Sweet Magnolias Season 1: The problem with ‘feel-good television’


Netflix’s Sweet Magnolias Season 1 is ‘feel-good television’ and that’s a problem

Sweet Magnolias is one of the newest series to hit Netflix and stars Joanna Garcia Swisher, Brooke Elliott, Heather Headley, Jamie Lynn Spears, Justin Bruening, and Chris Klein. Sweet Magnolias Season 1 is based on the first book in a series of novels of the same name by Sherryl Woods about three friends who open up a spa in their small town of Serenity, South Carolina while dealing with life’s trials. Admittedly, Sweet Magnolias isn’t the type of show that I normally watch.

However, as a fan of Joanna Garcia Swisher from her time on the WB sitcom Reba and as a child of the 2000s who watched Jamie Lynn Spears’s rise to stardom on Zoey 101, I figured I’d check it out. I knew the level of talent that both actresses exuded and believed that Sweet Magnolias would be another great outlet for them to continue showing off their talents.

Unfortunately, none of the talented actresses and actresses on Sweet Magnolias could save this show, which I believe to be just a step above any movie or show you’d find on the Hallmark Channel. If you enjoy the Hallmark Channel, then I apologize, but I think we can all agree that the Hallmark Channel churns out content that can make you feel good without being good.

A short synopsis of Sweet Magnolias Season 1

Maddie Townsend (Swisher) finds herself at a crossroads when her husband Bill (Klein), a family physician in Serenity, leaves her for Noreen Fitzgibbons (Spears). Fortunately, her friends Helen Decatur (Headley), an attorney, and Dana Sue (Elliott), the head chef and owner of Sullivan’s, are there to lead her down a new path, opening a spa. While Maddie is initially reluctant, she ultimately decides to embark on this new journey with her fellow Sweet Magnolias.

More from Netflix

At the same time, she must juggle being the single mother of three children, her daughter Katie, and two boys Tyler (Carson Rowland), a pitcher on his high school’s varsity baseball team, and Kyle (Logan Allen), a shy theater kid. Things get even more complicated when Maddie begins dating Tyler’s coach Cal Maddox (Bruening), a former professional baseball player, and their relationship draws the attention of the entire town.

Meanwhile, Dana Sue and Helen are dealing with their things as Dana Sue tries to maintain a work-life balance while struggling with high blood sugar and trying to connect with her daughter Annie (Anneliese Judge). At the same time, Helen, who’s had a successful career while putting her dreams of being a mother on hold, realizes that she can’t wait any longer.

Then there’s Bill, who must move forward with his life after Noreen gets pregnant. Unfortunately for him, it’s not that easy as he’s forced to grapple with the choices he’s made and consider the people that he’s hurt, namely Tyler. Sweet Magnolias, is a show that treads familiar territory; a woman deals with the challenges of being a single mother while embarking on the next chapter of her life.

Caution: There are plot spoilers in this post from this point.

The problem with ‘feel-good television’

The problem with Sweet Magnolias and the ‘feel-good’ television genre, in general, is that each show within the genre might as well be called Television Tropes: The TV Show. These types of shows attempt to tackle serious issues but do so through the use of banal platitudes, cookie-cutter characters, and paint-by-numbers scripts, and Sweet Magnolias is no exception.

It was hard for me to get invested in the characters’ lives because although the acting from most of the main cast was serviceable, the storylines were predictable and I felt like the dialogue was there only to move each storyline forward. Often, I felt like I was listening to a mantra in a yoga class that I couldn’t bring myself to believe because the plot served up uncompelling conflicts.

When Dana Sue is sued by a former disgruntled employee, the show teases an epic showdown, that instead, peters out in one episode. Although Maddie and Cal’s relationship offers up some controversy in the early episodes of Sweet Magnolias Season 1, by the end of the season, it’s a non-issue. While the show’s conflicts should be acting in service of providing compelling obstacles for the characters to overcome, instead, they seem to exist to give the characters something to do.

As a result, the characters’ responses to the events that unfold seem inauthentic and unearned.

Take, for example, Helen’s and Kyle’s storylines. In the premiere of Sweet Magnolias Season 1, we learn that Helen had left Serenity for a short time with the love of her life Ryan and ultimately returned when it didn’t work out. A few episodes into Season 1, though, and he’s back and courting her once again. Unfortunately, they end up back at square one when they realize that they still want different things.

It’s a conversation that’s necessary, which is why it baffled me that they hadn’t had it already. As a result, it felt like just another opportunity to stir up conflict where there shouldn’t be any. However, by far, the most egregious case of unearned conflict came in the series’s season finale. Throughout Sweet Magnolias Season 1, we see a great deal of conflict between Tyler and his father, however, Kyle seems to be handling the divorce well all things considered.

Eventually, that changes when he starts to believe that Noreen seems to care more about him than his father does. After embarrassing himself in front of his crush, Kyle decides that enough is enough and runs away, although he’s quickly found and brought home.

By the season finale, though things seemed to be going much better for the amateur thespian, and so it ultimately surprised me when he ran away again after accusing Tyler of ignoring him. It’s an argument that comes out of left-field, given Tyler and Kyle’s relatively close relationship. While I don’t think Kyle’s feelings are completely unrealistic, the show doesn’t even allow us to consider his feelings until it’s necessary for the plot.

Unfortunately, the show treats all of its characters this way. As a result, their issues come off as being unimportant, making it much harder to care when they do face any real adversity. I can only hope that Sweet Magnolias Season 2 allows us to spend more time with each character so that we are encouraged to care about their journeys.

Next. Should we be concerned after watching the 13 Reasons Why Season 4 trailer?. dark

Did you enjoy Sweet Magnolias Season 1? What are your hopes for Season 2? Let us know!

Sweet Magnolias Season 1 is now streaming on Netflix.