Is Avonlea a sugary sacharine sweet show?

Discuss the series, characters and episodes.
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Timothy
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Is Avonlea a sugary sacharine sweet show?

Post by Timothy » Wed May 10, 2006 9:41 am

Since the series started, the words "sugary" and "sacharine" have been thrown around freely to describe Road to Avonlea, but does it really describe the series?

In a 1990 Toronto Star article, Antonia Zerbisias equated viewing Avonlea to 'slurping up mounds of country fresh buttermilk, flapjacks oozing with sunny, yellow butter, and dark maple syrup with whipped cream and a cherry on top'... ('Happiness on the Road to Avonlea.' Toronto Star 7 Jan. 1990: C1.)

Another example is from a quote provided by Mjaclyn:
It was, according to Polley, "the most sugar-coated, unrealistic depiction of Canadian history ever. It was like the white man's fantasy of what it was like at the turn of the century on Prince Edward Island."

If many of these statements are true about the series, I should be able to apply the same description to any episode in the series. Let's try and see if it works with a review of the episode Evelyn:

***

Evelyn is a sugary filled tweenkie of an episode that will leave audiences with an eternal sweet tooth. When Evelyn's husband's body explodes while off shore fishing and his charred remains fall into the sea, viewers will feel like they just ate a sugary lemon meringue pie with whip cream and cherries on top. While Alec King is reflecting under a starry sky about his fallen childhood friend, it's like a chocolate donut glistening with 10 pounds of sugar poured on it.

***

This doesn't seem to work and I don't think most people would describe Evelyn's husband dying in such a horrific way sugary. As far as other episodes are concerned, is having a friend die in childbirth sugary? Is the bitter disillusionment of Old Lady Lloyd or Winifred Ward sacharine? Is Rachel Lynde's stroke and town rejection sugar-coated melodrama? Does digging up a grave to see if a corpse is inside leave you with a sweet tooth? Does the rejection and outcasting of Peg Bowen when she tries to attend church leave the viewer with a utopian impression of Avonlea's community? How about a satirical look at drunk driving? You can probably think of more examples.

So I leave it to the loyal Avonlea viewer, is Avonlea a sugary sweet show as many claim?

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Post by Annie » Wed May 10, 2006 4:03 pm

I'll defend Avonlea to almost any end, but I think the "sugary-ness" of the series is very prevalent within the first couple seasons. As high quality as they were (especially the second season, IMHO), I sometimes watch them and feel like some of it is a little bit overdone. However, I also find that most of the syrupy stuff is delivered by Sarah Polley. Not that I'm saying she's being hypocritical by stating how sugar-coated Avonlea was, because she was just a young actress doing her job and carrying out a scene in the way she was probably expected. But still. I've never been a huge fan of Sara Stanley for that reason and I never felt the other characters/actors crossed that line. But that's just me.
As for the the "unrealistic" portrayal of Canada goes, I think that the series was more about presenting the spirt of Montgomery's books rather than portraying a historical drama. It may contain some condensed versions of important events, but not only was it a family-friendly show comprised of 45 minute episodes, it was also based off of the ideas of someone who lived on PEI and experienced those events first hand. And props to Sullivan for all the time they put into costumes and set to create a historically accurate feel!
And like you said, Timothy, there is a long list of serious themes that create anything but an "I feel like a 7 year old watching this right now" kind of reaction.

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Post by Wild Roses » Fri May 12, 2006 8:26 am

I'm defending the critics in their use of labels. Read on:

Since it first came out and to this day, The Sound of Music is referred to as sugarly and overlysweet (never mind the semi-dark ending), but it won Best Picture, and no one disputes that it is one of the greatest musicals of all time (although it may be overexposed, it has become so iconic). However, the critics, even the -actors- in it (Julie Andrews nearly turned down the role because she was afraid it was too many spoonfuls of sugar for her or the audience to digess) still referred to as 'smaltzy' or 'sacharine' during the making-of it, reviews of the film, etc.

Although RTA has its share of dark, even depressing, episodes, overall, it is an idealized version of life. Look at what is on tv today by comparision (it was probably the same during RTA's run): lots of crimes shows (maybe more graphic today than in the 1990s), dyfunctional families where it may take many seasons (if at all) for the characters to come together and heal, even comedies are sarcastic and almost hurtful towards what they do to their characters.

If the series was not sugarcoated, consider what alternative storylines we might have:
~Cecily would have died
~Gus would not have been found (or alive) and Felicity would have married Stuart
~Sarah would probably come to Avonlea in the summers, if at all
~Felicity would have chosen Arthur and we'd have seen a romance that lasted several seasons, only later on to regret choosing him (sinc he is not her true love), and would not be until the end of the series that she and Gus finally get together
~Digger would have died

In "realistic" (put in quotes because some are just continual soap operas despite what the writers will say) any or all these types of things would have happened. Realism = tragedy. Since in most RTA episodes, the tragedy is minimal at best or resolved within two seasons (the best, or worse, depending on your point of view, of realistic tv series can drag out the unresolved tragedy factor for eons of seasons).

Considering the number of awards RTA got, I don't think the critics are dismissing it when they use the labels that they do. Nor do I think they judged it by one or two episodes, otherwise it would -never- have gotten as many awards/nominations as it did. (Tv critics and reviewers, at least, don't have the choice of judging a series by 2 episodes then never watching it again. They have to watch it season by season---their review will just indicate that they like/dislike/love/revile the series for whatever reason.)

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Reply: Is Avonlea a sugery show?

Post by The Story Girl » Fri May 12, 2006 12:30 pm

:shock: Are the critics kidding me? RTA is not a sugery, little kiddy, children show or whatever they want to call it? It has human emotions and you feel for the characters. The adults like to agrue at eachother and never seem to leave matters on the table. Also, the kids who grow into teenagers have their own life...they're also confused about what they should do. Avonlea is like real life, except in the early 1900's.
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Post by Shelly » Fri May 12, 2006 9:04 pm

I think, to an extent, the series is a bit on the saccharine, sugary sweet side. But other times, I think it's also been a little too overdramatic, and other times, it's just a bit over the top in general.

A lot of the saccharine-ness of the series is prevalent in the first few seasons. Take "Proof of the Pudding"--an episode virtually every fan loves and cites as one of their favourites (myself included). I know of at least one fan who does not like this episode, considering it to be very "juvenile". Yet, the reason most fans love this episode is because it is like this: it's kids being kids, getting into various scrapes while the grown-ups are away.

It also seems to me that--like a lot of the family sitcoms of the late 1980s/early-mid 1990s (Step By Step, Family Matters, Growing Pains, others)--the majority of conflicts that come up in an episode are resolved by the beginning.

Then there's the overdramatic side. I think Gus Pike's storyline--and to a point, his relationship with Felicity--fits this description. Gus's storyline is very much like a soap opera (an ex-boyfriend of a fan once dubbed his storyline "As the Gus Pike Turns"); and sometimes the relationship with Felicity--especially when Arthur came into the picture--was very soapy, if you will (JMO). I think that's why I never considered Gus and Felicity to be a favourite couple of mine, and never really got into them. (Of course, seeing HCMK before seeing the bulk of the later seasons didn't help much either, I don't think! ;))

Then there's the third extreme: the episodes where you may think it's turned into The Surreal Avonlea Life. The plots seem too contrived (Hetty becoming a dime novel authoress), characters don't act like themselves (Gus in either "A Dark and Stormy Night" or "The Disappearance", or even both; Rachel in "Davey and the Mermaid"; Hetty taking Becky Lester's word for it in "Fools and Kings"), or they're just plain pointless ("From Away")!

Thankfully, though, there are other episodes that are "just right"--not too sweet, not too dramatic, and definitely not "over the top".
Wild Roses wrote:If the series was not sugarcoated, consider what alternative storylines we might have:
~Cecily would have died
And, of course, this would've been consistent with LMM's literature. (Although, of course, Cess doesn't die at the end of The Golden Road, it is implied in Beverley's narration that she'd die at a young age.)
WR also wrote:~Gus would not have been found (or alive) and Felicity would have married Stuart
Which would've made fans go postal. ;)
WR also wrote:~Felicity would have chosen Arthur and we'd have seen a romance that lasted several seasons, only later on to regret choosing him (sinc he is not her true love), and would not be until the end of the series that she and Gus finally get together
And then I'd dare say some fans would think KS was copying Anne 2, to an extent, given that something almost identical happened with Anne and Gil.
WR also wrote:~Digger would have died
Yeah.
Annie wrote:As for the the "unrealistic" portrayal of Canada goes, I think that the series was more about presenting the spirt of Montgomery's books rather than portraying a historical drama. It may contain some condensed versions of important events, but not only was it a family-friendly show comprised of 45 minute episodes, it was also based off of the ideas of someone who lived on PEI and experienced those events first hand.
The only episode that touched upon anything of major historical significance was "Aunt Janet Rebels", which got into the suffrage movement. Not even the sinking of the Titanic--which happened not too terribly far from PEI (IIRC, it went down near the coast of Newfoundland)--got mentioned.

And they did take one historic liberty, if you will: cars. Cars were illegal on the Island until 1913 (the first one appeared on PEI in 1905; and they were made illegal three years later, as it created such a stir).

* * * * *

Another odd tidbit about The Sound of Music: According to my mother, it also played in theatres for over a year.
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Post by Timothy » Fri May 26, 2006 6:09 am

Annie wrote:I'll defend Avonlea to almost any end, but I think the "sugary-ness" of the series is very prevalent within the first couple seasons. As high quality as they were (especially the second season, IMHO), I sometimes watch them and feel like some of it is a little bit overdone. However, I also find that most of the syrupy stuff is delivered by Sarah Polley. Not that I'm saying she's being hypocritical by stating how sugar-coated Avonlea was, because she was just a young actress doing her job and carrying out a scene in the way she was probably expected. But still. I've never been a huge fan of Sara Stanley for that reason and I never felt the other characters/actors crossed that line. But that's just me.
Sara Stanley's probably a big reason why the series gets that description. It's a shame because Sara started out defiant and sort of edgy, and quickly turned overdramatic and was a bit "Shirlyized." I was talking about the season as a whole, and clearly season one and two are not all sacharine filled goodies. Season two, in particularly, was pretty well balanced dramatically.
Annie wrote:As for the the "unrealistic" portrayal of Canada goes, I think that the series was more about presenting the spirt of Montgomery's books rather than portraying a historical drama. It may contain some condensed versions of important events, but not only was it a family-friendly show comprised of 45 minute episodes, it was also based off of the ideas of someone who lived on PEI and experienced those events first hand. And props to Sullivan for all the time they put into costumes and set to create a historically accurate feel!
And like you said, Timothy, there is a long list of serious themes that create anything but an "I feel like a 7 year old watching this right now" kind of reaction.
Exactly! :D RTA was an adaptation of LMM's work. If someone wants a precise representation of that time, then maybe they should track down a historical documentary. Snooooozzzzzze. :lol:

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Post by Timothy » Fri May 26, 2006 7:42 am

Wild Roses wrote:I'm defending the critics in their use of labels. Read on:

Since it first came out and to this day, The Sound of Music is referred to as sugarly and overlysweet (never mind the semi-dark ending), but it won Best Picture, and no one disputes that it is one of the greatest musicals of all time (although it may be overexposed, it has become so iconic). However, the critics, even the -actors- in it (Julie Andrews nearly turned down the role because she was afraid it was too many spoonfuls of sugar for her or the audience to digess) still referred to as 'smaltzy' or 'sacharine' during the making-of it, reviews of the film, etc.

The BIG difference is that the producers of Avonlea didn't have to deal with the Nazi issue. Sound of Music dodges the beatings, murders and issues of people being sent to concentration camps. Talk about unrealistic.

Wild Roses wrote:Although RTA has its share of dark, even depressing, episodes, overall, it is an idealized version of life. Look at what is on tv today by comparision (it was probably the same during RTA's run): lots of crimes shows (maybe more graphic today than in the 1990s)...

I disagree that Avonlea is an idealized version of life for that time and that place. There is a big difference between the problems of urban cities in the 90's and the problems of a maritime community at the turn of the century. Nevertheless, Avonlea has it's own problems and they addressed them. The series deals with tuburculosis and those that die from the disease, including Cecily's friends. In HCMK, they have the chilling scene where Alec talks to the woman who lost her son in the war; and earlier in the film, an explosion leaves Elbert possibly dying in Felix's arms. These are very realistic representations of serious issues during that time. There are also personal tragedies. In 'Home is Where the Heart is,' Rachel has a stroke and gives an excellent and realistic performance as a woman in recovery. No sugar cane there.

Sure, they don't show obscene bloody death sequences; but Alfred Hitchcock showed that you don't have to show gratuituous death scenes to get a chilling effect or to convey to the audience the horror of an event. Nor does Avonlea have to have a "someone will die in this episode's shocking final!" type gimmick to get viewers to tune in.
Wild Roses wrote:...dyfunctional families where it may take many seasons (if at all) for the characters to come together and heal, even comedies are sarcastic and almost hurtful towards what they do to their characters.
The King cousins' biting remarks toward Sara (Felicity in 'Mother's Love' and Felix in 'Old Lady Lloyd') were pretty brutal. They may not have been the gratuitous Jerry-Springer-style-slings, but kicking someone after their parent(s) were dead was wicked! I liked the pace of Avonlea and the fact that they didn't drag things out over years and get too stagnant.


~Cecily would have died

Suffering from the horrors of tuburculosis is no picnic. No sugar there.

~Gus would not have been found (or alive) and Felicity would have married Stuart

There aren't a lot of major shows that kill off their main characters. Besides, suffering from blindness and dealing with tragic deaths from a ship wreck isn't sacharine, as we witnessed in 'Return to Me.'

~Sarah would probably come to Avonlea in the summers, if at all

Did you mean wouldn't come to Avonlea in the summers? Relatives are known to visit extended family, especially if they have the mean$.

~Felicity would have chosen Arthur and we'd have seen a romance that lasted several seasons, only later on to regret choosing him (sinc he is not her true love), and would not be until the end of the series that she and Gus finally get together

While I would have favored the Arthur angle, the romance with Stuart made Gus's alleged death more tragic, agonizing and bitter.

~Digger would have died

Bummer.
Wild Roses wrote:In "realistic" (put in quotes because some are just continual soap operas despite what the writers will say) any or all these types of things would have happened. Realism = tragedy. Since in most RTA episodes, the tragedy is minimal at best or resolved within two seasons (the best, or worse, depending on your point of view, of realistic tv series can drag out the unresolved tragedy factor for eons of seasons).
I don't think there is an arbitrary time frame that determines if a tragedy is realistic or not. Rachel Lynde's stroke, for instance, was realistic whether it happened in one episode or over five seasons.
Wild Roses wrote: Considering the number of awards RTA got, I don't think the critics are dismissing it when they use the labels that they do. Nor do I think they judged it by one or two episodes, otherwise it would -never- have gotten as many awards/nominations as it did. (Tv critics and reviewers, at least, don't have the choice of judging a series by 2 episodes then never watching it again. They have to watch it season by season---their review will just indicate that they like/dislike/love/revile the series for whatever reason.)
The reporters who make those comments typically don't judge television award shows. There is generally a committee established by actors or show business-related personel that determine the nominees and winners. When reporters call the show "sacharine," they are suggesting that the series lacks substance. This leads me to believe that they have not watched the show in its entirety, or they would comment on the more serious, and often morbid, aspects of the show as well.

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Post by Wild Roses » Sat May 27, 2006 9:35 am

The majority of awards shows are, in deed, decided by actors/directors/ show-business people. However, I would like to point out that the Golden Globes are decided by the a segment of the press. And, it is worth pointing out, that the GG are usually a prophesy of who will win in the upcoming year. (Particularly at the Academy Awards, but it is safe to say that the shows/actors that are nominated in the tv categories are also the same ones nominated/actors at the Emmys.)

Timothy, you are making too big a deal out of this. So what if a few tv critics call RTA sugary? From the response topic to this, you call tell that quite a few of us fans seem to agree with the critics. Does that make us lesser than fans than you?

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Post by Shelly » Sun May 28, 2006 6:02 pm

Wild Roses wrote:Timothy, you are making too big a deal out of this. So what if a few tv critics call RTA sugary? From the response topic to this, you call tell that quite a few of us fans seem to agree with the critics.
Not to mention some of us also agree w/one respected TV newsanchor (now retired), and--of course--one of the show's own cast members (to a point, natch). *nod*
WR wrote:Does that make us lesser than fans than you?
Ouch! But that's a good point, actually.

I love the show. I do. But at the same time, I can see where the critics are coming from and can agree with them on some points. This doesn't make me any less or more of a fan than anyone else. It just means I approach being a fan in a different way.

Another aside: The People's Choice Awards are determined by the fans themselves.

And did I say "...resolved by the beginning" in my last post? I meant "...resolved by the END". My bad. :oops:
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Post by Timothy » Tue May 30, 2006 6:33 am

Wild Roses wrote:Timothy, you are making too big a deal out of this. So what if a few tv critics call RTA sugary?
It's an interesting subject that isn't addressed often and I thought it deserved a second look, especially since Montgomery related works have historically been downgraded by critics and dismissed as simple childrens stories. I interpret "sugary" to mean lacking substance and superficial. I'm reevaluating these claims and finding that this is not an accurate description of the series as a whole.
Wild Roses wrote:From the response topic to this, you call tell that quite a few of us fans seem to agree with the critics. Does that make us lesser than fans than you?
How did you know? I wear this crown that says "Avonlea King" on it.

Seriously though, I respect the opinions of everyone on this forum and that's why I asked for clarification on how Avonlea, as a whole, can be a "sugary" series if there are so many depressing, often morbid moments?

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Post by Wild Roses » Tue May 30, 2006 8:13 pm

Well, I do see the point of where you are coming from in some respects. Depending on how used, the term sugary could be seen as an insult to a show.

However, I don't see the critics snarking about it. Or viewers for that matter. The series had its faults, to be sure, but had quality storytelling and acting. Witness all the awards and nominations it got. How well the dvds have sold and its international popularity.

Now, take a look at another show. Seventh Heaven. It too is considered sugary and unrealistic. However, the critics snark about it. Quite a few of the viewers do too (if you aren't a snarker you will be after watching this show). The storytelling is considered abysmal and the acting even worse. It has gotten few, if any awards. The dvds have sold very poorly and I don't even know if if it is known internationally.

So, basically, it comes down to the context that the terms are being used in.

Also, I would add that the show is a cultural institution. And, most cultural institutions at some point or another, start getting scrutinized because they are in the canon of classics, so it is okay to refer to it in ways it might not have been referred to in its own time. (For that matter, look at how classics are sometimes described--as boring novels with an outdated/hard to understand language. But the classics still remain classics, even if some actually are acutally boring and even if the some do have language is outdated/hard to understand.)

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Post by asuwish » Wed May 31, 2006 4:20 pm

As a fan of 7th Heaven (which HAS been nominated for and received many awards--Teen Choice, Family Guide, Emmy, etc.), I respectfully disagree with your viewpoint on the show, Wild Roses. If you watched most of the seasons, especially the early seasons as I have, you'll see that the show addresses many many issues that other TV shows don't even broach.

I guess that just goes to show that it depends on what one's definition of "sugary" is, and having now seen more episodes of Avonlea, I don't think I would completely classify it as sugary, or absolutely unrealistic or anything.
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Post by Wild Roses » Sat Jun 03, 2006 8:03 pm

I have watched nearly every season of 7th Heaven and seen several of the seasons in repeats a few times (yes, snarking is fun!). I didn't watch most of this season because another soap opera was on in its time period (Wildfire).

Yes, 7H does deal with issues, but in a Pleasantville before-it-was-colored type of way. Not all at realistically. (Although to be _fair_ to it, there really isn't any tv show out there that handles issues realistically. Some do it better than others, some do it extremely better than others, but since we the audience want to be entertained, of course the issues are handled in a more dramatic or more comic way than perhaps would actually happen in real life.)

For example, I remember an episode where Rev Camden helps a woman who is getting domestically abused. Now, instead of sending her to a domestic violence shelter (apparently in Rev Camden's world those don't exist) where she would be safe, he sets her up in a hotel where of course all the neighbors see him going to and d. v. wife there and gossip that she and he are having an affair. Now, that's a nice way of trivializing domestic violence by turning the episode into 'is Rev Camden cheating on his wife?' rather than actually -discussing- why domestic violence is bad. Now, one may argue that if Rev Camden had sent her to a domestic violence shelter, there would have been no episode, but I disagree with that idea. The only issue I can ever recall the series handling realistically would be the Holocaust survivor episode. The rest of the time the issues are trivialized around the sex! lives of the children.

And, while the series may get still get nominated at fan-type awards, it certainly isn't nominated any longer at the insider award shows. And, the critics do bash it even though they circa season 1 and 2 did support it.

Getting back to the discussion of RTA, I would add that lots of the classics that were once controversial in their time are now considered tame. RTA during its run does have several daring episodes (Evelyn, the Stockard Channing episode, for example) but because those types of themes have been done and redone on tv, it no longer seems shocking either on RTA. Hence, the labelling.

Another Rodgers and Hammerstein comparison. When South Pacific first premiered, it was very controversial because it directly addressed racism---this is pre-Civil Rights time period--but now we think of it as a quaint love story not focusing on the revolutionary aspects of its script. I don't think Emily of New Moon or Wind at My Back could show their issues (there is still much debate on fanboards on whether EoNM went too far with showing the issues...not to mention if it strayed too far from LMM's work) where it not for RTA showing doing their issue episodes first.

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Post by oldfashionedgirl » Wed Feb 27, 2008 3:03 pm

I've always had a sweet tooth and I have a lot of fun satisfying it!
~ "Oh, Look at that! She doin' a play!" ~ Gus Pike

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Post by Jody » Sun Mar 16, 2008 11:41 am

Actually, even though Road to Avonlea might be sugary it's what fueled my love for trajic endings. When I finished watching Homecoming, my mind was on freak mode: Gus can't be dead, what if he someow was alive and came back and Felicity was married? (which when I woke up the next morning and watched so dear to our hearts was a little disappointed she was engaged but happy at the end.) But in my heart I thought he would never come back and thought of how trajic it would be if she spent the rest of her life at the lighthouse waiting for him to come back and thought of how romantic and beautiful it would be if she died waiting and as her soul leaves her body Gus's soul meets hers and they become happy in the afterlife.
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