Reviewer: Charity Bishop
Life is never dull in the small town where Anne Shirley grew up in the care of the loving Cuthberts. Avonlea houses many fine citizens but among the most prominent and outspoken are the Kings. The family matriarch, Hetty King (Jackie Burroughs) is determined to take over her sister's wedding arrangements and give Olivia (Mag Ruffman) the proper ceremony that a woman of her distinction deserves. The problem is that Olivia and her soon-to-be-husband Jasper Dale (R.H. Thompson) have no wish for an extravagant affair. Jasper is an inventor, stutters, loves his photography, and is intimidated by people. None of this makes any difference to Hetty, who takes charge like a bull in a China shop and must deal with the consequences when the wedding dress doesn't arrive on time.
Her nephew Felix (Zachary Bennett) has decided to start up his own business, shirking his chores at home to run errands for the store in town. Everything goes wonderfully at first as he helps the aging horse Blackie to earn his keep on the King Farm. But Blackie isn't meant to be a delivery horse. He likes to eat whatever he can get his teeth around, from the grocer's expensive red apples to the flowers in Hetty's front yard. More than once Felix mixes up the orders, including delivering a corset to a confirmed bachelor and his woodworking tools to Mrs. Potts. When the children at the Avonlea school complain about Hetty's heavy hand, her brother Alec (Cedric Smith) attempts to rein her in and instead she quits. After Rachel Lynde (Patricia Hamilton) is run out of the schoolhouse on a rail, Alec allows a traveling professor (a cameo by Christopher Lloyd) to try his hand. The children absolutely love him but his credentials are hiding something.
In the meantime Janet King (Lally Cadeau) winds up in jail for being an active, vocal member of the Women's Liberation Society, Sarah Stanley (Sarah Polly) finds Hetty intolerable and switches place with a conniving, scheming orphan to teach her aunt a lesson, and Olivia learns to contend with her jealousy when a female scientist comes to town with more than an apparent interest in Jasper and his bats. A wonderful gathering of stories can be found in this series. Along the way we see evidence of Felicity King's growing affection for the boy who keeps the lighthouse, Gus Pike, encounter high society snobs at Kingsport Ladies College, and even Gilbert Blythe makes an appearance. The cameo appearances in this season in particular are wonderful. Christopher Lloyd teaches the children history with wonderful flair, and Ned Beatty plays an ice skates salesman who becomes obsessed with Hetty King. One of the greater ironies is Kate Nelligan (Dracula) as a woman the children suspect of being a vampire. My personal favorite was the episode with Christopher Reeves as a dark, mysterious stranger; it combines a jewel theft with a damsel in distress.
Throughout the program the children learn valuable lessons, and even the adults come away better individuals as a result of the consequences of their actions. Felix learns the hard way that responsibility is important and communication can solve many problems. Sarah discovers that running away is never the answer. Felicity tells a string of lies that successfully hurt her reputation and the feelings of the people she loves most; she faces up to these untruths and while she is punished, she is also ultimately forgiven. Hetty learns a few lessons in pride and adapts new teaching methods that the children are in favor of. Content issues are often minimal or nonexistent and most of the episodes have a wonderful sense of humor, but a few of them are sad, particularly the season finale. There is mild language, usually consisting of "bloody," and a few occasions when "Good Lord!" is used as an exclamation.
No sexual content is involved but Jasper and Olivia are very affectionate. Felix asks some very mild questions about the miracle of creating life and is stonewalled by most of the men in his life (except for Jasper, who looks at it scientifically; we never hear the explanation). A visiting scientist throws herself at Jasper Dale. There are varying amounts of comic violence and situations in which the children frighten themselves, including becoming stranded in a bat cave clutching a copy of Dracula. A wagon tumbles off the road into a stream and overturns; the horse dies as a result. Another accident knocks a man unconscious. The people of Avonlea are churchgoers but the children have some strange ideas. They go to Peg Bowen, the local "witch" (she's really just a cat person and prefers to be alone) for advice on the coming of the end of the world. She pretends to go into a trance and tells them a lot of hogwash about a wolf crossing the sky and swallowing the moon if the balance is not equal between good and evil.
The children believe her and prepare for "the end" by confessing their flaws to one another. They believe vampires can be vanquished by being staked through the heart. A hellfire and brimstone preacher comes to Avonlea, but soon learns that a gentler approach is more appreciated. Altogether it's a delightful continuation of the life and adventures of the King family.