Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Road to Avonlea: Christmas in June (1995)

When we borrowed this DVD from the library, I wasn’t sure whether I had seen this show. It turns out that my confusion is because the Disney Channel just called this show “Avonlea,” because the opening sequence was definitely stored in my deep memories.

Avonlea, or Road to Avonlea, is sort of a spin-off of Anne of Green Gables, based loosely on other L.M. Montgomery stories and produced as a joint production between a Canadian television station and the Disney Channel. That should be enough to give you an idea. It’s a melodrama, a soap opera safe for children, following the citizens of Avonlea through the vagaries of their lives.

However, I don’t remember this episode at all. It mostly focuses on Cecily King. I have some memory of her mother as a character, but I don’t remember her. (Aha, Wikipedia tells me that the character’s actress switched around this time.)

Cecily has tuberculosis, like you do if you live in the early 1900s and need some extra drama. She has been taken into a prestigious sanitarium in an effort to get well. Early on her mother visits her and later expresses to her husband a concern that it might not be the best place for Cecily to actually heal. But that isn’t the plot.

The plot concerns a group of charity cases - sick newsboys from New York. They were sponsored into the sanitarium by some foundation and proceed to cause havoc in the quiet hospital. The ringleader, Louis, is a brash tale-spinner with a very broad Brooklyn accent.

For sweet Cecily from quiet Prince Edward Island, a cliche puppy love was inevitable.

Cecily and Louis hate each other at first, of course, and they fight in the best LMM style, with wit and cutting remarks and occasional physical violence. (In this case a food fight, rather than a broken slate.)

One of the annoying and distracting things about this episode was the inconsistent and often poorly done makeup. They want the kids to look ‘sick,’ but they often look like they either fell into a flour sack or are auditioning for a vampire movie.

Louis’ charm and stories bring Cecily around, and they eventually become friends, which means she starts getting in trouble. He plays a prank on her in the middle of the night and they all get caught. He tries to make it up to her by preventing the head nurse from writing to her parents and accidentally starts a fire. He convinces her to sneak out again and they both fall in the river.

Well, he falls, and she goes after him and rescues him.

There’s some inconsistency throughout here: Cecily said several times that she wants to go home, but when faced with “behave or we’ll send you home,” she wants to stay. Part of that is Louis, but it’s unclear and inconsistent whether Cecily actually believes that the sanitarium is improving the patients’ health.

For all that I didn’t hate this, (because I can get behind an over-emotional melodrama when it’s dressed in pretty historical costumes) I did sometimes wonder if the same people were writing each scene, because characters’ motivations and plans seemed to change randomly.

But Lindsay, you’re saying, what about CHRISTMAS?

Well, near the end, Louis confesses his lies (about having a rich family who traveled the world) to Cecily, and mentions that he’s never even had a nice Christmas. Cecily’s parents come to investigate the reports of their daughter’s misbehavior, and she begs them to invite Louis to Avonlea once the holidays roll around.

Her father stares weirdly into the camera and says he has a better idea. That evening, Cecily wheels Louis (sick from the river escapade) out into the yard for a Christmas party in the summer. There’s a decorated tree, presents, and singing, and Cecily’s dad plays Santa.

Awww. But all cannot be fixed by out-of-season holiday cheer, and Louis succumbs to his illness the next day.

One more weird point: I don’t know whether it was the station, the writers, or Disney, but they never say, “Louis died.” They just say “we’re sorry,” fold his clothes somberly, and make poor distraught Cecily figure it out in silence.

Of course, this means no one has to point out that maybe the party was not such a great idea.

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