20 Best The Wonder Years Episodes (The Half Hour Drama)

wonder years

If someone put a gun to my head and asked, “Which country produces better youth television content: Canada or the United States?” I’d quickly and confidently say, “Canada.” Did I mention that this gun is a super soaker? This is not a hard question, people! In terms of television as a whole, United States has the budget and support and audience to call itself the best in the world. Unfortunately (although the situation is getting better) with all those resources, American television producers still give youth media the short end of the stick (…or whatever the expression is). For some reason, Canadian youth television (although past its peak) is more willing to take risks, be bold, and provocative than its Southern neighbors.

I think the biggest reason Canadian television does children’s television better is because of their commitment to the “half hour drama.” Although these shows are usually targeted towards teens, the length of the episodes and easy to digest plot lines allow them to appeal to younger audiences. I was ten when I first watched and enjoyed Canada’s ultimate half hour drama, Degrassi, and it took me about a decade before I realized that I was probably out of the show’s demographic and “too old” to obsess over it like I used to (although I still never miss an episode). Along with all the incarnations Degrassi, Canada has produced a multitude of critically acclaimed half hour dramas, like Edgemont (which starred Kristin Kreuk and Dominic Zamprogna), renegadepress.com (which featured Tatiana Maslany), Ready or NotStraight Up, and Madison (the latter two are impossible to find and I have not personally watched them, unfortunately), and even Hillside, which aired on Nickelodeon as Fifteen, but was still very much Canadian. These weren’t teen sitcoms like Saved by the Bell; they weren’t speculative like the otherwise beloved So Weird, and they weren’t 44 minutes like popular American teen dramas like 90210 and The OC. Those hour long dramas, although had/have their merits, sometimes can alienate younger viewers who are still trying to transition from That’s So Raven to “That’s so Real.”

That’s why I wish half hour dramas had become more of a standard in the United States. Currently, we have the Saturday morning show The Inspectors, Disney’s Andi Mack, and, although speculative, Gortimer Gibbon‘s was the most real children’s series of 2016. I think streaming giants like Amazon and Netflix are, at least, making an effort to produce more dramatic television for children. And Disney, still recovering from the rise and fall of Girl Meets World, seems to not want to appease the “One Million Moms” crowd so much anymore, and put all their eggs in the “Andi Mack basket.” I do consider Andi Mack to be a drama, because, right now, it doesn’t seem like the show is trying to be funny. It’s more focused on setting the scene, telling the story, and creating new twists. But the humor is even softer than that of the show’s spiritual older sister, Lizzie McGuire.

Still, we could be doing more to commit to the half hour drama. With adult dramas like, Girls, Transparent, Divorce, and Mozart in the Jungle seem to be doing, at least, mildly well, it’s clear that audiences want dramatic shows where they can be really invested in the characters, without having to commit 1/24 of their day’s time to do it. And that can also apply to young audiences as well.

However, there was one popular half hour drama that appealed to teens that the United States produced. And that was The Wonder Years. The show lasted for six years from 1988 to 1993. Set during the Vietnam War, the show follows Kevin Arnold (Fred Savage), and his suburban middle class life with his dorky best friend, Paul, his childhood crush, Winnie, his hippie older sister Karen, his hip breaker older brother, Wayne, and his housewife mother Norma, and his overworked grumpy father, Jack. The show was mostly told through Kevin’s point of view, with an older Kevin peppering the show with voice over narration. The show follows Kevin from 7th grade through high school.

For the purposes of awards, the show was considered a “Comedy.” In fact, it won the Emmy for Best Comedy Series for its first season. And the show aired on primetime on ABC, so it wasn’t exclusively targeted towards young people. It was for families. I suppose the adults who watched the show focused on the cringe humor, and it allowed them to look back at their own similarly awkward childhoods. However, for the kids who watched The Wonder Years, whether during the late eighties, or later when the show was rerun on syndication, this show was sometimes too real for it to be too funny. In fact, it was our first exposure to dramatic television. We’re drawn in because the show has a kid protagonist and the stories are told from a young person’s perspective. But we can relate to it the same way that adults can relate to hour long dramatic programming. So, yes, I can be generous and call The Wonder Years one of America’s few “half hour drama” triumphs.

Now that I am finished with my little soapbox, I can actually get to the main point of this article which is to rank the 20 best, most memorable episodes of The Wonder Years, out of the 115 that were produced. The Wonder Years is truly one of my favorite shows of all time, and, especially since it was a “period” piece, it’s a show that will probably never get dated, and die. It’s a show that proves that regardless of whether it is 1970 or 2017, the problems and issues that teens go through in all eras are universal and relatable for all audiences. It’s a show that I plan on showing my kids, when I get some of course! And there are some episodes that are perfect, little nuggets of art. If this show was an hour, many of the story lines and resolutions would have been drawn out. The half-hour length allows us go back and easily revisit our favorite episodes and moments. There is currently no show on American television that is quite like The Wonder Years. ABC does have “look back” shows like The Goldbergs and, to a lesser extent, Fresh off the Boat. Both shows are great, but they’re too comedic and broad for it to truly be a real successor to The Wonder YearsThe Wonder Years was made during a time when networks still cared about dramatic content for young people. Even though the cancellation was premature, I’m glad we have six seasons of this gem. Now, let’s quickly go through this list, starting from the bottom and going up!

20. Separate Rooms (season 4): With Karen out college, Kevin and Wayne squabble over who gets Karen’s room. A classic sitcom premise that, like most episodes, ends with a lot of emotion and a lot of heart.

19. Carnal Knowledge (season 5): In the midst of trying to sneak into an R-rated movie, Paul reveals he lost his virginity, making Kevin very jealous. Paul and Kevin’s friendship is one of the most memorable facets of the series, but this is the episode where their innocent relationship, built on mutual nerdiness, begins to change.

18. Walkout (season 2): Kevin and his peers decide to plan a walkout to protest the Vietnam War and our involvement. Imagine if something like this (in the context of the wars we’re currently involved in or, even more controversial, BLM) aired today!

17. Mom Wars (season 3): Kevin and his mother butt heads over him playing tackle football with his friends. This might be the first full episode of the show I ever watched, so I might just have a sweet spot for it!

16. Daddy’s Little Girl (season 3): Karen and her father also butt heads; this time over her plans for after high school. This won’t be their last fight on the show, but it shows that, no matter how bad things get, Mr. Arnold will always support and love his daughter.

15. Private Butthead (season 5)/14. Homecoming (season 6): The Wonder Years is one of those shows that did a really honest and thoughtful job of telling stories related to the Vietnam War. And there are definitely more on this list. These two episodes, in particular, are truly heartbreaking. The first episode revolves around Wayne deciding to enlist in the Army, against his father’s wishes. While he is unable to pass the physical, his friend, Wart, does, and is shipped to Vietnam two months later. In the next episode, the season premiere, Wart comes back, clearly suffering from PTSD. It is at this moment, Wayne has to realize that his friend has changed, and has to offer support any way he can.

13. Independence Day (season 6): If The Wonder Years had to get cancelled, at least it got to end with such an emotional and memorable finale. And this finale is truly one of the best in television history, particularly the final 5 minutes where voice over Kevin reveals the fates of all the characters, most notably the fact that he and Winnie don’t end up together (and that his stay-at-home mother becomes a successful businesswoman. Go women’s lib!)

12. Pilot (season 1): The show not only had one of the greatest series finales ever, it also had one of the greatest pilots. Very few series come out of the gate so perfect; The Sopranos and Breaking Bad and Freaks and Geeks and Cheers are other notable examples. Most other series have understandably dusty premieres. But The Wonder Years achieved the impossible. In this episode, Winnie and Kevin share their first kiss after it is found out that Winnie’s brother died in Vietnam.

11. The House That Jack Built (season 4): This is also the episode that built David Schwimmer. Anyway, in this episode, Karen reveals that she has a live-in boyfriend, angering her father, and severing their relationship, forever (well at least for half a season).

10. Square Dance (season 2): This is one of those “too real” episodes for me. Kevin befriends the school’s resident weirdo, Margaret. However, not wanting to be made fun of by his peers, he breaks off their friendship. The episode reveals that Margaret grows up to become very successful, professionally and personally. This episode beautifully confirms two things: 1.) High school is only “for now,” and who you’re branded as in school doesn’t have to be carried with you for the rest of your life. And 2.) The best revenge is your success. And, it’s comforting that this show is not afraid of unambiguous endings, because what makes this episode truly a treat is that, in the end of it all, Margaret gets her own last laugh.

9. Glee Club (season 3): I believe this must be the second episode I ever watched, so I also have a sweet spot for it. Also, this episode is the best case for the show being considered a comedy, since it’s definitely the most hilarious of the series. The title itself says it all. It’s about a disastrous school glee club led by the overly optimistic Miss Haycock.

8. Good-Bye (season 3): We’re approaching the “classic episodes” portion of this list, and this is certainly one of the most memorable. It involves Kevin’s relationship with his strict math teacher, Mr. Collins, before Mr. Collins unexpectedly (well, to everyone but Mr. Collins himself) passes away from a heart condition. Kevin gains perspective into Collins, his relationship with his teacher, and his own academic success. Be nice to teachers, because most of them really do care.

7. Poker (season 6): Remember earlier when I said Kevin and Paul’s friendship changes over the course of the series? Well, this is the episode that most explicitly acknowledges this. Something strange happens in season 6. Paul appears in only half the episodes, while Kevin spends most of his time with another friend, Jeff. In this episode, during poker night with a few other friends, Kevin and Paul come to the realization that they’ve changed, and so has their friendship. It’s a “half-goodbye” since they’ll always care for each other and be friends. It’s a sad episode, especially considering this is the final season, and the last time the two appear together until the finale, but it’s also very real, since I’ve lost contact with many of my friends from highschool, even in this connected, social media world.

6. The Accident (season 4): Winnie and Kevin was such a saga, and it reaches its peak in this episode. The two still not on speaking terms after an earlier fight, Winnie gets into a car crash. Kevin secretly visits a bandaged Winnie in her room (through the window, outside), where they tearfully mouth “I love you” to each other. I dare you to find a better use of “We’ve Got Tonight.”

5. Brightwing (season 2): In this episode, one of the rare Karen/Kevin storylines, Kevin discovers that her sister has been skipping school to hang out with other “hippies.” Kevin soon starts joining them, worried that they’ll soon get caught. Although Karen wishes to be free and independent, especially from her iron father, she gets a dose of reality when she tries to run away from home. As a younger brother to an older sister myself, that dilemma between wanting to be the cool little brother and doing the right thing hits close to home.

4. Pottery Will Get You Nowhere (season 2): Norma and Jack confront each other over how little they feel the other appreciates his/her work for the family. The scene with the their three kids silently listening to them argue in the other room is one of those moments that stays in your head every time you even think of the show.

3. Our Miss White (season 2): The show centered on a white family in a mostly white community in California, so it couldn’t logistically do a lot with the Civil Rights movement. However, I think this episode, although isn’t the most raw depiction of Civil Rights on television, really does a nice job of showing the main character’s honest feelings and reaction to the subject. The main plot of the episode is Kevin’s infatuation with his English/Drama teacher. However, the ending, which is set during a performance the class gives on the Civil Rights movement and important figures during the time (MLK, Kennedy), really puts Kevin’s feelings over his teacher and this play she wrote and this whole Movement into perspective. He was too young to fully understand the Civil Rights Movement, but seeing how much passion his teacher had for the subject helped him gain further understanding of the world he was living in.

2. Angel (season 1): Season 2 was probably the show’s peak, but the abridged first season gave us the show’s two finest moments. First is “Angel” which is centered around Karen bringing her new boyfriend Louis (played by John Corbett) over for dinner. During that scene, Louis gets in a really heated argument with Jack over the Vietnam War, with Louis being a pacifist, while Jack believing that his anti-war thoughts are un-American. It’s the sort back-and-forth we still have today. Somehow, being anti-war is equivalent to being anti-vet or not “patriotic” enough. But, at least in this specific instance, one can take both arguments seriously, and realize they both come from a place of shared pain and fear. In the end, Louis reveals that he is 1.) being drafted, and 2.) cheating on Karen, thus we never see him again after this episode. For some reason, maybe because she appears the least out of all the other main characters, Karen episodes seem extra special and emotional, particularly because they involve Jack, one of the most complicated TV dads. I am writing this post on Memorial Day, and this episode makes me realize that even though the threat of being drafted is so far removed, our discourse on war still remains complicated and ideologically mixed.

1. My Father’s Office (season 1): Yeah, Mr. Arnold really is one of the most complicated fathers on TV. He’s not a smarmy know-it-all like Dr. Huxtable, but he’s also not a complete dunce like Archie Bunker. He is not particularly likable, but we, as an audience, sympathize with him anyway. And this episode is probably the biggest reason why. When Kevin finally visits his father’s work, Kevin finally learns why his father is always in such a grouchy mood. While he rules his home with an iron fist, he has very little power in his actual workplace. Does this excuse his behavior with his family? I mean, I wouldn’t say Mr. Arnold was particularly abusive. He’s, for the most part, a good, caring father. But if you feel the father was too mean to his wife and children, then I don’t think this episode completely absolves him. It just allows us to see another side of him. Like a lot of people, I never visited my parents’ workplace. I never got to see that side of them. I wish I had, because maybe I’d get that second layer of my parents’ psyche that Kevin gained with his father. This episode is wonderful, and probably the best case for the show being only half an hour. All the power and urgency, yet simplicity, would have been sucked dry with a longer run time. This episode, like all the episodes on this list, and all the other episodes that didn’t make it, are a perfect slice of Americana, all through the eyes of a teenager. This is why The Wonder Years is one of the best youth series the United States has ever produced.

 

Adaptation Studies: We Were the Mulvaneys (+ Emmy Flashback 2002)

mulvaneyThis is a post I’ve wanted to write for a long while. This is kinda nerdy, but I am fascinated by adaptations, particularly from book to film. I know many people have strong opinions regarding certain film adaptations. “The book is better” has become the unofficial mantra for most bibliophiles. Personally, when I approach an adaptation, I try to appreciate what the screenwriter (many times the author himself…with the help of a dozen film and studio executives) was trying to convey, even, if some of the details from the book are different or entirely removed. I understand that it can be tough to fit even the shortest novels into a two hour film (which is why, honestly, most books should be adapted into miniseries but that’s another discussion for another time). It’s also easier for me to accept an adaptation if I haven’t read the book. That might have been the case with We Were the Mulvaneys.

As someone who enjoys watching made-for-television movies, particularly ones for or about the family, I stumbled across the movie We Were the Mulvaneys about a couple years ago on Youtube. The movie first aired on Lifetime in 2002. It stars Blythe Danner and Beau Bridges. In short, the movie is about a happy wealthy, prominent upstate New York family who is pretty much torn to shreds when the daughter, Marianne (played by Tammy Blanchard) is raped after a high school dance. Despite the fact that Marianne refuses to press charges (because she claims she cannot bear false witness since she was drunk and does not exactly remember all the details from that night), the town still shuns the Mulvaneys, and they practically become social outcasts.  From then on, the members of the family, which also includes three brothers, slowly break away from each other. The father, having become depressed, alcoholic and unemployed, dies at the very end of the movie. However, it’s his death that brings the rest of the family together after years of being apart.

The storyline, performances, and music score all drew me in. I thought the movie was wonderful. I still think that, even after reading the original book by Joyce Carol Oates. However, even when I first watched the movie, it was obvious that certain plot elements and story lines were either condensed or cut. It’s a very swift movie, where there aren’t many scenes or moments that are really given the time to breathe. It’s obvious why that is. The movie is 90 minutes, without commercials. The book is about 450 pages. The somewhat choppiness of the movie was, obviously, made more clear to me when I actually decided to read the book, since I was captivated with the story in the first place. And, again, while the movie is my go-to destination for an easy overdue cry, after two reads, the book has become one of my absolute faves.

So what are the differences between the book and the movie? The truth is, the movie is really just a Cliffnotes version of the book. From my perspective, the movie is technically “faithful” to the movie. All the supposedly major landmarks of the book are, at least, mentioned or even portrayed in the movie. The book is narrated by the youngest member of the Mulvaney family, Judd. While most of the action in the book takes place while Judd is a child to young adult, the narration itself is from when Judd is an adult, recalling the past. The movie has a similar set up; it is narrated by Judd, but the young actor who plays Judd (Tom Guiry) is also the narrator, so there’s very little sense of time passing between the action and the telling of the story. The book is split into four massive parts, plus an epilogue. Those parts are, in one way or another, represented in the movie. The movie is simply a condensed version of the story. If you want the basic story, but can’t read 400+ pages of black ink text, then clearly the movie is for you.

But, if you don’t read the book, in my opinion, you’re missing so much. I’m not usually a huge fan of overly descriptive writing. Just tell me the story without all the flourish and clever wordplay and oh-so impressive metaphors. And Oates’s writing in this book pretty much fits into that category. And, to be frank, if this book is 450 pages, I still think, like, fifty pages could have been cut. But, for the most part, I appreciate all the attention to detail here, because I feel like I could simply melt into this story. We get such rich descriptions of this family, their personality, their routine, their rituals, their farm estate, and really the town as a whole where they lived comfortably for so long. The book is set in the 70’s, but the story feels modern because 1.) rape culture and victim blaming is still thing in 2017, and 2.) because Oates doesn’t simply depend on cultural references and easy callbacks to set her scene. The writing is just so rich.

But I think the biggest difference between the book and the movie is that, in my opinion, while the movie centered on the rape, the book, while the rape plays a big central part because it is the catalyst that causes the family to break apart, at the end of the day, is centered on the family, and Judd’s complicated relationship with each member of his family, particularly his older brother Patrick. Both book and movie end with a family reunion. However, one of the final “non-montage-y” scenes in the movie is a very emotional scene between mother and daughter, as mother apologizes to Corinne for how she responded to her rape, and the daughter forgiving her back. That scene is sweet…but we don’t really get anything like that in the book. The truth is, both the book and movie seem to be a “What Not to do when a member of your family gets raped” manual. Because how Marianne is treated by the town and, most regrettably, her family is almost unforgivable. Each member (save for Judd, who is too young to fully understand what exactly is going on) really thinks of himself before considering Marianne’s feelings or needs. Because Marianne refuses to testify (which is very unfortunate, but, ultimately, her right), her father cannot even bear the sight of her. Thus, Mrs. Mulvaney sends Marianne away, and builds a tall brick wall between her and the rest of the family. Marianne’s life spirals downwards before she is able to come to terms with her troubles on her own.

So, yes, the movie gives us a nice succinct scene where, after the father’s death, Mrs. Mulvaney is able to try to explain her choices and show some regret for her actions. And, maybe, the audience is able to find the justification for Marianne coming back to the family that shunned her. However, the book isn’t that easy. And as I was reading the book, I felt like I was waiting for that scene between mother and daughter…but it never really came, at least not as explicitly as the movie. And, at first, it was almost disappointing, because Marianne never got to truly express herself to her family. She doesn’t even really forgive her family…because, in her eyes, there’s nothing to forgive. Sweet Marianne, who always puts everyone else’s feelings before her own. It’s weirdly upsetting.

But, I came to realize that the main character in the book isn’t Marianne. It’s Judd. And Judd is telling his own story. And even if he acts as an omniscient narrator for the bulk of the book, recounting many scenes where he isn’t in the room, the story is still about him. He just didn’t have the same direct hardships as some of the other members of his family, so his story, voice, feelings are almost muted. But the very last scene in the book, is one between him and Patrick. I don’t want to get too into plot points here, but at the climax of the novel, Judd almost risks his life, his future, for his brother. Patrick returns the favor by abandoning Judd for almost fifteen years. The book ends with the two brothers, reunited, with Judd still feeling resentment for his absent brother, someone he had always looked up to. He realizes that some day, in the future, they’ll have to talk about why Patrick abandoned him. But, for how, Judd is just glad to see Patrick have that same face he had…when they were the Mulvaneys.

The book has a rape. The book spends a lot of time on that rape. But I don’t think it’s a book about rape. I think the story is more about a crumbling family from the eyes of its youngest member, who only got to experience a handful of years when the Mulvaneys were “happy” before, well, sh#t hit the fan. A ninety minute movie on a network that’s known for its “problem child” or “women in peril” movies just can’t fully convey that. Director Peter Werner and the screenwriters try, but, with the time constraints (and audience consideration), they can’t truly convey what the book is wholly about.

We Were the Mulvaneys the book was first released in 1996, to good reviews. However, the book certainly didn’t receive the awards and buzz that some other Oates novels had received, particularly with the Pulitzers and National Book Awards. It wasn’t until January of 2001, when it became an Oprah Book Club pick, that the book sales soared and it became a bestseller. The Oprah endorsement is most likely the catalyst that led to the TV movie adaptation being produced for Lifetime.

The movie starred Bridges and Danner as the parents, Michael Sr. and Corinne, with Jacob Pitts and Mark Famiglietti as their two older sons, Patrick and Mike Jr. The movie received three Emmy nominations in 2002. Both Beau Bridges and Blythe Danner received Emmy nominations for Lead Actor and Lead Actress respectively. In the Lead Actor side, Bridges competed against James Franco (James Dean), Michael Gambon (Path to War), and Kenneth Branagh (Shackleton), with Albert Finney winning for his portrayal as Winston Churchill in The Gathering Storm. Besides Mulvaneys, it’s been a little while since I’ve watched all these movies. The only performance that remains memorable and stands out is James Franco’s. Bridge’s program was the only one in the category to not get a nomination for Best Movie or Best Miniseries.

Danner, on the other hand, receiving her first Emmy nomination before she’d win a couple for the TV series Huff, lost in her category to Laura Linney for her emotional and explosive performance in Wild Iris, about a single mother who struggles to raise her son after her husband had committed suicide. Angela Bassett for The Rosa Parks Story, Vanessa Redgrave as Clementine Churchill, and Linney’s on-screen mother Gena Rowlands were also nominated. I don’t think Bridges and Danner were technically my top choices for their respective categories, but I certainly think they were deserving of their nominations.

In fact, I wish the movie had received more. Multiple Emmy award winning composer Patrick Williams (who also received an Oscar nomination for one of the greatest sports films of all times, Breaking Away), received his last Emmy nomination for his work in the movie. However, I certainly would have also given a nomination to Tammy Blanchard as the distraught abused daughter, Marianne, and, despite its faults, the movie as a whole. I just think this is the kind of quality, dramatic family made-for-television movie that are rarely made anymore (unless it’s some overly sentimental faith-based movie for Uptv.) It’s the kind of the movie that can bring me to tears and give me hope and inspiration all at the same time. It’s truly one of my favorite TV movies of all time.

Like I mentioned earlier, I think most books should be turned into miniseries. And, if by some miracle, the novel is adapted into a longer, deeper limited series that really gets to all the crevices of the original story, then that would be wonderful. Maybe Oprah can give the book another shout out so it can land on the Best seller’s list again. Maybe some executive from HBO or Netflix can bring the story back to life again. But, hey, I’m already satisfied with the book itself and the Cliffnotes movie that we got!

 

Road to Avonlea Review: Hearth and Home

kay tremblay

Episode Summary: Janet’s Aunt Eliza unexpectedly comes to Avonlea for a visit (maybe a month. Maybe 2). However, her controlling and stuck-up ways start to get under Janet’s skin. One night, when Aunt Eliza overhears Janet talk to Alec about this, Eliza decides to leave, despite it being a very cold winter. When Janet finds her, the two forgive each other and begin anew. Meanwhile, Sara and Felix use light bulbs they find in Jasper’s mail, in order to warm the barn to save a few newborn lambs.

Directed by Otta Hanus, Written by Deborah Nathan, Music by John Welsman

My Grade: Although I think “Home Movie” would have made a stronger statement as a season finale, “Hearth and Home” is still a very nice episode in its own right. The last scene is especially nice, seeing new technology (light bulbs) not only save lives of animals, but also heat up the family is great. I’m sure I could come up with some really thoughtful, profound metaphor or something but…you get the idea. Light indicates new hope. Light bulbs indicate new insight and understanding. And that last scene is a symbol of light, warmth, hope, and further understanding. See? I did it, sortof. Anyway, I think the problem with this episode is that it’s a bit plotless and lacks focus. But as a showcase for the Great Aunt Eliza character, it works, since she has a meaningful scene with at least every member of the King family (except Cecily…#poorCecily). (A-)

avonlea hearth and home

Spotlight Performance: Speaking of showcase, this is of course a nice showcase for Kay Tremblay, who plays the role of Eliza. She’s played the role since the beginning of season two and will continue to play the role in a recurring status until the Christmas reunion movie. Although she was born in Scotland, she’s pretty much mostly had a career in Canadian television and film. She died in 2005. She’s mostly remembered for her role on Avonlea, but she also received recognition for a recurring role on Night Heat. And guest starred on many youth television programs, including Are You Afraid of the Dark, Goosebumps, X-Men, Santa Who?, and a very crucial guest role in Kevin Sullivan’s other series Wind at My Back (which I hope I’ll get to before I turn 30!)

Favorite Scene: So, this episode was scored by John Welsman. I’ve obviously written at length about Welsman’s music and his contribution to this show. It goes without saying that some of the best motifs for this show was composed by Welsman (which is why it’s frustrating that there isn’t really an effective, appropriate soundtrack for this show. I mean, there are a couple but…they’re unsatisfying, one is only available if you purchase the season 6 DVD). However, after season 4, although we hear Welsman’s music until literally the final episode of the series, there’s sort a shift. The other major scorer for the series Don Gillis starts to have a significantly larger presence. That means this season 4 finale is the last time the ending credits are scored with “The King Family” motif. It was probably the show’s most prominent motif for the first four seasons. It’s springy, it’s royal, it’s lively, it’s fancy, it’s sprightly. It’s the kind of score that reminds you of home, but could have probably been played during a fancy dinner on the Titanic. It was first using in “Felicity’s Challenge” in season 1. And then it was used again for the season one finale. And then it almost became the standard closing score for the two seasons afterwards. So, what I’m trying to get at, the very last scene, where Mr. Pettibone and Alec are carrying a now warm Aunt Eliza out of the barn, with Hetty and Janet happily following to the end credits score we’ll never hear again after this…is my favorite scene of the episode.

avonlea kids

Final Thoughts: So, this is the end of season 4. It took me over a year to finish this season but…I finally got it done! And I’m definitely going to continue on…it’s just going to take a while. Thank you to everyone who has been subscribing and reading these posts. Doing something like this is actually kind of difficult. Writing a review can take a chunk of time, believe it or not. The guys at AV Club make it look so easy (although that is their full time job.. I have another full time job that pays the bills so I don’t always have a lot of time to blog).

Is there anything more to say about the season as a whole? Season four is a season that doesn’t have any “bad” episodes. No episode received lower than a B-. But…there are a lot of mediocre “hotel episodes.” But for every hotel episode, there’s a quality episode that shows Felicity, Sara, Gus, and Felix growing up. And I think that’s what makes season four so memorable. It’s a linking season. The first three seasons show the wonder and excitement of childhood. However, the next three seasons after season 4 are more dramatic, and have the characters going their separate ways (Sara to France. Felicity to school. Gus to a sailing expedition. Cecily to a sanitorium.) The show will not be the same after this season. Sara will have a much smaller role (and that will certainly be discussed at length during my reviews of season 5). New characters will come into play (after a season long absence, Davey will sort of come in like a wrecking ball). Older characters will confront their imminent mortality. Some fans do not like these changes. Some fans even claim the show “jumps the shark” after “Memento Mori.” Hogwash, I say! The show is just changing (I mean, I would have preferred Sara staying but, she is literally one of a dozen interesting main characters on the show). The times are changing. And I think the next few seasons, for the most part, do a nice job of showcasing that.

2017 Guild Awards Honor Children’s Television

gortimer gibbons

It’s awards season! In terms of literature, the Youth Media Awards just announced the best YA books of the year. And the various guild awards, particularly the Writers Guild Awards, the Producers Guild Awards, and the Directors Guild Awards, have respective television categories dedicated to children’s television. The only major Guild award to not have a special category for children’s media is, of course, the relatively bare bones Screen Actors Guild Awards. Let’s take a quick at the nominees for each award group.

Compared to the other guild awards, the PGAs are relatively new at recognizing children’s television. I’m not exactly sure when the separate category for children’s television was inaugurated, but I’m pretty sure the category hasn’t been around for as long as the ones for the WGAs and the DGAs. Last year, I was pretty hard on the group’s nominations. This year, with the inclusion of Girl Meets World and School of Rock, the list is a little more promising although, as we will see, not nearly as exciting as the other two award groups. Rounding out the nominees are last year’s winner Sesame Street, Spongebob Squarepants (a show that’s been around since I was eight, but it is apparently only in its 10th season), and some show called Octonauts, which I’m guessing is about octopus astronauts. Am I right? Am I really correct here? It would be nice to see Girl Meets World get a goodbye hug here, but if the voters are as lazy choosing a winner as they are choosing the nominees, then Sesame Street will most likely win again (can they just have a separate category for preschool shows? How can a show for preschoolers be compared to a show written for the 10-16 age group?)

The WGAs are always a little weird. They have two separate categories: one for regular series and the other for one-off TV specials; however, the latter category has rarely been used the last decade or so. Sometimes, they are no winners or nominees in that category. Last year, the only nominee was Disney’s The Descendants. Presumably, that movie won. This year, however, in the longform category, there are three nominees. This category has not had competitive “nominees” since 2011, and at least three of them since 2009. Oh happy day! The actual nominees themselves are, overall, mediocre, in my opinion, however. Youtube Red’s Dance Camp (the summary of the movie is the title pretty much) would be my pick for the win. However, I think, clearly the Sesame Street Christmas special with the all star celebrity cast has the best chance at winning. Daytime Emmy winner RL Stine’s Monsterville: Cabinet of Souls rounds out the nominees.

The WGAs also have a children’s television category for episodes of regular series. Last year, the WGAs (rightfully) filled the category with episodes of Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street. This year, the show has a chance at repeating with “Mel vs. The Night Mare of Normal Street;” an episode where Mel tries to come to terms with her mother’s death from last season. It is the best overall show in the category, and this episode is most deserving of the win. But, this is a very solid category. Amazon’s other series, Just Add Magic, is nominated for “Just Add Mom,” along with Sesame Street for “Mucko Polo, Grouch Explorer” and Girl Meets World’s “Girl Meets Commonism,” an episode that actually (gasps!) argues against communism. This is Girl Meets World’s third year being nominated here, and it’ll probably be its last (unless voters remember the cancelled show by December of this year). Again, like the PGAs, I could see voters wanting to honor an unrewarded show that’s ending; but, as I’ve learned, industry award voters aren’t usually very sentimental. Again: Mucko Polo, Grouch Explorer is nominated.

The DGAs, like the PGAs, only have one category devoted to Children’s television. Individual series episodes have to compete against TV Movies and Documentaries. When it comes to its nominations, the DGAs usually lean towards the movies. A “DCOM” is always guaranteed a slot. This time around, the channel’s 100th DCOM, Adventures in Babysitting, received a nod for its director John Schultz. He’s probably the favorite to win. Hallmark Channel’s A Nutcracker Christmas received a surprise nod here. I believe this is the first time a Hallmark movie has a received a nomination in this category (at least one that first aired on the channel). A Nutcracker Christmas is about a former ballerina (Amy Ackler) who reluctantly allows the daughter of her deceased sister join a prestigious dance troupe for their annual performance of The Nutcracker. It’s actually a really good family movie and I’m impressed that it got recognized here.

But I hope any one of the other nominees wins. I already wrote about American Girl’s Melody 1963: Love Has to Win. It’s one of the best specials of the year. The script is a bit half baked, but the period drama is certainly shot perfectly. Once again, Gortimer Gibbon’s received a nod here, this time for the season 3 premiere where Gortimer magically becomes skilled in every activity he tries. Every episode of that show has top notch direction that rivals any adult show out there. But…it is a little disappointing that Luke Matheny couldn’t also get a nomination for the touching series finale. But, the DGAs, unlike the WGAs, are pretty strict when it comes to the number of nominees; usually, there are no more than five. And it’s absolutely wonderful that the fifth spot went to the pilot episode of The Kicks, Amazon’s newest high quality children’s series about a struggling soccer team. Overall, I want Gortimer Gibbon’s to win a DGA, but the Amazon programs, as a whole, clearly rule this category. C’mon, voters! Think outside the box for once!

I also want to quickly mention that the Humanitas Prize announced its finalists for their “Live Action” children’s category. Once again, Melody 1963 received a nomination, along with Degrassi’s #TurntUp (an episode that deals with mental health) and Girl Meets World’s “The Forgiveness Project,” which would have been a better representation for its WGA nod. Truly, one of the more emotionally satisfying episodes of the series. Any of these programs could win.

Although, I have to say, it’s very disappointing that the Saturday morning CBS drama The Inspectors was snubbed across the board. Do voters even realize this show exists? That’s the only explanation I can think of for these snubs. At least a writing nod would have been appropriate. Well, hopefully, the Daytime Emmys will come through again!

The winners will be announced at various times. I will update this page when they are.

Top 10 Best TV Specials for/about Youth from 2016 (Also, what is “Youth Media?”)

girl in the river

I have a relatively loose definition of “Youth Media.” Most people would describe it as any book, TV program, movie, music, etc. that’s created for and targeted towards children or teens (like any Newbery winner, Pixar movie, CW teen drama, or Nickelodeon program). Some would expand it to include “family viewing” (like 7th Heaven, the standard Hallmark romcom, or anything related to religion). Some books and their respective film adaptations like The Help, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Secret Life of Bees weren’t originally advertised exclusively for “young people,” but young people, some time down the line, have created a strong connection with these stories. I’d include all those in my own personal definition of youth media…and go even one step further. I think youth media should also include any medium (within reason) that features youth characters, with the intention of offering some sort of profound and educational lesson or insight. So…Endless Love (I’m talking about the wonderful, original book by Scott Spencer), with its graphic sexual details? Youth media. Kids? That movie starring a young Chloe Sevigny and Rosario Dawson with its unflinching, raw look into the AIDS epidemic? The movie that’s NC-17?Youth media. And, frankly, with supervision and guidance, I think it’s a movie that’s still relevant for older teens.

In any case, that opening is my way of preparing you for some of the unexpected choices I have on my list. I watched a lot of TV movies this year, a lot of it targeted towards kids and families. Everything from celebrity filled Sesame Street specials, to the Lifetime movies featuring rebellious daughters. But, frankly, it’s the unexpected choices that really makes me proud of this list, and excited for the future of youth television. We no longer have Afterschool specials anymore. HBO and Showtime no longer produce high quality dramatic content for young people. If you want truly profound television for the youth of America, sometimes you have to find it in unexpected places. So, read this list with an open mind, and realize there’s youth television beyond Disney Channel…

10. The Swap: Speaking of Disney Channel…the cable network, after a marathon featuring DCOMs from a better era, only released two original movies this year, both with record low ratings. One movie was a reboot of a still popular theatrical film from the 80’s. The other was this. The Swap is the better movie of the two, and, to my surprise, one of the best of the year. The storyline is pretty much Freaky Friday, except, this time, it is the girly rhythmic gymnast (Peyton List) who switches places with the stressed sensitive hockey player (Jacob Bertrand). Although the initial premise didn’t draw me in (not exactly original), the TV movie’s exploration into distant parents and high school pressures kept me from switching the dial. That and Naomi Snieckus’s hilarious performance as Coach Carol.

9. He Named Me Malala: This movie had an Oscar qualifying theatrical run before airing on Nat Geo last March. Although the movie failed to nab an Oscar nomination, it was nominated for several Emmys, including one for Davis Guggenheim’s direction. The documentary focuses on teen Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani girl who was gunned down by a member of the Taliban as a result of her activist work promoting education for girls. Although it’s not the most put together documentary, Malala is such a compelling and inspiring figure, that her story is enough for me to recommend this movie. And the animated sequences are gorgeous.

8. American Experience: The Perfect Crime: This PBS documentary discusses the famous murder of a 14 year old in the spring of 1924 by two wealthy, privileged college students: Leopold and Loeb. The two committed the “crime of the century” because…well…just because, really. It’s true that some rich people just think they can get away with anything they want. The documentary discusses their motivations, the buzzy trial, and the implications as a result of the verdict. Ultimately, what made the trial so fascinating is that it shattered the myth that young, rich, white people, with all the potential and opportunities in the world, can’t possibly be monsters inside.

7. Melody 1963: Love Has to Win: Amazon is currently the best producer of children’s television media. Between Gortimer Gibbon’s, Just Add Magic, and The Kicks, there’s no television network, online or traditional, that creates better original children’s series than Amazon. This year, with American Girl (another notable youth media producer), the streaming site essentially produced two dramatic specials, each under an hour (so, “Afterschool special” length). Their Christmas special starring Maryellen (featuring a memorable score by Sasha Gordon) is great in its own right, and is probably number 11 on this list. However, Melody 1963: Love Has to Win, a special starring Blackish’s Marsai Martin about life in Detroit during the Civil Rights Movement, is truly the kind of thing that’s missing from youth media nowadays (I know I am beating a dead horse about this, but still!). It’s not the most groundbreaking children’s special about racism (that title would go to The Color of Friendship thankyouverymuch), but it’s still certainly the kind of media we need in 2017.

6. 30 for 30: Fantastic Lies: There’s a lot I could say about the 2006 Duke lacrosse rape charges (charges that, after an intense court battle, were found to be completely false). Some people would probably find my thoughts on it controversial. So I won’t get into it (OK, I will say that I don’t particularly feel bad for the accused men, there I said it #sorrynotsorry!). But, this documentary is a compelling, fascinating and honest look at college sports culture, our thoroughly flawed American justice system, and our societal need to come to conclusions and get out our pitchforks as quickly as possible. The look into college life, in particular, is essentially what qualifies this ESPN special to make this list.

5. A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness: This short documentary about an eighteen year old Pakistani girl who survives an honor killing by her own father aired on HBO right after it won an Oscar for best Documentary Short. It’s probably the most infuriating thing I watched all last year. USA is not in a great place right now, but at least this isn’t a country where killing your own daughter is not only accepted and nearly revered, but also as close as legal as possible. This girl is almost killed by her father, and literally everyone around her either excuses the act, or justifies it. It’s disgusting and wrong, and it’s one of those cultural norms that I would never accept or normalize. The film’s director, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, who also won an earlier Oscar for a film on acid attacks in Pakistan, is simply one of the bravest filmmakers of today; and A Girl in the River is about a young woman who must realize that “honor” trumps love in her father’s eyes.

4. Grease Live!: Like everyone else in America, I came into this program with low expectations. This seemed like FOX’s way of trying to duplicate the success NBC had had with their live musicals. At one point, FOX even seemed to be having trouble finding a semi-high profile cast for the risky project. But, again, like everyone else in America, I was pleasantly surprised by how well this production turned out. The cast was perfect (particularly Keke Palmer, with her sultry rendition of “Freddy My Love”). The live audience, for the most part, actually worked. The sets were gorgeous, particularly the carnival themed final number. But the best thing about this live production was the photography. A part of me still thinks the gym dance scene was pre-shot using single camera. FOX really pushed the limits and changed the game with this production. The next two musicals (neither of them really “live”) FOX attempted afterwards last year were misfires, but hopefully soon they will return back to form and give us another memorable night.

3. Hairspray Live!: Technically, Grease Live! was better directed than NBC’s effort this year (Alex Rudzinski directed the FOX special with Hamilton‘s Thomas Kail, while he also directed the NBC musical with directing genius Kenny Leon); however, the truth is, Hairspray Live! gets more points from me because the original source is better than that of Grease’s. The songs are better. The story is better. The characters and costumes are quirkier. But the production itself is great in its own right. It’s a pleasure actually having Harvey Fierstein’s performance as protective mother Edna preserved on non-bootlegged video (I love John Travolta but this role simply belongs to Fierstein). Jennifer Hudson absolutely murdered “I Know Where I’ve Been.” And while the roles of Velma and Amber Von Tussle usually don’t give the actresses who play the characters much notice or praise, Broadway Quen Kristin Chenoweth and Disney Princess Dove Cameron practically breathed life into the roles. Like the Melody movie, a television special about prejudice in the 1960’s can still teach lessons for a 2016/17 audience.

2. Black Mirror: Shut Up and Dance: Black Mirror is an anthology series that streams on Netflix that features stories, usually metaphorical dystopian parables, centered on technology. This particular episode is unique because, unless I missed something when I first watched it, the story is set in the present and everything that happens in the episode could presumably happen in real life. It’s about a British teenager (The Imitation Game’s Alex Lawther) who is blackmailed into committing random, sometimes illegal, acts, after he is secretly filmed…well, doing something bad. Unless he follows the mysterious hacker’s directions, video of him committing the “bad” act will spread and he will be exposed. Black Mirror is an overall amazing series, but this episode, and the season three premiere “Nosedive” which couldn’t make my list here, are my two favorite episodes of the season. Hopefully the next season will feature another episode starring a young, confused character

1. American Crime (season 2): The first season of American Crime was incredible, but this second season gave me ten of the most thrilling, exciting, thought provoking weeks of watching television I had ever experienced. The second season of this anthology series focuses on a young teen boy (Connor Jessup) who accuses the popular basketball player (Joey Pollari) of raping him. Lili Taylor also gives an amazing, Emmy nominated performance as the young teen boy’s conflicted mother. The season reaches its climax when Jessup’s character obtains a gun and takes it to school, killing one of the members of the basketball team. There’s another plot involving a black principal and his complicated relationship with his racially diverse students. There are simply so many layers to this story. So many great performances. So many issues that are handled expertly, mostly regarding high school life: sex, drugs, rape, sexuality, sports, and depression. In the 80’s and 90’s, Afterschool Specials that covered all these topics, would have been produced by ABC. Those times are unfortunately behind us, but at least the topics can be thoughtfully acknowledged in this anthology series. Whether or not the third season can be considered “youth media,” even by my loose standards, I am still very much looking forward to it, because it is underrated television that will be regarded as landmark television in the years to come.

I mentioned a couple specials already that just missed the cut. I’m thoroughly confident with this top ten, but I am a little surprised that the new Anne of Green Gables (that aired on PBS here in America during Thanksgiving) couldn’t make the cut. The truth is, it’ll be hard for me to fully judge this adaptation until the full story is covered (it looks to me that only the first of three planned movies has aired). Right now, it’s just…no Megan Follows. No Kevin Sullivan. #sorrynotsorry. Although I believe Ezra Jack Keats’s The Snowy Day is one of the greatest picture books ever written, the new animated adaptation by Amazon was an unfortunate disappointment for me. (Peter’s excitement for mac and cheese was just…too much…and bordering stereotypical). On the other hand, I was this close to putting A Bad Lip Reading’s Disney approved interpretation of High School Musical on the list…but, as hilarious as I found it, it just didn’t seem right (and there are no proper credits for the special anyway).

Let’s hope this year pushes the limits for youth media even further.

Road to Avonlea Review: Home Movie

home movie avonlea

“So…when you look around you, haunted hill, at the homestead lights, at the fields tilled by the dead and gone who loved you, you’ll say, ‘Why, I’ve come home to this life.’ We’re lucky enough to live each moment of everyday in which Jasper Dale has been fortuitous and ingenious enough to catch it. We and future generations might know it.”

Episode Summary: American millionaire HB Dunn (Battlestar Galactica, Fargo, and Teen Wolf’s Michael Hogan) comes to Avonlea in order to turn the town into one of his “cities of the future.” He plans on buying the townspeople out and changing the quiet idyllic little island town into a booming 20th century metropolis. While many of the townspeople show genuine interest, Hetty hates the idea of Avonlea changing. In her anger, she once again shuts out everyone close to her, including Olivia, Jasper, and Sara. Meanwhile, Jasper is interested in taking an Edison movie camera and fixing it to shoot with a higher frame rate. Excited by the idea and his passion, Sara decides to go against Hetty’s wishes, and use some money from her trust in order to buy the camera for Jasper. When Hetty finds out, she threatens to sell the camera back. However, after stern words from Sara, Hetty decides that maybe the footage Jasper shot of the town can be used in the next town hall meeting to convince everyone that selling the town to Dunn is a bad idea. After an impassioned speech and a movie that dazzles the audience, Hetty is able to keep Avonlea…Avonlea.

Directed by Don McBrearty, Written by Marlene Matthews, and Music by John Welsman

My Grade: This is the best episode Don McBrearty has directed for the show. This is the best episode Marlene Matthews has written for the show. This is my absolute favorite episode of the entire series. It’s even above “A Mother’s Love.” I love this episode so much, I was literally worried about how I’d write this post…because I don’t know what more there is to write. But I’ll try. And I’ll start with Hetty’s relationships with the three other primary characters in this episode. I’ve said it so many times before, but my favorite “relationship” on this show is the one between Hetty and her niece Sara. And I wrote about their relationship in length in other past episodes that have more focus on that than this one. However, I still feel like something significant happens in this episode between the two of them. For Sara, this season is about telling the world that she’s grown up. She’s no longer simply a cute matchmaker (although she does sort of play that role with Felicity and Gus). She wants to be taken seriously. She tries this early in the season with “Moving On.” Her definitely silly and shortsighted plans in that episode don’t exactly work out. Then in the last episode, her love of writing is finally established. In that episode, she also learns the power she can possess with her trust. This is the episode where she finally takes an active role in managing her money. And when Hetty tries to prevent her from further helping Jasper, Sara does the coolest thing she’s done at this point. She finally plays the “I’m leaving and moving back in with my Nanny Louisa” card. And to the surprise of no one: It works. Sara is still a kid, but between that and the earlier scene where she impersonates Hetty’s voice during her phone call to the bank, she cleverly and boldly uses her resources for, frankly, a greater good. And Hetty complies because their relationship has simply matured since the last season when Hetty wouldn’t even allow Sara to buy a nice dress.

But the prominent relationship at display in this episode is the one between Hetty and Olivia and Jasper. Let’s get this straight. Olivia could have married the whitest, most well behaved most reliable billionaire doctor, part time reverend, with no plans of ever leaving Avonlea because he’s afraid of the ocean…and Hetty would still have found a problem with him. If Hetty had her way, both Olivia and their deceased sister Rose would have stayed spinsters, like her, for the rest of their lives. Alec and the other brother who we all forget about can be in charge of preserving the King name. The point is, Hetty hates change. And Jasper is change. Jasper marrying Olivia and whisking her away has changed the dynamic of the King family. So, of course, Hetty spends most of the episode going after Jasper and his silly little ideas. While Hetty wanting to save Avonlea from becoming gentrified is totally justified, her utter disrespect for Olivia and Jasper and their family is not. And Hetty realizes that. She realizes that her malice towards Jasper is not only hurting Olivia, but it’s also affecting any emotional development she had with Sara. When Hetty goes to apologize to Jasper and to allow him to keep the camera, she realizes that he and Jasper have something in common: They want to preserve the memory of Avonlea and the memories and values the town holds dear to its heart. So, in the end, the two work together, create a film of the town to show to the people, so they can see that Avonlea is perfect the way it is.

This show can be cyclical. Does this episode mark the end of Hetty…well being Hetty? Towards Olivia? Towards Jasper? No. But I suppose that’s how life works. There are no clean conclusions. Up until the literal end of the series, Hetty will bash Jasper. But we can at least appreciate this moment: The moment when Hetty finally asks for Jasper’s help and takes him seriously. A big fat (A+)

Spotlight Performance and Favorite Scene: So, it goes without saying that this episode is this episode because of that last scene when Hetty showcases Jasper’s movie for the town. However, let’s talk about a few moments that pretty much lead us to that scene. This episode gives us four really wonderful performances, but, of course, only one actor can get their name boldened. Season four is Sarah Polley’s (and I’d say her character’s) peak. She was nominated for her last Gemini for her work on this show for “Moving On.” The producers made the right choice with that episode submission. However, she could have probably submitted this episode here because Polley has three great scenes. The first two are the ones when she is impersonating Hetty (she doesn’t really sound like Jackie Burroughs, but she gets like the mannerisms down and stuff) and the when Sara defends her actions for Hetty. However, the really great scene is the one where Sara and Olivia discuss Sara’s mother, and Sara tearfully admits she can barely remember what she looked like. It’s a surprisingly emotional and dramatic moment for an episode that, for the most part, doesn’t have the highest stakes (I mean, it’s not like someone is dying childbirth or something). It’s, of course, a poignant scene, considering Polley’s mother died right before the show aired its first season. And considering that a few decades later Polley would be releasing a documentary about her mother, with focuses on memories and home movies (many of them recreated for the documentary).

For the episode, itself, when Jasper overhears Sara crying over her mother, it’s that moment when he realizes that creating a better camera with a higher frame rate is more than just about the science and mechanics, it’s about preserving memories the best way possible so others with similar circumstances to Sara can have something to look back on. I have a confession…along with “hotel episodes”…I also think “Jasper invents something” episodes or, really, Jasper episodes as a whole, are pretty hit or miss. I mean, we all remember the “bats” episode, right? But, it goes without saying, this is the best Jasper episode of the series. And RH Thomson as Jasper is really great in this episode. He earned his only Gemini nomination for this role for this episode specifically; and I think it’s probably the scene towards the end when a dejected Jasper feeds Monty and tells him what he had hoped to accomplish with this new movie technology: to preserve a town’s legacy. But I think another strong moment is Jasper listening to Sara in that emotional scene, wordlessly realizing the potential importance of filmmaking. And, of course, Mag Ruffman as the faithful, yet strong headed wife of Jasper earns high marks.

jackie burroughs avonlea

But, again, this episode belongs to that last scene when Hetty presents the home movie to the town. It’s such a great scene. My favorite thing about the scene is the sound editing and mixing. John Welsman’s wonderful small town score overlaid with Hetty’s narration overlaid with the town’s laughter and “ooing and awing” is just perfect. It’s the scene that makes any fan of Avonlea tear up. It’s the one scene that truly represents the best and beautiful things about this small (sometimes closed-mindedjustsayin) town. I love scenes that feature a lot of the residents. From Hetty winning “Mother of the Year” to that season 2 finale hockey competition to Sara participating in that riding contest…the show is at its strongest when the town is fully engaged and present. And in the center of the town is Hetty, almost the town’s mother, certainly the town’s conscience, played by the incomparable Jackie Burroughs. Look at Burroughs’ eyes during her final plea to keep the town. It’s not the first time Hetty’s been vulnerable. She’s vulnerable a lot in the series. And Burroughs plays vulnerability so well, every single time. And this episode, that moment, is no different. Hetty’s unbending love of town and tradition will come through in deeper, darker ways in the next few seasons, but, right now, this is the episode that shows a more idyllic, more innocent view of Hetty’s love and dedication for Avonlea. In the end, I think this episode is about Hetty more than anyone else.

Final Thoughts: So I mentioned earlier that RH Thomson received a Gemini nomination for this episode. Marlene Matthews also received her second nomination for writing the episode. (Her first was for, I’m strongly assuming, “Aunt Hetty’s Ordeal.”) Season four was a strange season when the show didn’t receive a lot of award nominations (although they did win that Emmy for Children’s Programming). I don’t understand how the season that gave us this episode could be snubbed a Gemini nomination for Drama Series. Sometimes, I think Gemini voters thought they were a little too cool for this family show. It’s a shame, because it’s the show that most people still remember. Anyway…well deserved nominations.

John Welsman also deserved a nomination for his work here. Although, he was nominated for a Gemini that year, for his work in the Sullivan miniseries By Way of the Stars (which starred a few Avonlea cast members). He competed against fellow composer Don Gillis for “Moving On.” (Neither of them won.) Towards the latter half of Avonlea, it seems like Welsman had a lesser musical role on the show, while Gillis (and, later, newer various composers) was creating the new motifs, some which would be carried over to Wind at My Back and those Anne reunion movies. This might be one of Welsman’s last truly original scores for the series. And it’s one of the most memorable overall particularly during that scene. That motif is so simple, and…it just reminds me of home and family and community. It’s the kind of score that reminds me of farm work and baking pies for a Sunday picnic. During seasons five and six, the score will be used for Davey episodes. The score certainly fits the character, and will be particularly well used in “A Friend in Need.” But, I feel like despite that, this is the episode that truly defines what that score means.

I don’t know where I can confirm this. It might have been from one of the message boards on the official website or Avonlea Guide…but, apparently, for a short while, season four was considered the last, and this was a potential series finale. The show, during its time, was sort of at the mercy of Disney Channel. It had an unusually high budget and production value for a Canadian series, and Disney was very important to the show’s success. So, after every season, the show was usually in limbo until the cast and crew got the greenlight from Disney to make more episodes. So, every season finale (except season 6, really) has some sort of air of finality. We all know that the season 1 finale was intended to be the “finale finale.” We all know that, in the beginning of season 2, the producers had to cruelly kill Sara’s father and leave her an orphan to justify Sara living in Avonlea indefinitely. So, it’s possible this episode was written with, at least, a soft expectation that it would be the last. There’s actually one more season 4 episode after this…but, if need be, these last two episodes could have simply been switched, right? Anyway, what I’m getting at is…I’m so thankful the show got three more seasons. Some of the show’s best moments have yet to come. However…this would have made a very good, appropriate finale. And, y’know, some fans who aren’t terribly big fans of the last three seasons probably wish this had been the finale. But that’s crazy talk! Being taken aback by “new Cecily” is part of the Avonlea experience, whether you like it or not! Humph!

I have one last point. So, the other day, I watched Ang Lee’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk on opening night. It’s a fictional story about an American war hero who comes home for a two week victory tour in 2004. I mostly watched the movie because it was receiving Oscar buzz before the really mixed reviews came out. Overall, I still don’t know what to make of the movie. It’s a really strange movie, a lot of it having to do with how it was shot. Ang Lee pretty much used a super high frame right, almost five times what’s usually used. So, there are a lot of close-ups and two person scenes where the camera constantly switches back between the first speaker and the second. There are only a small number of theatres in the world that can truly accommodate this new technology. Most other people (including me) can only watch this movie on a normal screen. So…the cinematography (unlike Avonlea smiley face) doesn’t actually look all that great. I’m guessing you only notice anything if you watch the movie in one of the fancy special theatres.

The point is…the movie has received a lot of criticism for taking this HFR risk. Even I wondered why Ang Lee would attempt to try this, especially considering how difficult it was shoot the movie. And knowing that Lee probably won’t be winning any Oscars for the movie, I wondered if maybe the movie would have been better received if he had shot it like, well, a normal movie in the year 2016. However, after revisiting this episode, and seeing Jasper’s attempts at achieving HFR, and seeing the joy it gives the town (and himself) I now have a higher appreciation for what Ang Lee was trying to do. Did he fully succeed? I can’t answer that question myself. Many reviewers claimed that the HFR was jarring and straight up unsettling. But…isn’t that how people reacted to color? Or sound? Or even moving pictures as a whole? It will be a long time before 120 frames per second is the norm…but I admire that Ang Lee tried something new and took a risk.

And that’s one of the main themes in this episode: taking risks. Jasper, as an inventor, does that throughout the entire series. Sometimes he’s cheered. Most of time, he’s called a “kook.” But it’s encouraging to see characters like Sara and Olivia give their trust to Jasper and support his whims because everything we have right now, all the technological advances, from touch screen laptops to mechanical pencils, is because we are fortunate to live in a world of Jaspers, people who go the extra mile, when everyone else thinks life is perfect the way it is. Even Hetty realizes that if she wants to save her town from turning into a mini New York City (or worse…MONTREAL!!), then she has to embrace Jasper’s newfangled technology as well. Progress can serve all purposes, even a purpose that’s maybe counter to progress. It’s an interesting wormhole to think about. But that’s what makes this episode the best of the series. So many varied points of view, working together, as one.

Road to Avonlea Review: The Disappearance

Avonlea sarah polley

Episode Summary: Sara wants to write for the town’s newspaper, in order to prove to her cousins and Aunt Hetty that she’s capable of more than running her late father’s estate. She finds a story in Jonathan Blackwell (Robby Benson), who goes town to town pretending to be famed antique dealer Gerald McDougall Young so that his aunt (Diana Rigg), who wants him to run the family estate, won’t find out. Knowing what he’s going through, Sara agrees to keep Jonathan’s secret if she can write a story about Mr. Young. Jonathan is able to continue his secret passion of collecting art, while Sara gets some newfound respect from her aunts.

Directed by F. Harvey Frost, Written by Deborah Nathan, Music by John Welsman

My Grade: I don’t have much to say about this episode. If you’ve read every review of mine so far, you can probably guess how highly I regard this episode. This is just one of those Disney approved episodes, featuring the voice of Beast from Beauty and the Beast (for the kiddies, I guess? Even though they wouldn’t know) and Diana Rigg, because, I guess, she did stuff before Game of Thrones. The plot itself isn’t very interesting. It’s a B-minus, but it’s a relatively high B-minus because the stuff with Sara wanting to live out her passion and become a writer (oh look! Story Girl! See? She’s a Story Girl. Totally justifies naming that one episode “Story Girl”) gives us more insight into her. But, at the same time, it’s like not all that interesting seeing two privileged rich kids lament over having a lot of money and stuff. Anyway, (B-)

Spotlight Performance: I think Robby Benson is great here. Yeah, his face is like “woah!” Is his character supposed to be related to Jane Spry? I mean, I’m impressed by this dude. He sounds like this…but he also voiced Beast. He also directed episodes of Friends and Ellen, so he’s multi-talented. Anyway, he played “two” characters in this episode so he was snubbed an Emmy nomination, OK??

avonlea robby benson

Favorite Scene: I think what makes this episode more memorable than all the other “hotel episodes” this season is the scene between Jonathan and Sara, when he reveals who he really is and what he does. I guess I just like Sara’s realization that the two of them are actually kindred spirits. And I like the atmosphere. It’s dark. It’s cold and snowy. Their faces are red. Their breaths are seen. It’s just a scene that stands out in an otherwise “meh” episode.

Final Thoughts: Just that Hetty is the only other character I mention in this review, but she only appears in two short scenesbyeee.