The folks of Canada’s Avonlea continue on their popular, sometimes-precious period path. The Heather Conkie-scripted “Memento Mori” suggests the series could use some starch in its turn-of-the-century material to ward off the sentimentality.
Kevin Sullivan’s endearing TV adaptation of novelist Lucy Maud Montgomery’s “Anne of Green Gables” drew attention back in 1986 on PBS. Now a Disney Channel series, “Avonlea” opens its fifth season with a seg in which Don McBrearty’s direction whips up some vigor, but doesn’t whoop up much sentiment or real humor. Unhappily, the pretty rooms, the pretty houses and costumes, the pretty countryside, even Muriel’s pretty auto, begin to smack of artifice.
Successful local novelist Hetty King (an overly mannered Jackie Burroughs) finds disappointment everywhere she turns on her 50th birthday, which she’s trying to forget anyway.
Her publisher cancels her publishing contract and her stomach’s troubling her. More, she’s having dreams about her mother putting her in charge of a large brood if anything should happen to mom. It does.
Niece Sara (Sarah Polley) seems busy with Muriel Stacey (Marilyn Lightstone), who’s just back from years of traveling abroad. It’s a day of rejection for Hetty, who has a lesson to learn. But all’s not lost. Avonlea neighbors and relatives have set up a surprise birthday party for her. Before she can hear about it, that stomach pain turns out to be appendicitis.
Scripter Conkie takes measure of the lives around Hetty — Sara, Hetty’s dependable brother Alec (Cedric Smith); ancient Aunt Eliza (on-target Kay Tremblay), who gets in a few pithy moments; and formidable Rachel Lynde (Patricia Hamilton), who tries outdoing Eliza with a fancier birthday present for Hetty.
Polley does show gumption, Hamilton’s Rachel shows strength, and Lightstone’s Muriel strikes some sparks. But most of the characters — and there are plenty of them lined up for the 13 future episodes — are, so far, too stagy. “Avonlea” seems weak tea, but maybe it’s just this cup; there’d better be a stronger brew for future segs.
Don Gillis has supplied a pleasantly witty, accommodating score. Tech credits are, as with any Sullivan film, fine.