Road to Avonlea Review: Enter Prince Charming / The Minister’s Wife

avonlea stockard channing jaimz wolvett

Episode Summaries: Avonlea gets a new minister. Reverend John Elliot (Jim Mezon) arrives with his worldly wife Viola (Stockard Channing) and teen son Booth (Jaimz Woolvett). The town’s initial excitement turns to fear when it becomes clear that the Booths aren’t like the typical minister family. John has a penchant for telling jokes during his sermons that almost cross the line. Booth is a rambunctious musician who immediately takes a liking to Sara Stanley, to the chagrin of Hetty. And Viola is a free spirit, not conforming to the conservative standards of the women in town. Janet is drawn to Viola’s worldly ways and the two develop a friendship. With Booth, Sara learns to let loose and be more independent of her Aunt Hetty. Despite Hetty’s initial objections, Sara and Booth develop a relationship and share a couple of kisses along the way. Meanwhile, Janet grows concern at Viola’s casual daytime drinking. At first, Viola is defensive. However, Janet feels guilt for how she confronted Viola when she learns that Viola suffers from chronic pain as a result of a past spinal injury. Ultimately, having lost favor with the town as a whole, John Elliot decides to move his family out of town, closer to the city and closer to a hospital where Viola’s needs can more easily be met. Janet and Sara will both remember their respective friendships with Viola and Booth.

“Enter Prince Charming” was directed by Stephen Surjik and written by Raymond Storey, with music by John Welsman. “The Minister’s Wife” was directed by Allan King and written by Raymond Storey, with music by John Welsman.

My Grade: For most of this post, I’m pretty much going to discuss these episodes as one unit. There are a couple things that separate these episodes. One, is that they have different directors. And two, “Enter Prince Charming” mostly focuses on Sara and Booth, while “The Minister’s Wife” is Stockard Channing’s big Emmy-nominated episode. However, we see enough Viola in the first episode and enough Sara and Booth in the second episode that this whole story is essentially a two-part finale for season 5. Besides the “Parent Trap” episode from season 3, this show does not do official “two-part episodes.” However, there’s clearly a common thread between these final 2 episodes, and that is the Booth family’s experience in Avonlea.

These episodes are, in my opinion, excellent, mainly because of the story. Yes, these episodes feature some of the less flattering threads of the Avonlea fabric. The episode features two “Hollywood” guest stars that nearly take away from the regular characters. As a result, most of regular characters come across as almost one dimension. As an audience, we’re supposed to feel sympathy for Viola, a free-spirit who is ostracized for wearing robes and not keeping her hair up in public. We’re supposed to be on John Elliot’s side when he bravely confronts the church board and tells them that he will not “rein in” his wife and tell her what to do. All the while, the townspeople look like unreasonable, backwards busybodies. We never really see the townspeople’s point of view or get their side of the story. We don’t really understand why Alec King would side with the town. There’s a lot of focus on the Booths, and they are main characters of this movie-length story.

avonlea enter prince charming

Despite those issues, this is a well-written, well-structured episode that feature great performances by all the actors who make up the Booth family. It’s also nice to see Sara finally get a romance of her own. For the first four seasons, Sara was more a matchmaker than a “story girl.” Season four showed Sara at her most selfless; she’s literally being chided by both Gus and Felicity while desperately trying to save their relationship. Sara also has a “relationship” with a rodeo performer in season four. However, that relationship was completely misguided. It was one-sided. The guy was significantly older. And Sara was left heartbroken in the end. Finally, after five seasons, Sara has an age-appropriate beau of her own. And she’s well matched with Booth. To be honestly, I love the character of Booth, and I love Sara and Booth’s relationship, even if it is short-lived. This episode tries to paint Sara as being hopelessly proper and conservative. That’s not exactly wrong. While Sara was sort of a troublemaker during the earlier seasons, she definitely became more of a stereotypical “lady” by season four. And her experience with the rodeo performer could have probably made Sara even more guarded in regards to love. But this episode definitely exaggerates this aspect in Sara’s personality. It’s clear by now that if Sara wants to do something, she does it, with or without Hetty’s approval. So, it’s not exactly a big deal when Sara sneaks off with Booth to do some Titanic-style dirty dancing. But, again, considering Sara’s been hurt once before by a guy she liked, the fact she can trust Booth is a big step.

Booth is a great character, and I so wish he had become more of a recurring presence in season 5. The thing I like most about Booth is that he brings something new. One of my favorite scenes within these two episodes is when he first visits Sara (with Davey and Dora) without any adult supervision. He introduces Sara to “stride piano,” an early type of jazz style that was, at least, popularized by black musicians. He also dances the “cakewalk” with Sara, a style of dance created within black communities during the mid-19th century. He exposes Sara to these different musical styles while Davey and Dora happily watch from the sidelines. One, it sort of reminds me of our introduction to Gus Pike in season 2 where he plays the fiddle for Felix and Sara while fishing. The joy Sara and Felix felt in that scene mirrors Davey and Dora’s joy when they hear Booth play the piano or watch him dance with Sara. I also like this scene because, let’s face it, Avonlea is very white. Prince Edward Island is still very white. But during the turn of the century, Avonlea would probably not be exposed to black culture. Since the show is very realistic, they can’t shoehorn black characters. But if they did, if a black family moved into town, how would the townspeople react? Clearly, not that well if even the Booths are considered too much. It’s just nice and refreshing when there’s a different aesthetic featured on the show. Before the events of season one, Sara used to travel the world and expose herself to different cultures and communities. Seeing Booth do something different than what she experiences in Avonlea must have harkened Sara back to a time when she was more adventurous. It’s possible that staying in a small town like Avonlea was the best and maybe also the worst thing for her personal development.

And, of course, Sara also has her first kiss. She kisses Booth towards the end of the first part, as well as the end of the second part. Overall, I probably like “Enter Prince Charming” a bit more than “The Minister’s Wife.” “Enter Prince Charming” allowed for a regular character (Sara) to go through some sort of change, while the second episode seemed to be Disney’s attempt at getting another Emmy nomination (and it worked). But, individually, or as a unit, both episodes get an (A) from me.

Spotlight Performances: Since this post technically features two episodes, I get to name two actors. We all know who Stockard Channing is. She’s definitely the most notable guest star from season 5, a season that didn’t have a lot of guest stars. Her breakout role was that of Rizzo in Grease. In 1991, she was nominated for a Tony for her performance in Six Degrees of Separation (an amazing play), and then she received an Oscar nomination for the film adaptation in 1994. The Oscars took place just a few days before this episode aired in Canada and about a month before the US airdate. Stockard Channing, like most of the American guest stars, was very excited to be part of this show, and felt like there was an innocence and freshness in this Canadian show that had long been missing in Hollywood. Besides Six Degrees, Stockard’s other big role was the First Lady in The West Wing. Like mentioned before, Channing received an Emmy nomination for Guest Actress in a Drama. She was also nominated for a CableACE, competing in the Lead Actress category against Jackie Burroughs.

We obviously don’t get to know Viola Elliot too well. We can guess that at some point, Viola was probably the typical, demure minister’s wife. The accident that injured her spine and caused her lifelong, near constant pain probably gave her new perspective on life. She may not be able to control her physical self, but she can at least control how she approaches life mentally. Viola Elliot isn’t a unique character, but in the world of Avonlea, she’s something new. Viola doesn’t set out to change Avonlea. She doesn’t really care what people think of her. But her character shows that sometimes living your own best life, for whatever reason, can bring out the worst in others. Usually, Avonlea celebrates the small town and their values. However, in this case, we see the more judgmental side. Jim Mezon as Viola’s minister husband John Eliot gives my other favorite performance within this two-parter. And the scene when the church board demands that John changes the content of his sermons and reins in his wife is another favorite of mind. I like that John stands by his family and his wife and refuses to succumb to the pressure of this small town. Maybe this is a controversial point, but I am 100% on John side, even if the episode could have done a better job in allowing us to see the human side in the town’s point of view as well. Mezon only has a few screen credits; he most works in theatre.

Favorite Scene: Jaimz Woolvett, as Booth, also gives a great performance in this episode. He’s a Canadian actor, mostly known for his role in Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven. He was actually initially considered for the role of Gus Pike. But, he chose Unforgiven over Road to Avonlea. I’m going to make the wild assumption that if Woolvett had been cast as Gus Pike, then Gus Pike’s characterization would have been very similar to that of Booth’s. I’ve mentioned some of my favorite scenes in this episode (stride piano, John Elliot defending his wife); however, I have a couple more. During “The Minister’s Wife,” Booth and Sara’s romance sort of becomes the sub-plot to the Viola drama. The story line turns into Hetty butting into Booth and Sara’s relationship every chance she gets. I like the scene where Sara, Booth and Hetty are having dinner together, and Sara serves Booth the funkiest looking ice cream I’ve ever seen on film. It’s like this fluffy marshmallow fluff. I’m assuming the lights used for filming got so warm that they couldn’t use real ice cream for the scene. Booth is like “Pie and ice cream. They go together…like you and I.” Booth is just a charmer in that scene.

I also like the scene later in the episode where Booth is reading Hetty’s manuscript. This is the book Hetty has been working on all season. It’s sort of her love letter to her family, Avonlea, and the concept of a small town. Booth is so used to traveling from city to city with his parents that he’s never really had the opportunity to settle down and build some roots. He shows respect to Hetty, saying that Sara is very lucky to have her as an aunt. I think Hetty does feel some guilt for her tendency to shelter Sara. Sometimes, Hetty wonders if Sara would be happier living in Montreal or traveling abroad at the frequency she did before her mother’s death. But Booth reassures Hetty that the home she’s built and maintained for Sara has been a blessing and a gift. It’s a moment where Booth and Hetty finally see eye-to-eye. Of course, Booth ends up leaving with his family. But it doesn’t make these words for Hetty less true or significant.

Final Thoughts: Let’s get the big one out of the way: This is Sarah Polley’s last episode as a series regular. We’ll see her again towards the start of season 6. And then once more for the finale. Sara’s episode in season 6 is a big one for her, so I suppose I don’t have too much to say about the subject of Polley leaving at this time. There’ll be more to dissect once we get to that episode. And I’ve sort of already written about Polley’s reduced role this season. But, this episode is sort of the last time we see Sara Stanley as part of the town of Avonlea. She’s still living with Hetty. And throughout season five, during Sara’s absences, if it’s not explicitly stated that Sara’s in Montreal visiting her Nanny Louisa, I think the assumption is that Sara is still part of the Avonlea scene; she’s just not part of the hijinks of the particular episode. Despite Polley’s reduced role, Sara Stanley is still a member of the Avonlea community. After this episode, however, the two times Sara comes back, she comes back as more of a visitor/guest, than an actual part of the town. So “The Minister’s Wife” is in many ways the last time we see Sara as we’ve always seen her. The next time we see Sara, she’ll be a young woman with her hair up and a Gibson Girl wardrobe. This is the end of adolescent Sara. At least, they were able to squeeze in a real love story for Sara. It doesn’t have the scope of Felicity and Gus. But it’s something. I suppose it makes sense that Sara doesn’t leave the series as someone’s wife. It kind of fits in with her feminist persona. (Although, is Sara a “feminist”…or am I projecting too much Polley in her?). Anyway, Polley’s departure is another discussion for another time.

I couldn’t find many news articles about Stockard Channing in Avonlea. Long-time television critic Mike Hughes gave “Enter Prince Charming” a good review, but was much less enthusiastic about “The Minister’s Wife,” calling it “a thud.” As you can tell from this review, I’m more invested in “Booth and Sara” than “Viola and Janet vs. Avonlea,” but both episodes are still AOK in my book, and both storylines work well together. I could never watch one episode without the other. It will always be a double feature. However, it’s still easy for me to distinguish one episode from the other, and recall which scenes came from which part.

So, this is the end of season 5. In terms of awards, the show won its third CableACE award for Best Drama Series. It was also nominated again for Best Children’s Series at the Emmys. At the Gemini’s, the show picked up a lot a nominations and a few wins, but, once again, lost the big award, this time to the popular Canadian dramedy Due South. I think season 5 is underrated among the fanbase. Honestly, season 5 might be favorite season. I feel like it features more really great episodes than any other season. “Memento Mori” is a classic. “Thursday’s Child” is so emotional. And “A Friend in Need” is personal favorite of mind, even if most fans don’t give the episode a second glance because nothing major happens in it (or it doesn’t feature Gus). Sarah Polley has a reduced role, but she gives great performances in the four episodes in which she appears. Gema Zamprogna also has a reduced role, but Felicity had a lot of development and growth. Lally Cadeau gave her best performances in “Thurday’s Child,” “Strictly Melodrama,” and “The Minister’s Wife.” And Jackie Burroughs as Hetty continues to be the captain of the ship. It’s a season that focused less on Disney-approved guest stars, which made both Kevin Sullivan and the cast happy. Season six is going to look very different from the first five seasons. Featured characters will be given bigger roles, a new actress will replace Harmony Cramp (Cecily), and a new family will emerge and become prominent during the season. But Avonlea will always be Avonlea. And that is that!

Road to Avonlea Review: Otherwise Engaged

“You haven’t seen the last of me, Felicity King. I gave this to you before as an engagement ring, and you gave it back. I’m offering it to you again. This time, no strings attached. Whenever you’re lonely or discouraged, look at it and remember, I love you, Felicity. I always will.”

Episode Summary: Gus and Felicity are happily in love and looking forward to their future. When Gus receives a promotion at the White Sands hotel, he decides this is the perfect opportunity to propose to Felicity. Meanwhile, Felicity has been interning with town’s only female doctor, Dr. Jones. She is accepted into medical school. As a result, Felicity turns down Gus’s proposal, wanting to finish schooling before getting married. After a visit from an old sailor buddy, Gus starts to have doubts as to whether working in a hotel is something he wants to do for the rest of his life. Seeing how Dr. Jones is treated by the townspeople makes Felicity second-guess her desire to be a doctor herself. While Gus quits his job at the hotel, Felicity decides to quit her dream of becoming a doctor and accept Gus’s proposal. As a result, Gus asks Mr. Tremaine for his job back. All seems well until Felicity is faced with helping Mrs. Macrae through her difficult homebirth. Although it’s a trying period, the birth is successful, and Felicity can’t help but feel invigorated by the experience, which Gus notices. After a heart to heart with his mentor Hetty, Gus realizes it’s best for him and Felicity for them to go their separate paths, at least temporarily. Gus gets a job working for his friend’s ship. And Felicity ostensibly makes plans for medical school.

Directed by Allan King, Written by Heather Conkie, Music by John Welsman

My Grade: “Otherwise Engaged” is a classic Heather Conkie episode. It’s incredibly well written with a storyline that keeps you engaged from the beginning until the end. Even though this episode is merely a chapter of the “Felicity and Gus” saga that started in season 2 and lasted until the series finale, the story is very self-contained; if 40 more minutes were added, it could have been its own feature film starring young Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson. The beauty of this episode is that both Gus and Felicity second-guess and change their plans multiple times, and not always as mirrors of each other. Sometimes Gus makes a choice for Felicity’s sake (staying with a job he doesn’t want at the White Sands) and other times Felicity makes a choice for Gus’ sake (forgoing medical school to marry Gus). It’s very compelling, and if this was the first time watching this episode, you may not have known how it would all end.

Another reason I love this episode is that within this classic love story there is a commentary on gender politics. The town’s female doctor, Dr. Jones, becomes a mentor for Felicity. Although Felicity believes Dr. Jones has a good practice and is well respected within the town, she soon realizes that’s not the case. Dr. Jones goes through her own prejudice. Many people in town do not trust a female doctor. When Dr. Jones tells Felicity, “Dr. Haley must have five or six times the patients I do. People trust a man more. It means I have to work twice as hard to prove myself” I almost get chills. The concept of the non-male/non-white professional having to work twice as hard to prove themselves is literally as old as time. However, in this current climate, these words ring true…actually, it’s unfortunate that they still ring true. The point of this line is to give Felicity a reason to doubt her aspirations of becoming a doctor. Nonetheless, this line is actually a very strong, very telling piece of social commentary. On top of that, if Felicity were a man, going to med school and getting married would be an option. Unfortunately, as a woman, this choice is more complicated.

Gus is a great guy, but he’s not perfect. He still has old-fashioned ideals of gender roles. In “Moving On,” Gus makes a small comment showing surprise at how good of a horse rider Sara Stanley is. In this episode, even though it’s out of anger and disappointment of his proposal being rejected, Gus chastises Felicity’s plans for medical school, saying that people in town would not want to see a woman doctor. Towards the end of the episode when he sees Dr. Jones and Felicity help with the delivery of the McRae baby, he finally understands that despite his earlier prejudices, Felicity is truly happy being a doctor. Of course, Gus also uses this opportunity to realize that he has to go after his own dreams too. But he also supports Felicity in her endeavors.

So, how can anyone dislike this episode? We got romance! We got comedy! We got social commentary! We got White Sands-bashing! It’s a solid, classic Avonlea episode, and it’s definitely an (A).

Favorite Performance: This episode features a couple really great performances by its two leads. Michael Mahonen as Gus particularly does a great job as he reconciles with his new role as assistant manager of the White Sands and his slow realization that waiting on the hotel’s horrible guests is not something he wants to do for the rest of his life. However, I’ll give this episode’s title to Brenda Bazinet, who plays Dr. Jones. Dr. Jones appeared earlier this season in “Thursday’s Child.” “Otherwise Engaged” is her second and last episode of the series. I think there’s a quiet dignity to Bazinet’s performance and portrayal. She’s more than just a stock character or a plot point in service of Felicity’s journey. Dr. Jones’ brief appearance in the series makes me want to learn more about the difficulty female doctors faced during the early 20th century in a small rural town. Bazinet also appeared in Wind at My Back and Anne with an E.

Favorite Scene: The last couple of scenes in this episode are pretty heart-wrenching. First there’s the heart to heart between Gus and Hetty. In this scene, Gus admits to Hetty that he’s not sure if working his way up in the White Sands is the direction he wants to take his life. Hetty has always had a soft spot for Gus. And she’s always advocated for him. So, any scene with these two is always going to bring out the water works. Ultimately, Hetty doesn’t really have any concrete advice for Gus. It’s Gus’s future, so he has to decide what’s best. And then there’s the last full scene where Gus tells Felicity that they have to go their own paths. From a 2020 lens, I suppose it would have been nice if Felicity had made the decision to pursue medicine again on her own. It’s clear that she was ready to give it all up to be with Gus. However, Felicity has always been independent. Sooner or later, she was going to realize that giving up her dreams for Gus was not the right decision, at least not right now. Ultimately, I think this episode leans more towards Gus’s journey. We’re reminded that Avonlea was supposed to be a detour for Gus. He ended up staying in town for five years where he got an education, a job, and Felicity. Sailing is what he loves to do. Despite everything he’s gained in Avonlea, he has to take these newfound experiences and lessons and apply them to his own dreams and interests. He’s become a better person because of Avonlea…but he’s not ready to surrender himself to the town. I’m glad this isn’t the last we see of Gus (he has three more episodes, believe it or not). But if this had been his last episode, it would have been a fitting ending. Luckily…like Gus says…we haven’t seen the last of him.

Final Thoughts: This episode also features a subplot involving Mr. Pettibone and Muriel Stacy. In short, this episode marks the beginning of their relationship. There isn’t really much to the storyline right now, but we’ll certainly see more of this relationship within the last two seasons.

This episode features the Macraes, played by John Dolan and Susan Coyne. John Dolan did some acting here and there during the 90s; however, he mainly works as a key grip. Some shows and movies he’s worked on include Jessica Jones, White Collar, Smash, and American Psycho. Susan Coyne has appeared in a variety of TV shows and movies, including Mark Twain and Me (with RH Thomson), The Piano Man’s Daughter (directed by Kevin Sullivan), Blindness (which also featured Michael Mahonen), and French Exit. More notably, she starred in and created the Canadian hit Slings and Arrows, a comedy/drama about a community theatre that also featured Jackie Burroughs and Sarah Polley. She won several awards for her work on that show, including three Geminis. She also wrote the screenplays for Anne of Green Gables (the one with Martin Sheen), The Man Who Invented Christmas and Mozart in the Jungle.

This episode was written by Heather Conkie, who we all know as the most important writer of the Avonlea series. She is only credited for one more episode in season 7. As stated before, Gus will only appear in three more episode after this one. So…yes, things are happening.

Road to Avonlea Review: Best Laid Plans

Episode Summary: After getting himself into trouble yet again, Davey is ordered by Hetty to perform three good deeds. Meanwhile, Jasper’s newest invention compels Olivia to get into contact with his estranged cousin, Jeremiah Dale. Jeremiah is a businessman and would seemingly have the experience and resources to help turn Jasper’s invention turn into a money-making opportunity. It is soon revealed that Jeremiah is a con-artist himself and had planned on taking advantage of the small town’s trusting nature for his own selfish gain. Just as Jeremiah is about to hop town with the money he collected from the residents, Davey inadvertently prevents Jeremiah from doing so. Jasper’s big invention turns out to be plastic, which already has a patent. Nonetheless, Davey is deemed a hero, and Jasper is perfectly content with Olivia and his family by his side.

Directed by Eleanore Lindo, Written by Deborah Nathan, Music by Don Gillis

My Grade: If you hate my episode summary, then I apologize. These are not the types of RTA episodes that I love. Generally, these episodes are either heavily centered on the hotel or Jasper’s wacky inventions. Unfortunately, this episode has both. Add in Davey being Davey, and we just overall have an episode that has all my least favorite elements of the series. This is just a really busy episode with two storylines that are only connected by the theme “It’s bad to be bad.” Despite those things, RH Thomson’s performance is really great. But this just feels like a filler episode with a farfetched plot. Something light and silly after the emotional punch of “Thursday’s Child,” It’s honestly one of my least favorite episodes of the series. Luckily, as far as I remembwe, there isn’t another episode for the remainder of the series that I dislike as much as this (although a few come close). (C)

avonlea jeremiah dale

Favorite Performance: RH Thomson always does a great job, even when I find the storyline with which he’s saddled underwhelming. He also plays the role of Jeremiah Dale, just in case you couldn’t tell, or you thought RH Thomson had an identical twin who acts. Obviously, Jeremiah is the “evil twin,” but Thomson does a good a job of not over-exaggerating the differences between the two characters. Jeremiah is obviously more confident and doesn’t have a stutter. Otherwise, besides the fact the characters look the same, it’s clear they come from the same family tree. I would have preferred if this show didn’t give us another “Parent Trap” episode, but, if they had to go this route with this character, Thomson gives a formidable performance.

avonlea best laid plans

Favorite Scene: Not to be shady, but maybe quite literally the ending? Throughout this episode, everyone believed that Jasper had this major breakthrough, but all he did was invent plastic. Didn’t Jasper revolutionize the moving picture? Maybe he should go back to that? By the way, I still don’t know what Jasper does for money. I know he runs the cannery…but what did he do before that? How did he make money before the cannery? What was his job? Actually…I don’t know the jobs for half these characters. I feel like they were mumbled once and never referenced again.

Final Thoughts: In the scene towards the end of the episode where Jeremiah tries to pass Jasper’s “invention” as his own, the patent clerk is played by none other than Paul Brown, who you may recognize as the pervy teacher in Anne of Green Gables (I know things were different back them but still!). He’s made appearances in a few other Canadian-produced TV programs like An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving, which starred Tatiana Maslany. Shannon Lawson, who played Miss Gordon, aka Jeremiah’s partner in crime, has appeared in a bunch of stuff. Her first on-screen acting role was in an episode of Hangin’ In, an 80’s sitcom that starred Lally Cadeau (Janet). She’s appeared in a few other Sullivan joints, including Butterbox Babies and Sleeping Dogs Lie, for which she was nominated for a Gemini, as well as Wind at My Back, and Anne 3.

Primetime Emmys axe Children’s Emmy category – All children’s television to be handled by Daytime Emmys (Opinion)

According to Variety, the Primetime Emmys will be dropping the Children’s Program category. This means, regardless of when (or where) a children’s series or special airs, it will have to submit itself to the Daytime Emmys for award consideration. I certainly suggest reading the Variety article for more specifics on the rule change. The main thing to know is that the Primetime Emmys are handled by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences while the Daytime Emmys are overseen by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Two separate institutions under the same “Emmys Trademark” umbrella. Believe it or not, sometimes conflicts arise between these two organizations. Children’s programming has been one of those contentions.

In my opinion, this is a great move for several reasons. Before I get to those reasons, I just want to provide some historical context for the Emmys and children’s programming as a whole.

Children’s programming has been recognized by the Academy since the very first Emmy Awards ceremony in 1949. That ceremony only had three categories. One of the categories was “Most Outstanding Television Personality.” This award was given to Shirley Dinsdale. She had appeared on various television spots and announcements with her puppet Judy Splinters. Her programming was clearly aimed at families and young children. So, the very first person to win an individual Emmy was someone who worked exclusively for children. The next year, in 1950, the Emmys added more categories, one of them being “Best Children’s Show.” Almost every year, since then, there has been a category devoted to children’s programming.

Throughout the ’50s, 60’s and early 70’s, the Emmys mostly awarded programming aired during primetime. There was usually a special “juried” category dedicated to “daytime achievement.” Popular daytime soaps like General Hospital and Guiding Light were not eligible for Best Drama Series, even during a time when most primetime “drama series” were anthological in nature and featured a new story with new characters every week. Those soap operas, and their performers, directors, writers, and other creative crew members, were all relegated to these “daytime achievement” ghettos. However, all children’s programming, whether they aired during the day or night, competed in the same Children’s Program category. That’s why in 1970, for example, Sesame Street, a daytime show aimed towards preschoolers won the category over The Wonderful World of Disney, a primetime show that was geared more towards general audiences and families. 

Nonetheless, people who worked on daytime shows felt jilted by the Emmys. So, in 1974, the Daytime Emmys were born, and “The Emmys” were changed to the Primetime Emmys. This separation within the Emmys’ umbrella also caused a split among children’s shows. Children’s programming that aired during the day competed at the Daytime Emmys, and programming that aired at night continued to compete at the traditional, retroactively named Primetime Emmys.

When it came to children’s television during the ’70s, ‘80s, and ’90s, more children’s programming aired during the day than at night. This was an era when every network, even HBO, were producing their own “after school specials.” For the kiddies out there, after school specials were essentially one-hour television movies aimed towards children and young adults that quite literally aired after school, at around 3 pm or 4 pm on the weekdays. They were usually educational in nature. Many of them, particularly from the ’80s, were very dramatic and featured “real issues.” After school specials stopped being produced by this millennium, but they were especially popular during the ’70s and ’80s, and many episodes featured famous guest stars, like Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Cloris Leachman, among others. 

As a result of this imbalance between daytime and primetime programming for children, the Daytime Emmys had more categories devoted to children’s programming than the Primetime Emmys. The Daytime Emmys had categories related to performances, directing, and writing for children’s programming. For the most part, save for a few instances in the ’70s, the Primetime Emmys have always had only one category set aside for children’s shows: Outstanding Children’s Program. Of course, a primetime children’s program is free to compete in other categories and even win. Most famously, High School Musical won the Primetime Emmy for Best Children’s Program; the movie’s director Kenny Ortega received a nomination for Best Director in a TV Movie. In 1986, Anne of Green Gables (starring Megan Follows) won the Primetime Children’s Emmy, and also received a nomination for Writing for a television movie. The TV movie A Mother’s Courage: The Mary Thomas Story similarly won in the category in 1990 with Alfre Woodard receiving a nomination for Lead Actress in a TV movie. These moments, when a children’s program receives recognition outside the one category designed for them, are possible, but rare. On the other hand, with the Daytime Emmys, there were more opportunities for directors and writers and even performers of children’s programming to receive nominations and even win. Some of the youngest Emmy winners have come from the Daytime side. 

However, other issues have arisen from this separation. The first being that many television programs found loopholes that allowed them to essentially compete in both the Daytime and Primetime Emmys. One example is Nick News. Throughout the ’90s, Nick News was able to compete at both the Daytime and Primetime Emmys. The reason is that Nick News was capable of airing shows both during the day and the night. So, the argument was that Nick News’ daytime episodes can compete at one Emmys, and its nighttime episodes can compete in the other. At some point, this practice was banned. A regular TV show that airs new episodes during the day with occasional nighttime episodes had to choose between the Daytime Emmys and Primetime Emmys; one or the other. After 1999, Nick News chose to exclusively submit their show at the Primetime Emmys.The program dominated in this category until its series finale in 2016.

Sesame Street is a daytime preschool show. However, they occasionally have specials that air during primetime. So, even after the Daytime Emmys were formed, the “Sesame Street world” still found itself represented in many Primetime Emmy races. From 2017-2019, while Sesame Street was dominating the Daytime awards, it also won the Primetime Emmy for Children’s Program for “hour-long specials” that technically aired during primetime. I always found these wins, let alone these nominations, ridiculous and against the rules. These were literally just special episodes for a show that otherwise airs during the day. It didn’t seem fair that Sesame Street “double-dipped” and competed and succeeded at both awards. This string of wins is one of the main factors that has ultimately caused this change in children’s programming at the Emmys.

The other factor that complicated having these separated awards is the fact that many producers were given the freedom and choice to submit their program in either award. Many times, there was a movie or a TV show that, for whatever reason, was technically eligible for both awards. Of course, a producer would have to choose between the Daytime Emmys or the Primetime Emmys. The dilemma arises because while the Daytime Emmys have more categories and more opportunities for a children’s show to be honored, the Primetime Emmys, with their one category, is still seen as more prestigious. This is strange. To be honest, I don’t think a lot of people within the mainstream public care about the children’s Emmy. For children’s programming, I don’t think there’s a striking shift between winning a Daytime Emmy and a Primetime Emmy. But, nonetheless, that was the thinking.

Streaming has made this whole situation even more complicated. Many children’s programs have simply had the option to submit at either the Primetime Emmys and Daytime Emmys. However, this has been going on for a while. From the mid-’90s to the mid-2000s, there were two cable networks that created television movies geared towards children: Showtime and Disney Channel. During their peaks, both these networks could produce a new movie for young people every month. The Showtime movies, particularly because they aired on premium television, were generally more mature than the Disney Channel movies. However, the Disney Channel movies are obviously more popular because, well, during this period, more households had Disney. Fun fact: Seventeen Again, the movie that starred the Mowry Twins and their little brother Tahj was a popular fixture for the Disney Channel, but was technically a Showtime movie, and aired on Showtime first. Disney Channel probably purchased the rights because Sister, Sister was so popular during this period (also, not a Disney Channel show but I digress).

Disney Channel generally submitted their movies for the Primetime Emmys. The most notable examples are The Color of Friendship and High School Musical which both won the Children’s Program Emmy in 2000 and 2006 respectively. However, Showtime always submitted their television movies at the Daytime Emmys, even though, based on my own research, they generally premiered their movies at 7 pm/6 central. 7 pm, aka the access hour, is still considered primetime. This was also the same time period Disney Channel premiered their movies. So, why did these two channels, with similar content geared towards children, submit in separate Emmy competitions? Most likely, loopholes in the rules allowed them to have a choice. While Disney Channel’s movies had to compete against Nickelodeon and Nick  News and Classical Baby, Showtime racked up a bunch of Daytime Emmys because there were more categories designed for children’s programming. Disney Channel also took advantage of this “award choice” privilege. They made Lizzie McGuire compete at the Primetime Emmys while Even Stevens was submitted for the Daytime Emmys. As far as I know, both shows aired during the same block. This isn’t a huge deal, but it causes there to be sort of an imbalance in the awards. Why do some programs compete in one award and other programs compete in the other? It’s all arbitrary.

This imbalance was made more clear with the introduction of streaming. Streaming complicated the Daytime/Primetime Awards agreement, particularly when it came to children’s programming. When it comes to the adult categories, a daytime drama has a different structure than a primetime drama. General Hospital could never (and should never) compete against Game of Thrones. These shows have different modes of storytelling and, frankly, different objectives, as well as contrasting expectations from their audiences. However, in regards to the Emmys, there isn’t much difference between a daytime children’s program and a primetime program. Both the Daytime and Primetime Emmys have recognized all genres of children’s programs, from the preschool educational show to the non-fiction special to the teen drama to the family sitcom. If Nick News and Sesame Street could find success within both awards, then other shows could as well, if they were given the chance.

So, for the last few years, many streaming shows have had to choose between the Daytime Emmys and the Primetime Emmys. If a streaming show is not successful one year, they had the option to switch to the other awards institution the next. Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street (in my opinion, one of the greatest children’s shows of all time, as well as one of the most underrated, check it out on Amazon Prime) submitted itself to the Daytime Emmys after its first season to very little success. The next year, they switched over and submitted to the Primetime Emmys…also to no success. It wasn’t only streaming shows that were playing this switcheroo game. Disney Channel submitted Raven’s Home (a show that premiered at night) for the Daytime Emmys. Raven-Symone received her very first Emmy nomination. The next year, they submitted at the Primetime Emmys. They also, strangely, submitted at the Daytime Emmys again. They received a Daytime Emmy nomination for costumes. They were disqualified from this nomination after voters realized that the show had “double-dipped.”

This shouldn’t be what children’s programming at the Emmys is about. Shows shouldn’t just go back and forth between award bodies depending on how successful they were or the mood of the producers. There should be more consistency. And, frankly, at this point, all children’s programming should just have their own Emmys, something I argued for in the past. However, simply moving all children’s Emmys categories to the Daytime Emmys, aka the NATAS, is the next best thing. Now there’s no confusion. No category fraud. And all aspects of all children’s programming, from the performers to the directors, have an opportunity to be recognized, without competing against the adult programming that voters naturally take more seriously. 

There are so many great children’s programs from the past that didn’t receive a lot of Emmy recognition because they competed at the Primetime Emmys. Of course, it’s sad that a staple in the Primetime Emmys, a category that has been in existence since its 2nd year, will be going away. However, I have long believed that the voters for the Daytime Emmys are more interested in fairly examining the merits of children’s programming than their Primetime counterparts. Great recent children’s series like Anne with an E, Andi Mack, and, yes, Gortimer Gibbons which submitted itself for the Primetime Emmys were snubbed in favor of “special episodes” of a preschool show that aired during the day. At some point, does winning a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Children’s Program matter much when the voters don’t care? I care more about the merit of the award than some fake prestige. In my view, a “Daytime Emmy” is of equal importance to a Primetime Emmy, especially when it comes to children’s programming. 

In the ’70s and ’80s, the vast majority of television geared towards young people aired during the day. Nowadays, the spread is equal. Children’s television airs during the day, during primetime, and, now, on streaming websites. There is no need for two separate Emmy award groups for children, especially when one has more categories and the other has false prestige. 

I hope the producers of children’s television embrace this new model and submit their shows for the Daytime Emmys, so that the directors and the writers and the performers can be honored, so that young adult shows, children’s shows, and pre-school shows can be properly honored in their own categories. I think this is a great step in honoring children’s television and legitimizing their achievements. 

Zendaya’s Historic Emmy Win is a Victory for Young Adult Television

Last night, Zendaya won the Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for her performance as a “recovering” teen drug addict in the show Euphoria. Adapted from an Israeli miniseries, Euphoria premiered last summer to good reviews. Although Rue Bennett, played by Zendaya, is the billed main character, the show is actually a true teen ensemble, giving significant weight to each of the show’s supporting players. It’s a more mature Degrassi. A grittier One True Hill. An American Skins. More dramatic than American Vandal. Simply better (and more responsible) than 13 Reasons Why. Despite these facts, Euphoria, like these other shows before, fits the mold of “high school ensemble drama.”

These types of shows do not do well at industry award shows. A case could be made for each of these shows. The pilot episode of The O.C. is one of the best written hours of television (yup, I said it!) But the Emmys did not honor that episode with a nomination, or even the show as a whole. There have been some success stories. Glee did very well during its first few seasons, even though they were in the comedy categories. The second season of American Crime had a very highschool-centric storyline; it was nominated for four Emmys, including for Best Miniseries. However, as a whole, the Emmys don’t really take the teen drama genre too seriously. Even when a teen drama, like Degrassi, competes in the Children’s Program category, it still finds itself losing the trophy to Wizards of Waverly Place and Nick News.

Euphoria somehow broke through. Although it was snubbed entirely at the two more high profile precursor awards, The Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guilds, Euphoria received six Emmy nominations, winning for makeup, music and Lead Actress. Zendaya is the second black actress to win in the Lead Actress Drama category after Viola Davis broke the glass ceiling a few years earlier. Zendaya is also the youngest actress to win in this category, In my view, Zendaya’s win is most important because she did something Claire Danes, Amber Tamblyn, Fred Savage and half of the cast of Glee tried and failed to do: she won an acting Emmy for playing a high school student in a show mainly geared towards high school students. Although Euphoria is intense and explicit and rated TV-MA, we all know that teenagers are watching this show. We all know that if the show speaks to any demographic, it’s the high school student. So, it’s nice that the Emmys are validating art created specifically for the 14 to 21 age range. 

Young people have essentially taken over social media, for better or worse. As a millennial, I have my issues with the Gen Z population (example, “cancel culture”). However, young people are also making it known that the shows they like are important and valid. Teen dramas, if they are well-made and well-acted, deserve to be given the same consideration as any other type of drama. They also deserve to be given a chance beyond one season. In a recent tweet, in response to Schitt’s Creek historic Emmy sweep, Dan Levy said, “A gentle reminder that TV shows need time and space to lay foundation, to develop, and to grow. In the wrong hands, this show would have been yanked off the air in Season 1 for ‘underperforming.’” Sometimes it feels like young adult television have higher standards than others. They are expected to be instant successes, when many adult shows are given more time to breathe (and a billion dollar budget). Sometimes, it takes a while for a show to catch on, especially if it’s geared towards young people.

I can’t help but lament that shows like American Vandal and Anne were cancelled too soon. At least American Vandal gave us two self-sufficient seasons with no loose ends. In fairness, Anne was given three seasons. But the show had a very devoted and passionate fanbase. It’s disheartening that Netflix/CBC couldn’t give the show one more season, or even a freakin’ TV movie, to wrap up the story and finish its adaptation of the first Anne of Green Gables book. It’s like our feelings don’t matter. It’s like our devotion (even though we are a small crowd) to the show meant nothing. Why should get into another show if the ones we already love are thrown away without warning? Also, Anne had beautiful cinematography, costumes, music, and hairstyling that should have been given Emmy nods, #justsayin.

Ultimately, this win by Zendaya gives me great hope for the future of teen dramas, children’s television, and how award groups perceive them. I thought Euphoria was good, not great, so I’m not exactly upset about it not being nominated for Drama Series. However, if the show stays consistent for the cursed sophomore season, and even improves, there’s no reason why the show can’t receive more nominations next year. The best thing about Zendaya’s win is that it’s 100% deserved. Jennifer Aniston and Laura Linney were also deserving. I had a sinking feeling that Olivia Coleman or one of the ladies from Killing Eve would win. At the end of the day, Zendaya gave a perfect, transformative performance, and got what she deserved. She broke past the Emmys blindspots for young people, young stories (and lead actresses of color) and won the whole, damn thing. And if you have a problem with this win, then maybe you should buy an HBO subscription and watch the season a couple more times until you understand the voters’ choice.

Despite my anger over their recent cancellations, I am thankful that platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime are really taking the young adult demographic seriously. I’m glad they’re creating shows starring young people for young people. I hope the industry as a whole changes their mindset about this subset of television. And, along with that, hire new people of different ages, races, and experience, to help create stories where everyone can see themselves represented. We don’t need another show about an old white guy breaking bad! Let’s widen the scope and find value in different stories.

Disney Channel Versus (Lizzie McGuire vs. Even Stevens)

Disney Channel (formerly known as The Disney Channel) has had several different phases since it first hit the airwaves of very wealthy families in 1983. During the ’80s, The Disney Channel was akin HBO, a “pay-TV” subscription service that catered to both children and adults. In the ’90s, period drama Avonlea and Britney Spears’ Mickey Mouse Club were the networks’ tentpoles. By 1997, the network was officially included in all basic cable bundles, with a focus on mainly targeting the youth demographic. The turn of the century was the beginning of a new phase for Disney Channel. The phase was started by Even Stevens and anchored by hits The Proud Family, Kim Possible, That’s So Raven, (cough cough the underrated Phil of the Future), The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, and, of course, Lizzie McGuire. Both Even Stevens and Lizzie McGuire were probably the first shows on Disney Channel I truly loved, and, for whatever reason*, they occupy the same section of my nostalgia brain rent-free. They are both definitely part of a canon of classic, legendary children’s shows, and they both deserve to be recognized, examined, and, most importantly, compared subjectively.

As a quick reminder, Even Stevens premiered during the summer of 2000. It mainly centered on class clown Louis Stevens (played by Emmy winner Shia LaBeouf) and his overachieving older sister Ren (played by Disney Queen and unofficial living legend Christy Carlson Romano). Lizzie McGuire premiered a few months later in January of 2001. Starring Hilary Duff, the show was about a normal, yet endearingly insecure, pre-teen girl named Lizzie McGuire, her friends, family, and mortal enemy Kate Saunders. Both shows were known for their cutaway gags, fast motion photography, and colorful recurring cast. Lizzie McGuire employed an animated Lizzie that portrayed the inner feelings and thoughts of its main character. The main difference between these two shows lies within their tones. While Even Stevens was zany and fast-paced, Lizzie McGuire was a little calmer and more dramatic in some aspects. Lizzie McGuire was frequently clever and biting early in its run, but most of the show’s initial wit and insightfulness was glossed over by its second season. In Even Stevens’ case, while Beans (funny kid neighbor introduced midway through the series) had his moments, his frequent appearances in the third season created a sort of “Cousin Oliver” situation. Despite these faults, both shows are arguably the best Disney has ever put out. Both shows (for the most part) ended during the summer of 2003. Enough time has passed that many, if not most,  kids entering college this year have not seen these shows. Thankfully, Disney Plus has created a space where kids and older adults can discover and rediscover these gems.

So, I thought it would be fun, in the spirit of Brandy vs. Monica, to take a handful of episodes from each show and compare them one by one (or two by two, I dunno, whichever makes the most sense to you). I’ll be honest right now. When I was 10, I probably enjoyed Lizzie McGuire more because, frankly, it was an easier show to understand. Don’t get me wrong! I stopped in my tracks every time the claymation opening sequence for Even Stevens popped up on the screen, but sometimes the humor and clever gags on the show went over my head. Over the years, I’ve developed much more appreciation for Even Stevens. Now, Even Stevens is a show that legitimately makes me crack up. I still very much enjoy watching an episode or two of Lizzie McGuire, but sometimes I wonder if it’s more my nostalgia allowing me to enjoy this show in 2020, or if I genuinely enjoy what I’m watching. So I went into this knowing that, overall, I believed Even Stevens was the better show. I also think Even Stevens is underrated. It’s clear that many people from my generation had similar feelings about the shows when they were first airing. Lizzie McGuire seemed to be a more relatable, realistic character, and that drew us in. Louis and Ren are opposites on a spectrum, somewhat exaggerated and maybe a smidge unrealistic. Since it was easier to connect with Lizzie, maybe that’s what made the show better when we were younger…which is why there was a much higher demand for a Lizzie McGuire reboot than an Even Stevens one. In any case, I hope this “Versus” article will inspire you all to rewatch this show and give them both the respect they deserve. 

I chose ten episodes from each show. I paired the episodes based on common themes. Both shows had 65 episodes. I couldn’t possibly only choose ten episodes from each show. These ten episodes don’t exactly represent my favorites from each show. So…there might be a Part 2…maybe even a Part 3. Maybe I will literally compare all the episodes including their movies. I dunno. We’ll see. Even if I don’t continue, these episodes are certainly a good representation of these shows and the 2000-2005 Disney Channel era as a whole. 

(Lizzie McGuire vs Even Stevens)

  1. The Pilots (Pool Party vs. A Weak First Week) – First I’m going to review each show’s respective (aired) pilot episodes. Disney Channel did a weird thing during this period. For some reason, Disney Channel did not like airing their shows’ pilots first. This was the case for nearly every show during this era. In fact, Disney Channel aired the episodes for both shows out of order. In the case of Even Stevens, the pilot episode aired as the season one finale as a flashback episode. Because the Stevens were initially supposed to be “the Spiveys,” there are a few moments of awkward dubbing. Otherwise, the episode doesn’t feel out of place because it clearly establishes the pilot scenes in a flashback narrative featuring the “current” Ren and Louis recounting the story. Meanwhile, with Lizzie McGuire, “Pool Party” was the fourth aired episode. So, by the time this episode aired, we had already seen three episodes. We knew who the characters were and their relationships and all the central conflicts. However, because “Pool Party” was shot first and probably written with the expectation that it would be aired first, the teaser for this episode has Animated Lizzie introducing the characters to the audience as if we (the audience) had no idea who they were. In my opinion, if you want to start bingeing these shows, watch their pilots first, and then you can continue on with the order that Disney Plus provides, which is the original airdate order. Anyway, I’m only here to compare the episodes, not the dumb decisions of Disney execs. “Pool Party” is a classic, with Terri Minsky’s wit and knack for cultural references on full display. This is one of two episodes that the series creator Terri Minsky is credited on. She was also nominated for a Writers Guild award for this episode. It wins.
  2. First Aired Episodes (Rumors vs. Swap.com) – Now, I’m going to compare the actual episodes that were aired first for each series. “Rumors” featured Lizzie’s cringey awkward tryout for the cheerleading team and Kate Saunders’ famous “U-G-L-Y” cheer. Ten year old me was shook when Lizzie tells Miranda that Kate stuffs her bra. The shade. However, “Swap.com” is an understated episode of Even Stevens about Louis tricking Ren into dating a total dweeb for a very rare trading card. In the end, Louis admits to Ren he only did all that so he could trade the card anf buy her a necklace for her birthday. It’s classic Even Stevens with a sweet ending. I surprised myself with this one, but I give the point to Even Stevens. 
  3. Picture Day Episodes (Picture Day vs. Shutterbugged) – These episodes feature storylines about the quest to take a perfect picture on picture day. The Even Stevens episode features Ren’s famous swollen cheeks after a trip to the orthodontist. After organizing a protest and exposing Principal Wexler as a hypocrite with his own vanity issues, she is able to get reshoots for everyone who needs them. It’s a fun episode, but sort of middle of the road for Even Stevens. On the other hand, “Picture Day” is one of the best episodes Lizzie McGuire has produced. In this episode, Lizzie spends the day trying to borrow a blouse after her parents force her to wear an ugly sweater given to her by her grandmother. In the end, Lizzie takes a paint bomb meant for her friend Miranda and ends up happily taking a school picture, covered in green paint, holding the ugly sweater wearing her new blouse. From the importance of friendship to the dangers of vanity, this episode has heart and humor wrapped in one. Lizzie has two points.
  4. America’s Got Talent (Random Acts of Miranda vs. Take My Sister… Please) – These episodes center around talent. “Random Acts of Miranda” is an oft-forgotten episode that features a performance of “Reflection” by Miranda in the end. Somehow, a couple of years later, Disney decided to make Duff the singer (kidding). “Take My Sister… Please” is the episode where Louis and Ren decide to perform in the talent show as a comedy duo. It’s just an overall well-written episode. As a kid, something I found very relatable was Louis and Ren’s relationship. I had an overachieving older sister. I was definitely the black sheep of my family, like Louis. But, like Swap.com, this episode showed how much the two cared for each other. Two thumbs up, and one more point for Even.
  5. Kiss (First Kiss vs. The Kiss) – These episodes featured first kisses. On Even Stevens, Louis and Tawny had their first kiss in the season 3 premiere. This is an important moment because Louis and Tawny definitely had a very “Sam and Diane” will they/won’t they thing going on. So, when the two finally decide to start going out, it’s a big deal and feels earned. Lizzie’s first kiss is from a guy whose only appearance is this episode. Both episodes feature breakups. Lizzie McGuire’s breakup is just more dramatic. If anything, it’s tragically jarring. But not in a bad way. As a kid, I didn’t fully understand why Ronnie was breaking up with Lizzie in such an abrupt fashion. It took a while, and actually being in high school, for me to understand where Ronnie was coming from. So I don’t think Ronnie is the villain of this episode. Despite that, we still feel so horrible for Lizzie. And that library scene where Gordo assures Lizzie that this breakup is more Ronnie’s loss than hers is probably the single most emotional scene of the entire series. We feel sad for Lizzie, but we also feel sad for Gordo, who clearly loves Lizzie, but can’t get the words out. I feel your pain, Gordo! “The Kiss” is so funny with a dash of earnestness in the end. However, “First Kiss” changed the game. It’s also the only other episode Terri Minsky wrote. What I’m trying to say is…”First Kiss” walked, ran, and sprinted so that Andi Mack could even exist. The end.
  6. Party! (Party Over Here vs. Strictly Ballroom) – These episodes feature house parties. In “Party Over Here,” Lizzie and her friends lie to their parents to attend Kate’s unchaperoned birthday party. This episode is notable for featuring Hilary Duff’s real older sister, Haylie, as Kate’s cousin. “Strictly Ballroom” is the episode where Ren and Louis both attend the same party with similar objectives. Louis is trying to impress Tawny, while Ren wants regular crush Bobby Deaver to notice her. Everything that could possibly go wrong for Ren does. However, despite their earlier squabbles, Louis risks embarrassing himself to help Ren escape the party without anyone noticing. It’s just a sweet episode. I guess I should mention another reason I liked Even Stevens more than Lizzie McGuire is that, generally, an episode of Stevens had two plots, one for Louis and one for Ren, that many times came together in the end, while LS had two plots, one for Lizzie and then another for her younger brother Matt that sometimes felt like it should be its own show. Do you get it? It just feels like Even Stevens is more interconnected, while Lizzie McGuire featured two separate unrelated plots in one episode. “Strictly Ballroom” is a nice example of that. What started off as a typical episode that featured two plots (already connected with this party) turns into one story. I’ll explain this further in my graduate thesis.
  7. Very Special Episode (Inner Beauty vs. Band on the Roof) – Now, things are getting serious. Every series is bond to have at least one “very special episode.” Saved By the Bell had “I’M SO EXCITED! I’M SO SCARED!” Fresh Prince gave us the “How come he don’t want me, man?” Full House gave us “There’s a car in the kitchen!” Lizzie McGuire gave us an episode that tackled eating disorders, with Miranda, feeling the weight of the world, gambling with anorexia. Of course, this plot is wrapped up by the end with Lizzie and Miranda dancing to “Us Against the World” for Gordo’s music video (which seemed like more of an excuse for Gordo to have footage of Lizzie somersaulting in a short skirt than an actual career move but I digress). You can watch this music video on Youtube since Disney Plus is too cheap to pay for the rights of this song. Admittedly, Even Stevens did not have a “very special episode.” The show rarely took itself too seriously to go that route. But “Band on the Roof” is a legendary episode, a parody rockumentary about the Twitty-Stevens Connection, the show’s resident band featuring Louis on drums and Ren on vocals. It’s a funny episode, but it also gives us a good lesson about, ironically, not taking life so seriously and taking risks once in a while. It’s almost shocking that Disney Channel would approve an episode where breaking school rules is encouraged. It’s a sweet episode that features a few moments of genuine earnestness in the end. Both of these episodes are special. They are the best episodes of their respective series. I can’t include a comparison of these shows without “Inner Beauty” or “Band on the Roof.” Chantay, you both stay.
  8. Favorite Episodes (Between a Rock and a Bra Place vs. Influenza: The Musical) – On multiple occasions, both Hilary Duff and Christy Carlson Romano have discussed their favorite episodes. Hilary Duff loves “Between a Rock and a Bra Place” because it was so close to what she was experiencing during that time. This episode is remembered among fans because of Lizzie’s “I WANT A BRA! A BRA, WE WANT A BRA!” freakout which, besides “First Kiss,” is Duff’s finest acting moment on the show. However, the rest of the episode is a little boring to be honest, despite David Carradine’s cameo (who’s brother, Robert Carradine, played Lizzie’s dad on the series). Christy Carlson Romano loves the musical episode of Even Stevens, as does every other fan of the show. “Influenza: The Musical” is literally the best musical that Disney Channel has ever produced. The songs are funny and catchy. The story itself is wonderfully manic. I mean…I never forget the year we went to the moon (I love how the episode doesn’t even mention Neil Armstrong. I mean, Armstrong deserves all the respect, but it just shows how clueless Ren was). I could dedicate an entire post as to why this episode sets the bar for children’s television. I’m sorry, I will forever play the “I WANT A BRA” scene on a continuous loop, but, in terms of the actual episodes as a whole, Influenza wins by a mile. (Special note: Jim Wise, who played the gym teacher, wrote all the songs for Influenza. Luckily, he has an Emmy on his mantle for his work on MadTV.)
  9. Special Celebrity Guest (Xtreme Xmas vs. Starstruck) – I’m now comparing episodes featuring famous guest stars playing themselves. Lizzie McGuire actually had a few potential choices for his one. But, my favorite is definitely “Xtreme Xmas” featuring Steven Tyler as Santa Claus…and then, himself, singing the best version of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” on a parade float. Christmas episodes are allowed to be weird and hokey, and this one fits the bill. “Starstruck” featured Irish boy band BBMak during the peak of their fame (at least, here, in the States). Ruby’s sudden obsession with BBMak gives us some great visual gags and a great performance by mini-Streisand Lauren Frost (who’s also really great in the musical episode). But…Steven Tyler singing “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” is like one of the best scenes from Lizzie McGuire. Point for Gryffindor (Lizzie McGuire is Gryffindor in this context). 
  10. Series Finale (Bye Bye Hilldridge High vs. Leavin’ Stevens) – Sigh. We have arrived at their series finales. Even Stevens wins this one. I’ll just say it outright. Don’t get wrong: Lizzie McGuire’s finale is wonderful, especially considering that Disney Channel didn’t like series finales during this period. But…I have some gripes about it. First, as we all as know, Disney Channel did not air the Lizzie McGuire finale last. They aired it midway through the season. Up until now, I, for whatever reason, always assumed that they did this in order to air the episode in time for the movie…so that the movie would make sense since it takes place after graduation. However…that is not the case. “Bye Bye Hillridge Junior High” aired in February of 2003. The movie does not premiere until May of that year. Between February and May, Disney Channel continued airing new episodes of Lizzie McGuire. So…I’m assuming, the real reason Disney Channel decided to air a bunch of episodes after the finale is that it wanted to deceive the fans into thinking that the show was still going on and these new episodes must take place while the gang is in 9th grade. Boo, Disney Channel, boo. 

The second issue with this finale is that Miranda is not in it. The actress who played Miranda, Lalaine, abruptly left the show while they still had a few more episodes to film. No one (except obviously the cast, crew, and producers)  knows why this happened. It makes no sense. I don’t believe Lalaine left the show to work on the DCOM “You Wish.” That makes no sense. I don’t know why Disney Channel wouldn’t delay shooting for a few weeks while Lalaine could finish her work on Lizzie McGuire. Even if they couldn’t do that, I find it hard to believe that Lalaine would sacrifice not seeing Lizzie McGuire through for a supporting role in a Disney Channel movie. She also does not appear in The Lizzie McGuire Movie. I believe there is much more to this story. I don’t want to speculate, and Lalaine, to her credit, has explained her absence on several occasions.  But…from an outside POV, it makes no sense. The point I’m trying to bring up is that it felt like the writers wrote a finale script with Miranda in it, and then had to redo a few scenes to accommodate Miranda’s absence.  I also don’t understand why Lizzie was touched by Gordo’s yearbook message. Even as a kid watching this, I was confused. Gordo was supposed to profess his love. But he didn’t do that! So what is Lizzie McGuire “oh-my-god-ing” about? I think they cut more out of Gordo’s message to leave things open-ended for the movie. But it ended up creating this weird anti-climactic conclusion. As a kid, I loved this episode. As an adult, I can see through the cracks, and now I’m underwhelmed.

“Leavin’ Stevens” is the perfect series finale for Even Stevens. I’m not talking about the movie by the way (maybe I’ll compare the movies in another post). It gives us plenty of irrelevancy that Stevens is known for, but it also has a well-earned emotional punch. Essentially, in this episode, the Stevens are getting ready to move to DC after the mother wins a Congressional seat. However, after a recount, the Stevens aren’t moving after all. In this episode, Louis and Tawny, via recorded video messages, admit their love for each other. It’s such a sweet scene that legit brings tears to my eyes. While the Lizzie McGuire finale gives us the standard trope of flashback scenes, Even Stevens doesn’t do that. Instead, in their confessions, Louis and Tawny allude to events that happened in the pilot. It just feels so satisfying. We realize, within these zany crazy 65 episodes, a relationship was truly blossoming. In regards to the Lizzie McGuire finale, I didn’t exactly need Gordo to admit his love for Lizzie. It’s incredibly endearing that Gordo feels so shy about this. But…I needed something more. Even Stevens gave me that “more.” 

So, this was a close race but it looks like the final total is 5-4-1, with Even Stevens winning. This opinion is the only one that matters. Hate to break it to you. In all seriousness, y’all need to start stanning these shows again. Show them to your little brother or sister. They still hold up. And, again, maybe I’ll do more episodes later. Thanks for reading.

*Cadet Kelly, probably, right?

Road to Avonlea Review: Thursday’s Child

avonlea thursday's child

Episode Summary: Sweet little Cecily is diagnosed with tuberculosis, the same disease that killed her Aunt Ruth many years ago. Everyone in town reacts in horror, afraid that they will catch this potentially deadly disease. Felix is suspended from his job at the White Sands. Feeling useless, Felicity decides to do more research on the disease, realizing she no longer wants to go to teacher’s college; she wants to be a doctor. Janet takes the burden of tending to Cecily herself out of guilt for all the times she’s ignored Cecily in the past in favor of the other kids in the household. After it becomes clear that Cecily is only getting sicker, Janet listens to the doctors and agrees to send Cecily away to a sanitorium. All anyone else can do is hope that Cecily will survive this ordeal.

Directed by Harvey Frost, Written by Heather Conkie, Music by John Welsman

My Grade: Season 5 is defined by two episodes: “Memento Mori” and “Thursday’s Child.” Both episodes deal with death. In the former episode, Hetty mourns the loss of her mother. In “Thursday’s Child,” the possibility of death comes again with Cecily’s sickness. In 1900, tuberculosis was the second leading cause of death in the United States, just behind pneumonia. Tuberculosis also had the possibility of being passed on to other people. So, Cecily being diagnosed with this disease was a big deal. When Hetty’s first told about Cecily’s diagnosis, her mind immediately goes to her sister Ruth. Overall, during this time period, tuberculosis was seen as a death sentence. Think of HIV/AIDS in the ’80s. Think of stigma AIDS patients had in the 1980s. Much of that can be compared to tuberculosis patients from the 1900s. The show does a great job of truly showing how terrifying and concerning a tuberculosis diagnosis is. Not trying to defend how the town reacts to Cecily’s issue or how they treat the King family. There’s very little Christian understanding and compassion going on. Even Olivia is kind of horrible in this episode. (“I WILL NEVER FORGIVE JANET IF ANYTHING EVER HAPPENS TO MONTGOMERY!” bish, sit down). But, their behavior is certainly not out of the norm. Tuberculosis was scary. It still is. We don’t get it anymore because of vaccines, but if someone does, then it is a serious matter. (So, uh…vaccinate your people, please).

Besides all that culture science mumbo jumbo, “Thursday’s Child” is a genuinely wonderful episode. It’s what I like in an Avonlea episode. It’s emotional. It’s dramatic. It’s realistic. The music is perfect. The performances are uniformly great. It’s an episode that features most of the town and doesn’t rely on any stunt casting. And, it’s a really sad, heartbreaking episode. The episode tells us that sometimes doing the right thing isn’t the easiest action. Take Janet. She places so much blame on herself for Cecily getting sick. Cecily is definitely taken for granted (on multiple levels and realms). When Alec and Janet are showing more concern for Sara Stanley or the latest drifter to show up randomly in their barn than their youngest daughter, then that’s a problem, fam. Regardless of what Janet should have done in the past…well, it’s the past. There’s nothing that can be done to change prior events. Janet can’t let her guilt get in the way of fully understand what’s best for Cecily and the family. Keeping Cecily in the house to only get worse, with the potential to getting more people sick, is not the best course of action. Janet had to make the difficult decision to send Cecily away. It’s a weird irony. Mrs. King does not feel like she paid enough attention to Cecily, and now she’s sending her away to New York to a sanitorium. But, ultimately, it has to be done. (A+)

Favorite Performance and Scene: Speaking of Janet…while this episode features most of the main cast, and a variety of different emotions and performances from the actors, this episode really belongs to Lally Cadeau. Cadeau is perfect on this show, literally since the beginning when Janet was more of a pithy comedic relief than a fully fleshed-out character. During the first season, when the show was more focused on Sara, the kids, and the quirky guest star of the week, Cadeau took a couple scenes and a line here and there and did more than any ordinary actress would do. That’s why she was nominated for a Gemini for the first season when her character had very little to do. That’s why Cadeau was given heavier themes and storylines to tackle ever since. “Thursday’s Child” is Cadeau’s magnum opus on the show. The episode represents all the reasons we love Janet and how Cadeau makes that possible.

The range Lally Cadeau practices in this episode is one of a kind. In the beginning, when Janet admits to Cecily she never had the chance to finish her baby quilt she’s like “Oh golly gee! Shucks! Oh well!” After Cecily’s prognosis, Janet’s like “What have I done? I’m a horrible mother.” And then she goes nuts: “That’s my baby, and I will take care of her as I see fit!” In the end, after the trip to the sanitorium in New York when Janet takes Cecily, Janet displays a mixture of fear, sadness, hope and…relief. She’s relieved that Cecily’s still alive, of course. But she’s also relieved that someone better equipped will see Cecily through this ordeal. She’s relieved that in a couple weeks, she’ll be able to go back home to Avonlea. And, hopefully, with Cecily gone, things can go back to normal for everyone. It’s relief…but it’s a guilty kind of relief. She’s not sure if she’s doing the right thing…but, at this time, it works for everyone. All those conflicting emotions come through on Cadeau’s face.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This is also a standout episode for John Welsman. Welsman received a Gemini nomination for this episode, while his rival Don Gillis received one for “Memento Mori.” These are the two best episodes of the season. Once again, the music plays such a pivotal role in the success of this show. Welsman ended up winning this round. It’s a shame that neither one of them was nominated for Emmys for their work here. In any case, I probably would have cast my vote for Gillis, because the music for “Memento Mori” is so iconic. However, the very first time I watched this series I thought the opposite. Welsman’s score is at its most distinct and dramatic during the scene when Janet is walking home from the general store. She hears a baby scream from inside the house. Janet freaks out and runs through the slippery winter snow to the house. The camera shows Janet’s back as she makes this brief, yet painful trek towards the house. The music is this intense fast violin sound that I don’t think has ever been featured on the show before. When it turns out that Baby Daniel only coughed up an accidentally swallowed button, Janet still can’t help but hold on to him and sob further. This is the turning point for Janet. This is when Janet realizes she has to do anything for her family, even if means sending someone away for a while.

John Welsman’s score is obviously also special because it incorporates Alec King’s (Cedric Smith) rendition of “All Through the Night.” Alec tenderly sings this song trying to get Baby Daniel to sleep; however, it’s really a lullaby in honor of Cecily. His voice reaches every corner of the house, allowing for each member of the family to take a moment and reflect on the important things in life. This is another special scene in the episode. In fact, when all is said and done, it’s probably one of the most memorable scenes of the entire series.

Final Thoughts: While this episode belongs to Lally Cadeau, we obviously have to pay tribute to Harmony Cramp, who played Cecily faithfully and dutifully for five seasons. Where should I begin with this? Cecily will come back in season 6, looking different because she’ll be played by a new actress. I won’t get into that now because…well, we’ll have plenty of time during the season 6 reviews. But, I do have some thoughts on Cramp’s exit.

While I do continue to stand by season 4 being a transitional season in regards to character development and the kids growing up, season 5 is a transitional period in relation to the actual cast dynamic. Sara(h) is gone (although she’s coming back in “one week” according to Olivia). Gema Zamprogna (Felicity) has one foot out the door, and only appears in 9/26 episodes in the last 2 seasons. And every other young character from the first 3 seasons is gone. We are left with Felix as the most visible representation of the show’s younger cast. The show desperately needed a young woman to replace the gaps that will be left by Sara and Felicity’s absences. Cecily was old enough to be a suitable replacement for both, and, finally, be given her own storylines and agency. But, according to various sources, including Harmony Cramp herself, the show’s producers didn’t feel the actress playing Cecily at the time had enough stage presence to take on the challenge. So, Harmony Cramp out, different actress in.

Look, I get it. But I also don’t get it. And I think the blame lies solely on Sullivan and the writers. Harmony Cramp would have been ready for the increase in screentime and dramatic heft by season 5/6 had she been given stuff to do during the first 4 seasons. In other words, if you want a kid actor on a long-running TV show to successfully transition into adult storylines later in the run, he or she has to be given the experience to fully grow. Cecily really became a nothing-character by season 2. In season 1, Cecily is a great character. Yes, she isn’t given a spotlight episode like Felicity or Felix (or even Peter), but she at least has some presence. She’s the best thing about “Proof of the Pudding.” She’s cute. She’s nice. She’s naive. And, in the show’s first episode, she’s one of the first people in Avonlea to actually defend Sara Stanley and treat her kindly.

A common complaint regarding Cecily is that she’s nothing like the “actual” Cecily in the books by LM Montgomery. That is very correct. Cecily talks more in the books and isn’t so much a perfect sweet angel like her television doppelganger. In my opinion, I think TV Cecily’s characterization works. The Book Cecily is a little too similar to Book Felicity (who is just like TV Felicity). In the books, Cecily is still the least interesting character. OK, Beverly is actually the worst. But then I’d place Cecily above him, and only him. Beverly does not transfer to the show. If the producers insisted on keeping Cecily on, then I wish they had actually used Cecily more. In the TV show, Cecily’s cute persona gives her space not occupied by any of the other characters. Unfortunately, the producers had no idea (or, more likely, no interest) in doing anything with Cecily’s sweetness. So, alas, by season 5, Cecily in its current form simply cannot fill the void left by the likes of Felicity and Sara. Cecily needed an “upgrade.” And, she needed a new actress playing her.

In the books, Cecily also dies of tuberculosis. I don’t know anything else about this switch. I don’t know if this episode/story arc was created with the sole purpose of making the transition easier to swallow (LOL, it doesn’t). I don’t know if this was a decision made after the season ended. I don’t know how “Thursday’s Child” plays into this decision. What I do know is that this is Harmony Cramp’s farewell. And it makes the episode even sadder because we don’t see this Cecily anymore. Cecily, as we know her, is dead. I will say I have no hate for the newer actress or even her performance as Cecily. You’ll see, when I get to that episode in season 6, I’m not going to be as harsh as others are. But…as a general philosophy, I do not approve of recasts, especially when it’s against the original actor’s will. I would rather see Harmony Cramp awkwardly tackle dramatic content (“Fathers and Sons” features her one big angry line and even that’s not that great) than a new actress taking over. It just affects the (any) show’s realism. I only accept that crap from daytime soaps and Dr. Who.

Harmony Cramp retired from acting after this episode. This was her first and last big break.

Also, one more thing about this: Road to Avonlea can be strangely meta sometimes. Cecily’s heath in the episode perfectly represents her character development in the show. “Give the character a chance! Let Molly Atkinson take over before she turns to dust!”

Heather Conkie wrote this episode (and “Memento Mori”) and was not nominated for a Gemini for garbage reasons probably. On the other hand, Gema Zamprogna was nominated with this episode being submitted on her behalf. This was a very strange choice, considering “Otherwise Engaged” existed. Even the actress herself was surprised by the choice of episode, but felt her character’s development and realization of her career goals made the whole thing understandable.

 

 

Road to Avonlea Reviews: Race/Stranger/Believe

avonlea horse

Episode Summaries: The Great Race – After a freak riding accident, Felix isn’t sure if he is ready to literally get back on the horse. With encouragement from his mother, who also went through a similar accident when she was eight, he finds the courage to compete in the steeplechase against Mr. Pettibone. Stranger in the Night – A mysterious stranger named Caleb Stokes (Gemini winner Bruce Greenwood) starts to work as a hired hand for the King Family. However, after an out-of-towner spots Caleb and angrily confronts him, the Kings, particularly Alec, are distraught to learn that their helper spent time in jail for fraud and embezzlement. Despite Caleb earning the family’s trust again with a reasonable explanation for his past troubles, he decides to leave town out of concern for the people about which he’s grown to care. Someone to Believe In – Corrupt politician John Hodgson (Gordon Pinsent), with his daughter Adeline (Laura Bertram), visits Avonlea to drum up support for his campaign. Although both Alec and Felix are charmed by the father and daughter respectively (for different reasons of course), they soon realize that looks are in the eye of the beholder. After Felix catches Adeline stealing from the White Sands Hotel, Felix does the right thing and exposes her, even if that means losing the girl of her dreams.

“The Great Race” is directed by Stephen Scaini and written by Rick Drew, with music by Don Gillis. “Stranger in the Night” is directed by Allan King and written by Janet Maclean, with music by John Welsman. “Someone to Believe In” is directed by Eleanore Lindo and written by Avrum Jacobson, with music by Don Gillis.

My Grades: We’ve now reached the “so-so” mid-section of an otherwise strong season. (Although we are one more episode away from the season’s worst episode so hold on to your bootstraps). The two Felix-heavy episodes are “The Great Race” and “Someone the Believe In.” For season 5, both Sarah Polley and Gema Zamprogna asked for less screentime. Sara’s absence is very obvious because…well…where has she been? (With her Nanny Louisa of course.) But Felicity’s decreasing screentime won’t become apparent until the final 2 seasons. This season, Felicity still appears consistently throughout. In fact, she pretty much appears in all the episodes. But, she’s only given the central storyline in one episode, “Otherwise Engaged.” Considering how Felicity (and Gus)-heavy season four was, it’s a little jarring to see how much in the periphery she’s in for this season. In any case, the lessening of her screentime in season 5 only makes her long absences in season 6 and 7 more easily digestible. On the other hand, Sara leaving is just a huge punch in the gut (especially if she’s your favorite character, like me!).

That was a long tangent. The point is, with Sara, Felicity, and Gus out of the way, Felix really sets himself as a major figure for the rest of the series. And this dense Felix run of episodes is our first major proof of that. Both “Race” and “Believe” get (A-)‘s in my book. “Someone to Believe in” is a fine episode that feels simpler, less contrived, more heartfelt than the majority of the White Sands-centered episodes. Meanwhile, “The Great Race” is good. But I can’t shake the feeling that “The Great Race” is just “Felix and Blackie” with a dash of “Moving On.” (Both episodes are also among the best of the series receiving perfect scores from me.) Also, does it make sense that Felix would develop such PTSD from his riding accident after the events of “Felix and Blackie?” Once again, character development is secondary to the story. Obviously, still a great episode.

“Stranger in the Dark” is a favorite among fans, particularly because of guest star Bruce Greenwood’s award-winning performance as the mysterious Caleb Stokes. I think Bruce Greenwood is fine, but his character lacks the earnestness of Peter Craig and the charm of Gus Pike. In other words, Greenwood (or his character, I dunno) is a bit too staid to truly stand out. I think the episode has a good lesson in not judging anyone from surface-level facts. The King family’s feelings on Caleb shift with every new act of this story. He’s bad. He’s good. He’s bad. He’s good. It’s a fun bit of irony if you think about it. However, the way I feel about this episode is similar to how I feel about the show’s second episode “Story Girl.” This episode would have, at least, seemed better had it led to something further. But since this is Caleb’s only appearance (and, as far as I remember, only mention), I can’t help but ask “So what?” There’s a weird sense of dignity and unearned importance placed on this “one-off” character that comes across as superficial. There have been a lot “one and done” characters on this show. Peter Coyote’s Romney Penhallow comes to mind. But, unlike Stokes, Penhallow had a big enough personality and an interesting backstory relevant to one of the main characters that his presence in this one episode alone was enough to be a classic. With Stokes, I understand the character is supposed to be mysterious and hard-to-read and good, but I personally have never been all that captivated by him. A couple more appearances to really develop the character would have made this episode better in retrospect. As it stands, it’s a staid (B).

vlcsnap-2019-12-03-01h15m27s227

Spotlight Performances: I think the actors who make up the King Family gave the highlight performances for these three episodes. Lally Cadeau once again proves why season 5 belonged to her, even as a supporting performer in “The Great Race.” In “Stranger,” Cedric Smith does so much with so little as a conflicted Alec King grapples with the reality that the young man he almost considered to be a son might be a criminal. And, of course, when past Daytime Emmy nominee Zachary Bennett (“Believe”) is given the chance to grapple with dramatic content, he shines. We’re officially done with “fat-boy not actually fat” antics from the earlier seasons.

Favorite Scene: Despite my reservations regarding “Stranger in the Dark,” the hay harvesting scene (where Caleb proves his usefulness to the family) is still pretty thrilling. Maybe, thrilling isn’t the right word. There’s just something great about the moments where the family truly comes together, gets its hands dirty, and gets sh@# done before the sky turns pink.

Final Thoughts: Musically, season 5 is interesting because, more than the last 2 seasons, there seems to be some sort of tension between the Don Gillis scores and the John Welsman motifs. We will not see both composers credited together until season 7, so this season, the episodes go back and forth between their two very different styles. The whole vibe and mood in the show changes based on which score is used in an episode. Don Gillis’ music (featured in both Felix-centered episodes) is bolder, more melodramatic than Welsman’s (“Stranger”), which, frankly, seems closer to the type of music that would be played in a northern small town during that era. Both great in their own ways. However, music from Don Gillis will start to have a bigger role in the later seasons, and of course, his stuff will be used in every other Kevin Sullivan production after Avonlea. It’s worth noting, though, that a slower version of “King Family” score, which dominated seasons 2 and 3, is heard once again during the harvesting scene. Besides the opening credits, is this the last time we hear it? We shall see…

Remember when the show was more known for the pretty flowery music from Hagood Hardy (another prominent composer during the first 2 seasons) that played while the kids were running through the meadows? I feel like that’s officially been replaced by Don Gillis’ western theme played any time a character rides a horse.

“Race” is the first episode directed by Stefan Scaini. Surprisingly, he only directs three more episodes before directing the reunion movie. He received a Gemini nomination for the reunion movie, along with another one the year before for Sullivan’s “Under the Piano.” He also directed the reunion movies for Kevin Sullivan’s other two famous series. He’s directed for nearly every Canadian show, most notably Degrassi, Heartland, Street Legal, and Beachcombers. He won his first Emmy in 2016 for his work on the PBS show Odd Squad. “Believe” is also Eleanore Lindo’s first episode. She’ll only direct two more, including Sarah Polley’s farewell next season. She is also prolific, having directed episodes for Degrassi, Heartland, Street Legal, and…uh…Beachcombers. She won a Gemini for her work on Degrassi. “Believe” is also the Avonlea debut for Avrum Jacobson, who would later produce the Canadian hit ReGenesis.

Finally, Gordon Pinsent and Laura Bertram will end up having guest roles in Sullivan’s next show Wind at My Back. Pinsent will have an important recurring role that will lead to a Gemini nomination. Bertram will appear in the season 1 finale, playing a much nicer character than the one in “Believe.”

 

 

 

Road to Avonlea Review: Strictly Melodrama

lally cadeau janet king

Episode Summary: It’s that time again for the annual drama competition. Perennial director and writer Hetty is so determined to beat her arch-rival Eleanor McHugh (Corinne Conley) that she bets the recipe of her famous cranberry pie. Meanwhile, Janet, who has never been given a role in the past, vies for any small role. Despite Hetty’s reservations, Janet is given the leading female role after Muriel Stacy drops out and an afternoon of disastrous auditions. The world-famous stage actress Isabelle Carrington (Linda Sorensen) is staying at the White Sands Hotel after a scandal that took place during her last production. Without any regard for Janet’s feelings, Hetty offers the leading role to Isabelle. Throughout the rehearsals, Isabelle proves to be a very difficult and demanding performer; all the while, Janet is perfectly compliant in her role as prompter, until she is so pushed to the edge that she leaves. When Isabelle insults the script, Hetty realizes her short-sightedness and begs for Janet to take on the leading role again. The play is a success at the competition. Hetty and the Avonlea community wins, with Janet getting the most praise for her performance.

Directed by Allan Kroeker, Written by Yan Moore, Music by John Welsman

My Grade: This episode isn’t popular with a lot of die-hards. And I get the complaints. For one thing, Hetty made it very clear in earlier episodes (most notably “It’s All a Stage”) that she does not care for theatre. And Hetty hardly seems like the kind of person who’d get starstruck over an actress. One could make the case that Hetty’s writing career has allowed her to appreciate the theatre arts more. However, Hetty only became an author literally a year earlier, and this episode explicitly implies that Hetty has been the main force behind Avonlea’s participation in this drama competition for years. So…I guess that argument doesn’t check out. On top of the fact that Janet seems a little too nice and accommodating for the bulk of this episode, it just seems like “Strictly Melodrama” is an episode that was written in a bubble, with very little regard to what happened in previous seasons. Actually, that may have been the case. This is the only episode Yan Moore wrote for this show. (Although he worked as a “story editor” for all of season 5).

Any show that lasts longer than 5 years has trouble with continuity. So, I don’t expect long-running shows to be perfect in that regard. But, still, I get it! However, because every episode of Avonlea feels like a well-produced feature film,  more so than a lot of other shows, it’s easy for me to judge episodes individually, instead of in relation to others. In short, despite the major inconsistency, I can still enjoy this episode immensely. I’m a sucker for episodes that involve the entire town, with all the prominent recurring characters (Sara is missing RIP) appearing. It’s a busy, crazy episode, with a lot of laugh-out-loud funny moments that get me every time. (“And so, with that, our play is done. We hope you’ve all had loads of fun! And, so, until we meet next year, we wish you all the best good cheer!” “Best good cheer? Now that’s drivel.”) This episode probably features the best Hetty/Janet moment of the series, which is when Hetty swallows her pride, apologizes to Janet and “finally” gives her the respect she deserves. Let’s pretend season two’s “It’s All a Stage” never happened and give this one a solid (A).

Spotlight Performance: While Jackie Burroughs kills it with “Memento Mori” and Stockard Channing gives a world-class performance for the two-part finale, season 5 belongs to  Lally Cadeau. And this episode is half the reason why. Yes, Janet, in my opinion, is a little too obliging towards Hetty during the first 3/4’s of the episode. Cadeau still does a great job with Janet’s slow realization that she wants to be the leading actress, her growing annoyance towards Isabelle Carrington, and Janet’s ultimate triumph in her performance – good enough for community theatre, but not actually “Lally Cadeau” good. In other words, Lally does a great job giving Janet a great performance that still seems realistic. Cadeau beat Jackie Burroughs at that year’s Gemini Awards for Leading Actress in a Drama for this episode. After three years of being nominated in the Supporting categories, this is Cadeau’s first nomination in the Leading Category for this show (she received 2 Lead Comedy Actress nominations for Hangin’ In before Avonlea). Despite the win, it will also be the last time she’ll be nominated at the Gemini’s.

Actors, at least on Avonlea, had no say in regards to what episode they could submit for consideration. Based on various things I’ve read, it seems like it’s just something the producers did on the actors’ behalf. Lally gives a better performance in “Thursday’s Child.” Regardless of submissions, Cadeau deserved her win, more so because of her overall work this season.

Favorite Scene: I’ve mentioned a few I’ve liked so far. Again, this episode is so funny because Jackie Burrough’s has crazy good comedic timing. There’s a weird, sort of contemporary essence to some of Burrough’s line readings. I think, at the end of the episode after Avonlea won the drama competition, they are taking a bite at the apple strudel of the famous recipe they won from their main rival; it doesn’t taste quite right. Hetty quickly realizes that Eleanor had “altered the recipe. Of all the underhanded tricks.” The way Hetty says that with a mixture of disgust but also “of course she would do that, of course” is just so perfect and subtle and hilarious all the same. Then, afterward, with that disappointment swiftly set aside, Hetty still remembers to give a final toast and props to Janet for, essentially, saving the day with her talent and grace.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Final Thoughts: This episode was surprisingly well awarded during its time. It was nominated for four Gemini Awards. Along with Lally Cadeau, “Strictly Melodrama” was also nominated for Guest Actress, Writing, and Costume Design. Linda Sorensen received the Guest Actress nomination. She is a Canadian actress that, like most of her contemporaries, had starring roles in Canadian television productions and films and notable guest roles for American shows. She was also a prominent voice actress, even performing the voice of Hetty King in the animated Anne of Green Gables series also produced by Kevin Sullivan. Yan Moore, who wrote this episode, is more known for his work on the Degrassi saga, writing episodes for the 80’s series, and receiving a “created by” credit for The Next Generation, even long after he ceased having a direct role on the show’s operations after season 4. And the costumes in this episode were done by Madeleine Stewart, who is finally being recognized after her amazing work through the first 3 seasons. She didn’t win the Gemini, but she won an Emmy for her work in this episode. The nomination came as a huge shock, and the win was an even bigger shock. Stewart didn’t attend the ceremony, believing she wouldn’t win, a regret she had after the fact. Nowadays, he mostly takes on supervisory roles, most notably for the movie Hairspray.

This is Corinne Conley’s first appearance on the show as Eleanor McHugh. She will appear a couple more times in season 6. She also had a recurring role on Wind at My Back and recently appeared in an episode of Anne with an E. This is also the first official appearance of Elbert Werts, played by Marc Marut. The actor seems to have had a small role in a season 3 episode but wasn’t credited with an actual character name. Elbert will be appearing pretty consistently for the next 3 seasons as Felix’s friend. He’ll even have a very small role in the reunion movie. Marc Marut was a recognizable face in the ’90s, premiering in a slew of other shows and movies, most notably The Paper Boy for which he has the starring role. Finally, this episode is scored by regular composer John Welsman. His famous “Home Movies”/”A Friend in Need” score is used in this episode as well. Yes, I am keeping count.

One last note: I do want to give this episode credit because the storyline seems to be a small (maybe unconscious) critique at Disney. As you all know, Disney Channel, aka The Walt Disney Company, co-produced this series with Sullivan films. The reason the show had high production values was that it had a high budget supplemented by Disney’s involvement. It’s also the reason the show could run for 7 seasons when most Canadian shows during that time could run half as long and still be considered a success. However, Disney Channel also demanded that some episode slots be reserved for famous American guest stars (or, at the very least, Canadian actors who were well known in the United States). Some of these episodes are genuinely great (Peter Coyote, Stockard Channing, Treat Williams). Others, not so much (Christopher Reeve, Faye Dunaway, Ryan Gosling). These guest stars also allowed for the show to be recognized at the Emmys. Disney Channel has literally not had a show with as many Primetime Emmy nominations since RTA. However, the show is at its best, when it solely focuses on the town and its regular characters without the burden of a stunt cast.

So, it’s funny how this episode (which features Linda Sorensen, whom I’m assuming is not a Disney-approved choice) makes fun of the idea of a vainglorious outsider, coming into an already successful repertory company and making things worse with her high demands. I don’t think Isabelle Carrington represents a particular guest star. From what I have seen, the famous guest stars seemed to enjoy working on this little sweet Canadian show, away from the stresses and temptations of a Hollywood production. However, this episode makes a very pointed critique: Support the people who are always there, not the stars who drop in once and never come back. Wind at My Back is not a better show than Avonlea, but at least Kevin Sullivan was finally able to make a show his own way without comprising too much. (Although a Disney-like sponsor would have probably prevented the show from ending on a cliffhanger, just sayin’ #stillbitteraboutthat #nevergetoverit).

Road to Avonlea Review: A Friend In Need

avonlea a friend in need

Episode Summary: Davey is always getting himself in trouble, especially at school. Sara Stanley believes Davey is utterly hopeless, until she finally realizes why Davey acts up so much: he can’t read! In the end, she decides to help Davey learn to read and become a better student. Meanwhile, Izzy Pettibone is popular with the boys because she’s good at sports and doesn’t act like the typical “girl.” Izzy doesn’t own any dresses. When Olivia discovers that Izzy has tried on one of the dresses she was sewing for Cecily, Olivia and Mr. Pettibone decide to gift Izzy her very own dress. Izzy discovers she can still be a tomboy and look pretty while doing so.

Directed by Allan Kroeker, Written by Marlene Matthews, Music by John Welsman

My Grade and Spotlight Performance: Not only do I think this episode is very much underrated, I would also consider it to be one of my favorite episodes of all time. From the surface, “A Friend In Need” does seem like an “ordinary” episode. Nothing big or dramatic or even life changing happens. However, there are little pockets of character development that’s sewed onto the show’s fabric. Izzy starts wearing dresses. She transitions out of her somewhat asexual tomboy phase into…let’s say the kind of girl that Felix would fall in love with (spoiler alert!). After a season long absence, Davey and Dora are now officially recurring characters on the show. We’ll be seeing more of them, especially Davey. The Lawsons leave town to run a new general store in New Brunswick. As a result, Muriel Stacey, who never says no to a challenge, decides to run the store herself. So “nothing happens”…but a lot happens at the same time.

But, really, this episode is about Sara(h). It’s hard to watch episodes like this, knowing that Sarah Polley has one foot out the door. This is Sara Stanley’s last episode until the two-part season finale. Frankly, the character misses a lot of important moments during this season. The common excuse will be that Sara is in Montreal, visiting her Nanny Louisa. It almost becomes sort of a joke the number of times the show makes excuses for Sara’s absence. According to an interview Polley gave while shooting this episode, she admits that she asked to appear on the show less so she would have more time to attend school, which is ironic, considering Polley dropped out of school to focus on activism, and then started acting full time again after shooting The Sweet Hereafter before finally becoming a full time Oscar nominated director and screenwriter. But, at the time, Polley, suffering from scoliosis, definitely lost interest in the show. So, this isn’t exactly Sara’s last episode, but, after this episode, we, as an audience, have to get used to an Avonlea without its leading star.

Sara’s main role on the show is not only that of a “matchmaker,” but she’s also a good hearted helper. She’s pure and perfect, and always find the good in everyone she meets. She’s kind of like Anne Shirley, except without the body dysmorphia. However, this episode is great because Sara sort of loses her way. She is too quick to cast Davey aside. When she asks Davey to grab the bag of sugar, and Davey, not being able to read, grabs the salt bag by mistake, Sara automatically assumes that Davey planned on pulling a prank. She doesn’t give Davey the benefit of the doubt. She, like the rest of the town, believed that Davey was nothing more than a troublemaker. Sara’s literally too mean to Davey for the bulk of the episode.

However, Sara snaps out of it, and probably does one of the nicest things anyone has done on the show. She made herself look bad to prevent Davey from fully humiliating himself in front of the class. She realizes that Davey can’t read. And, from there, she decides to help him; and, I’m sure she did before she went off to Montreal to be with her Nanny Louisa and vast inheritance. Sarah Polley gives one of her best performances on the show when her character finally confronts Davey and tells him it’s never too late to learn to read. It’s a sweet scene, played nicely by both Polley and Kyle Labine. It’s not most earth shatteringly original premise, but Marlene Matthews (part of the holy trinity that makes up Suzette Couture and Heather Conkie) livens it up with her script, and adds some real heart to it. Yes, this episode is in my personal top 10. Yes, it’s gets an (A+)

avonlea end credits

Favorite Scene: I’ve mentioned this many times on this site, but one of the treats from this show are the end credits for every episode. Whether it’s a continuation from the scene prior, or an exterior shot of one of the homes, or repurposed stock footage, I usually can’t help but stick around and watch the end credits to its entirety. That’s also mostly due to the musical score used during the end credits. It’s usually a score that’s been played throughout the episode. For the longest time, many end credits featured the famous “King Family score,” last used for the season four finale. This episode re-uses a motif that was first heard during season four’s “Home Movie.” It’s kind of this humble sounding old-timey score that represented the small simple town of Avonlea during that episode. For season five, the score is resurrected and used as sort of a theme song for Davey. We’ll hear it at least once more during this season. I wish the score was used more, although maybe it’s good that Kevin Sullivan showed some restraint with it ;). In any case, the score is well used here, particularly at the end of the episode when Izzy proves to the boys she can wear a dress and still kick their butts in sportsball. And then the music continues on as we see Sara, Davey and Dora walk towards the shore. Were doubles used during that scene? Who knows? Probably. It’s still a nice scene…a scene that makes me a little sad since Sara doesn’t spend too much time with the other kids after this episode.

Final Thoughts: Like I stated before, there are a lot of comings and goings in this episode. The Lawsons have packed up and moved to New Brunswick. Muriel Stacey will run the store for a while. Izzy Pettibone’s brother, Morgan, is now in military school, although he’ll appear later in the series. Muriel Stacey and Mr. Pettibone have their first scene together. The chemistry is very obvious, just saying.

This episode is directed by Allan Kroeker. This is his first of two episodes. He also directs the next episode, which is “Strictly Melodrama.” The two episodes are pretty different, so I can’t exactly pin a “style” on him. But I think his direction for this episode, on top of the screenplay, certainly elevated a storyline that could have been forgotten and standard. He’s a pretty prolific Canadian direction. As of this writing this post, his latest credit is the Oprah Winfrey produced primetime soap Greenleaf.