Spoilerless Review of Sweet Magnolias
Some Thoughts About Sweet Magnolias Season 1 (2020)
Sweet Magnolias is a newly added episodic drama series on Netflix, based on a popular series of novels by Sherryl Woods. The story is about the intertwining but separate lives of childhood South Carolinian friends, Maddie Townend, a recently divorced mother of three, Dana Sue Sullivan, a busy-bee chef balancing the demands of being a restaurant owner and a mother, and Helen Decatur, a witty and benevolent attorney, all of whom are trying to navigate “through the complexities of romance, career, and family” while simultaneously trying to create a spa from an old mansion Helen Decatur acquired (Petski).
This Christian-friendly series is filled with life, laughter, and love, with the strongest theme being friendship and family as the story’s overarching tone through every episode. As predicted with the town setting and the aforementioned themes, this refreshing drama steers clear from controversial or dubious subject matter often seen in dramas targeted at younger audiences (though not to condemn either side for such decisions). It is why I originally thought it to be “Christian-friendly,” because, yes, of its religious tones, but it also has a natural simplicity to it that reminds me of Heartland. You will not see them delve deep into societal issues of gender, sexual orientation, or race for that matter (despite it being mentioned once concerning Helen Decatur’s romance arc). And there is absolutely nothing with that. So long as the story is engaging and the characters are interesting enough on their own to play off these universal themes, it does not need to ride the millennial/generation Z trends to keep viewers committed to the series. And I would argue that it does accomplish just that to some degree.
The story of creating a feminine spa from scratch gives an underlying ambition for the central three women that we the audience want to see them achieve, as well as adding our understanding of their personalities and their overall character growth. Between them, there is a real sense of kindness and friendship that Helen exhibits perfectly as acting godmother to the children of Maddie and Dana Sue and just to the people of Serenity, their town, in general. They’re likable and relatable, it’d be very difficult to root against them as it would be rooting against anyone in this series (except Bill Townsend, of course). The show does well to establish that there is no “villain” but a community filled with people who’ve grown up together as their parents had before them. Just as Noreen, the pregnant fiancee of Maddie’s ex-husband who he cheated on, struggles to find a place in this talkative town. Everyone feels like a fully-fleshed out character, with gains and faults they triumph or suffer in, making their interactions with one another that much more impactful and emotional, especially those evolving the children and their mothers. Though I do have my grips with the kids’ individual stories (generic and lacking in originality), the resolve of their conflicts with each other and with the adults around them are satisfying and wholesome (as most of the show is).
With more investment on the romance aspect of the series, more development of chemistry between the leads and something less easy for the women to be given (Helen’s in particular promising to bring such for Season 2), as well as more complexity to the teenage archetypes the children play, Sweet Magnolias tooth-rooting sweet themes and simplistic story lines are likely to bring the brightness to anyone's life by drawing on subjects often taken for granted, no matter the age (friends, family, career, love, etc.), while simultaneously balancing the good and the bad of life the best friends endure.
Petski, Denise. “Netflix Orders Romance Drama Series 'Virgin River' & 'Sweet Magnolias' Based On Novels.” Deadline, Deadline, 27 Sept. 2018, deadline.com/2018/09/netflix-orders-female-focused-drama-series-virgin-river-sweet-magnolias-based-on-novels-1202472370/.