sees her teacher caressing a student's face in private (such relationships were more acceptable in this time period, unfortunately), Anne tells her friends that the two were having intimate relations and would soon have a child. She explains that men have "a little mouse" and that when women touch it they have babies.
Her attempted explanation explodes into a town rumor that results with Anne being shunned by many as orphan trash. When Marilla finds out, she's distressed that Anne would ever say such things and wonders how best to punish her new charge. As always, Anne is rescued by the ever-steady Matthew who reminds his sister that the real problem is that Anne even knows about such things in the first place. Perhaps, he argues, her behavior should inspire their compassion rather than their contempt.
Maybe that, too, could be the lesson for those who are offended that "Anne with an E" creator Moira Walley-Beckett included more adult content in the beloved story of Anne. What's most important may not be that viewers are offended by a sexual reference, but that many young, parent-less children are exposed to sex at such a young age, and that Waley-Beckett is using Anne as an example of this mistreatment.
There are a few other moments in the series that parents may want to know about beforehand, but none should be overly concerning. In one episode, Anne gets her period for the first time, in another there is a slight suggestion that Diana's Aunt Josephine may have had a lesbian life partner, and there is some blatant talk of feminism — mostly surrounding the argument that women deserve an education, a controversial idea at the time.
There are plenty of people, though, who believe Anne should be free from life's realities. Anna Mussmann of The Federalist argued in an editorial last month that the whole point of Montgomery's original Anne is that she is not realistic.
"Montgomery's Anne is a girl who has responded to suffering by seeking beauty," Mussmann writes. "… Nothing ugly, cruel or selfish has managed to stick to her."
Variety, in its review of "Anne With an E," declared that "the show gets a bit bogged down in telling the story of Anne's dysfunction, distracting from the book's greatest strength — its lighthearted comedy."
Netflix's new show does feel different from the iconic book. It deviates significantly from the original plot, especially in the final two episodes of the first season. Variety also suggests the adaptation "looks back on a childhood story with adult eyes." Maybe by adding less idealistic and more worldly details, viewers are able to see Anne not through the naive lens of a child, but from the seasoned perspective of someone who knows what it means to be raised without a stable family.
However, unless a parent is sincerely worried about the plot changes from the original "Anne of Green Gables," Netflix's "Anne with an E" contains very little objectional content. There is no swearing, not much violence and the "little mouse" metaphor is the show's only sexual reference. The series is probably too heavy for very young children, but older ones should be able to handle the content just fine. Perhaps it could even lead to a conversation between parents and their children about what trials parent-less children might have to go through today.