According to social media and pretty much everyone I follow there, this show, which is based on the series by Sherryl Woods, is a must-watch for romance fans. So, who am I to argue with all of social media and everyone I follow there? I gave it a watch this weekend. And here's what I think you'll probably love (and hate ) about it...
You'll love: low stakes, feel good fun
This show doesn't make for a tense watching experience. It's all about the lives of three life-long friends. They all have their fair share of romantic drama and family crap going on, but it's all fairly low stakes in the scheme of things. It's kind of like watching a Hallmark or Lifetime movie, but the production value and writing is WAY higher, in my opinion. With all that's going on in the world, who wouldn't want a little comfort binge watching? Sweet Magnolias provides that. If it was a food, it'd be warm, homemade mac and cheese with the crusty stuff on top. So, if what you're looking for is a show you can escape into and avoid stress of any kind, you'll love this one.
You'll love: Helen Decater
Helen Decater, portrayed by actress Heather Headley is ALL kinds of fabulous. She's wicked smart, quick witted, gorgeous, a great friend, and pretty much responsible for handling every legal matter in town. There's nothing I didn't love about this woman...except maybe her choice in boyfriend material. But more on that later. Long-story-short, I'd watch a spin-off show about Helen in a heartbeat.
You'll (kind of) hate: Bill and Noreen
I have nothing against Chris Klein and Jamie Lynn Spears. Truly, I don't. But on this show, they were outclassed in the acting department, I'm afraid. They're both straining SO hard with those Southern accents that I felt vaguely embarrassed for them.
Now, as far as their characters go, Bill was an idiot who messed everything up and was a pretty terrible father about 98% of the time. But the writing on the show was decent enough that even he had a little character growth by episode 10, and I didn't hate him as much then as I did going in.
Noreen was a complex character, too. While she was cradling her baby bump and talking about being pregnant in front of Maddie, Bill's ex (the one he cheated on), I wanted to smack her. Then, when she referred to Bill and Maddie's son, Tyler, as HER son because she was shacking up with Bill...well, I wanted to smack her again. But by the last couple of episodes of the season, I was even feeling sorry for Noreen because it was clear that she wasn't a terrible person--just misguided and immature. I credit good writing for making me feel sympathy for a couple of characters I loathed in the first episode.
But sadly, not even good writing can make the actor's accents palatable. Yikes.
You'll love: Maddie and Cal
I think every divorced woman who has been done wrong deserves to end up with a sweet, sexy, muscle-y dude who is better in every way than her ex. That's exactly what Maddie gets with Cal. Did it annoy me when, towards the end of the season, Maddie gets irritated with Cal for no good reason and pushes him away? Yep. But I can forgive her. These two were adorable together, and actors JoAnna Garcia Swisher and Justin Bruening, (who you might remember from Grey's Anatomy as the guy April Kepner left at the altar, then married several seasons later) had plenty of chemistry. Romance readers will love them together.
You'll love: the kids
The kids on this show actually look AND act like kids. It's a refreshing change from all the over 25-year-old actors you see portraying kids these days. They have typical, kid-like angst that I think anyone who has lived through their teen years can appreciate and relate to. It was very realistic, and for that I was grateful. Nothing pulls me out of a story faster than kids who don't act like real kids.
You'll love: Erik Whitley
Sous Chef Erik Whitley is PERFECTION as a character. Actor Dion Johnstone nailed this role and made me want to see a lot of him in the next season (because there NEEDS to be a season 2, Netflix, do you hear me???). He's a cinnamon roll hero of the highest order--too sweet and pure and too ooey-gooey for this world. His quiet and respectful pining for Helen touched my soul, y'all. I couldn't understand why a woman as smart as Helen didn't see this awesome man standing RIGHT IN FRONT OF HER. But more on that later...
You'll hate: Ryan Wingate
Don't get me wrong--Ryan's a good guy. And Helen loves him. He was her childhood sweetheart. But there was a reason why things didn't work out for them when they were kids, and that reason is still there. He's not willing to give Helen what she wants most--a family. And when he shows back up in town after YEARS, his first act is to throw a wrench in Helen's plans to renovate an old house and turn it into a spa. So, instead of just showing back up and seeing if she's still interested in him, he shows back up and threatens her business venture, pretty much just to get her attention. It made me severely dislike him. And since Erik is standing RIGHT THERE, I just failed to feel anything for Ryan but contempt.
You'll hate (at first, at least): Dana Sue
It took me a little time to warm up to Dana Sue. In the early episodes, she was fairly dismissive of Erik (who I think I've made it clear that I adore), kind of ignored her daughter, and got snappish with her friends for no good reason. But eventually, she grew on me. She just doesn't handle stress well, as it turns out, and she turns into an asshat when she needs to eat. That's something I can relate to in a BIG way.
You'll love or hate: Comparisons to the books
I haven't read the book series, so I can't say whether or not the stories are comparable to the show. I CAN say that I read several reviews that said the townspeople were pretty horrible in the books. But on the show, the townspeople, for the most part, were pretty awesome. So, people who loved the books may or may not hate that the series strayed from the source material. I can't say for sure.
You'll hate: The cliffhanger
Yep, episode 10 ends on a HUGE cliffhanger. I hate that shit.
You'll love: Diversity
Sweet Magnolias isn't NEARLY as white and straight as their other series, Virgin River, was. That's something to be celebrated, I think.
So, long-story-short, I enjoyed Sweet Magnolias. Was it perfect? No. Was it better than 99% of what's on Hallmark and Lifetime? Absolutely. Overall, it's a warm, hopeful, small town romance series with engaging characters, great friendships, and low-stakes drama that I really enjoyed. It's worth your time.
Random thoughts...spoilers within...proceed with caution...
This next bit is my random thoughts about the series. Spoilers be here, y'all. Proceed with caution if you don't want to see them...
1. Am I the only one who ships Kyle and Annie? That poor kid is pining so hard for her! I'd love to see them as a couple a few years down the road.
2. When Tyler called Annie dude in that text after their kiss...I felt her pain. It was pain that only a teenage girl who'd been dismissed by her crush could feel.
3. Is it me, or is Cal missing eyebrows? I mean, he's a good-looking guy, but it looks like maybe he's over plucked or something? I dunno...
4. Hot farmer Jeremy is smokin' hot! So's Ronnie. So's Dana Sue's business partner. Geez...there are some hot men on this show! Man candy ahoy! I heartily approve.
5. I think Peggy is Issac's mom, and Ryan is the dad. Just my prediction, though. I could be wrong. I just don't think it's Dana Sue. Since all clues were leading to Dana Sue, I just don't think the writers would go that route. It's too obvious.
6. I want to hate CeeCee, but after seeing that poor kid's father...I feel sorry for her. No wonder she turned into a mean girl. It's the only way to protect herself.
7. Trotter talking about Dolly Parton was one of my favorite parts of the whole show. And he's right. She is joy.
8. You'll never convince me that a professional chef would use Ortega taco products.
9. The way Bill ignores Katie for 90% of the seasons makes me want to nut-punch him.
10. My prediction on who was in the car with Kyle? Annie. My fear is that sweet Kyle won't make it and Annie will suffer with grief and guilt over not being able to stop him from getting behind the wheel. Tyler will suffer tremendously, too. That'll piss me off, though. I love Kyle. He was one of my favorite characters. What a sweet, hopeful, happy character he is.
If you need your Sweet Magnolias fix and aren't willing to wait for season 2 (which better happen, Netflix...I'm telling you...), here's where you can find the series. Happy reading!