Road to Avonlea, Season 4

Reviewer: Charity Bishop

Things are never dull in the small Prince Edward Island town of Avonlea, where Anne Shirley taught in the single-room schoolhouse and Rachael Lynde heads up the local group of gossips. Olivia Dale (Mag Ruffman) is expecting her first child and it only complicates things further when her husband Jasper's eccentric relatives arrive from out of town. Scientists, eccentrics, and "lunatics," according to her older, opinionated, spinster sister Hetty King (Jackie Bourroghs) they completely overrun the three farms. The rivalry between the Kings and the Dales escalates over a disastrous picnic in which the clam chowder goes bad, mercilessly attacking the meat-eating Kings, while the alcohol-laced punch sets all the Dales tipsy.

Giving up her teaching position at the Avonlea school to remain at home and watch the baby for Olivia, Hetty is driven to start writing after she is accused of slandering a local piece of fiction. In the meantime Clive Pettibone (David Fox) arrives to take the school children in hand. A retired colonel with the British militia, he runs the schoolhouse like a military tribunal rather than a teaching establishment. Felix, Felicity, Gus Pike, and the other children find themselves outranked and outsmarted in every respect. Not to mention his arrival in town brings his oldest son Arthur to Felicity's attention, sparking a rivalry between the would-be veterinarian and local light house keeper Gus Pike, who has been sweet on Felicity King for years. When Felicity's attempts to mature lead her to having Gus banned from the house, she must make a choice between the two boys who desire to claim her heart, and what she truly wants in life: to be successful and independent.

Sarah also experiences her first adolescent crush on a traveling cowboy from the west, Felix learns the dangers of fooling with guns, Alec loses a boyhood friend, and tyrannical Great Aunt Eliza comes for a visit in the rush of lambing season. Once more it is a production of heart and soul, with a few cameo performances from such respected thespians as Meg Tilly and Diana Rigg. There's an art collector that may be a thief, a surprising friendship that begins badly, a haunted house in which Hetty attempts to take refuge during the night, and a gradual step into the next century with the arrival of electricity. Admittedly this season is slightly darker than some of the others, because the children are growing up and experiencing the turmoil of maturity. More than half the episodes revolve around romantic assumptions of some kind, whether it's Alec suspecting that Hetty may have a beau or Felicity attending to the men in her life.

The children continue to deceive the adults around them, lie, and manipulate their way into various circumstances but always learn a valuable lesson and are punished in the end, either through losing the trust of the person they mislead or with actual consequences. There are many words of wisdom from everyone, whether it's learning that the generation gap can be breached and you must seize the moment and not fear the future, or overcoming common pride. Negative situations are rare and while the show does contain some mild abuse of deity, it's normally portrayed to be lighthearted. There are various schoolyard scraps and fistfights. A fire rages in the town stable, threatening the animals inside (they are rescued). A woman is believed to have fallen through the ice. A dog is wounded and surgery performed on him, with mildly gruesome results. It's implied that Arthur probes in a pig's insides to determine if she didn't birth a piglet.

Sensuality is very mild but on several occasions the townspeople spread slanderous lies about various members of the community. Alec's kindness to a widow leads to speculation that he is two-timing Janet. (She also fears this may be true.) Felicity uses her parents' evening out of the house to invite Gus to dinner, neglecting to inform him they will be alone. Alec is infuriated and turns the boy out of the house, accusing them of being indecent. Frustrated with her parents, Felicity packs out -- intending to live in the lighthouse with Gus, who takes her right home again because it "just isn't right." Arthur kisses Felicity spontaneously one afternoon while his father is out, and is accused of taking liberties. Sarah is obsessed with a much older man, and becomes swoony whenever he touches her. Some of Hetty's fiction is sickeningly romantic but never inappropriate. Altogether it's a wonderful addition to any family collection.