Anne of Green Gables marches off to war

She's a hero in Canada - kind of like Huck Finn in the United States. The little girl so lovingly described by author Lucy Maud Montgomery embodies guileless intelligence, imagination, and courage.

For all those 20-somethings who grew up on the two miniseries "Anne of Green Gables" and "Anne of Avonlea," the third installment has been a long time in coming. But after a decade, Anne of Green Gables: The Continuing Story, is here (PBS, Sundays, July 23 and 30, check local listings). It was worth the wait.

Unlike the first two series, this mini isn't geared toward young children - the story line is clean enough, but the situations are more adult, since Anne's adventures take her into the horrors of World War I.

A little background: When we first met Anne Shirley on PBS back in 1986, she was a child of the early 1900s, a 12-year-old orphan who had been exploited by various families. Adopted by a loving though brusque spinster (played by the late Colleen Dewhurst) and her sweet, quiet bachelor brother (Richard Farnsworth), the child flourishes on their Prince Edward Island farm. But Anne's wonderful imagination, coupled with a rather short fuse, gets her into lots of amusing trouble. She meets her "bosom friend," Diana, as well as her future husband, Gil, who wins her over after a long courtship.

In the second series, a more or less grown-up Anne becomes a teacher and writer. The plot thickens in "The Continuing Story" as a fully mature Anne sets out to be an author in earnest. That same guilelessness, so charming in childhood, leads her into a serious career mistake when an established author steals her book.

When World War I breaks out, her new husband enlists as a doctor. When Gil disappears in action, Anne crosses the Atlantic to search for him. What she finds, however, are friends, danger, and an odyssey of epic proportions.

The feeling of this story is very different from most dramas on television today. Producer and screenwriter Kevin Sullivan captures the spirit of the era without lapsing into modern cynicism - a tough thing to do when dealing with the despair of that awful war.

Megan Follows first played the charming Anne when she was 17, and again in the second series at 18. Now a classically trained actress, she brings Anne's dynamic spirit to the miniseries.

"In the theater, it's always quite wonderful to go back and explore a classical role you've done before," says Ms. Follows, reached by phone in Los Angeles. "There's always more to discover, and Anne is epic in that way - she's an extraordinary character.... You have insights and perspective as an adult you didn't have at 18."

Follows says that the continuity between the child Anne and the adult came naturally. Anne is always true to who she is, but the trick was to bring those elements into a newer and darker era. As a child, Anne's innocence was crucial to her character. As an adult that innocence was translated by Follows into a practical strength, a wholeness that defies cynicism.

"Having grown up and having certain experiences in my life," she says, "I realized that cynicism is no part of Anne's world, and there is so much cynicism in our world. I couldn't bring that into the story."

In one memorable scene when Anne and Gil run to each other, Anne trips and falls flat in the sand. She rises laughing, but the obvious sentimentality of the scene has been undercut. How else did Follows avoid sentimentality?

"It comes back to that fundamental of acting - choose the positive over the negative ... in a scene or a situation; [it's] about looking for the hope in a situation, however [dire]."

Follows says Anne confronts so many prejudices against women in her society that she has a hard time expressing herself without getting into trouble. So humor helps. But Anne is very clever about surviving.

"She survives because she doesn't succumb to cynicism," Follows says. "She survives because she believes in something larger than herself. But I fought to keep sentimentality out of it. Sentimentality is an easy way out, and it does not honor reality. It's not reflective of life...."

And now, for something completely different: The WB unleashes Baby Blues next Friday night (July 28, 8 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.) based on the award-winning comic strip by Rick Kirkman and Jerry Scott. Intermittently hilarious, the charming new cartoon follows the exploits of a young married couple, Wanda (voice by Julia Sweeney) and Darryl (Mike O'Malley) MacPherson, who are learning to cope with new baby Zoe and the weird nest of next-door neighbors, the Bittermans.

The first two episodes find Wanda and Darryl choosing the Bittermans as guardians for their daughter, and Wanda rebelling against growing up as she identifies with the teen baby sitter.

There are a few cheap shots, but a good heart seems to beat below the surface of the humor.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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