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This was released in the summer but I cannot help but include this in the advent calendar ritual because it is such a series that it ought to be repeatedly relished whatever the season or occasion. Sweet Magnolias… from its release in the summer, at the peak of the pandemic, I have watched this show religiously every day or every other night before falling asleep; it’s the balm for the soul we all needed and now that Christmas for everyone will be a lot different we need some soothing over the holiday and Sweet Magnolias will do the trick mighty fine. Though it is not a Christmas movie, it is still good enough for a night of virtual viewing party with the fam. It fills the void and heaps better than those Hallmark Holiday movies… HEAPS.
Serenity, where resides the three main characters; Maddie (JoAnna Garcia Swisher), Helen (Heather Headley) and Dana-Sue (Brooke Elliot) whose lives upon which the backdrop of drama unfolds. Sweet Magnolias is a soft show that gently guides us through the travails of their lives alongside other characters. Its mostly family friendly because it is as a fade to black romance, even the language is genteel, there’s no cursing there’s only plenty of allusion to elements of impropriety as such. It is quite cathartic in the sense that it mirrors the world we are going through right now, a metamorphosis and it gives one the authority to go through the motions of change and experience it as we want to. It is the inevitability of life during its transmission; we simply have to give it time to manifest.
Set in Serenity, a town in the south of America with all its southern charming ways, the adults are going through their issues as are the children and for the first time in television, producers are getting teenagers right. The young adults are not assholes; don’t get me wrong the children have their moments but on the asshole range, they are not a Dana Brody level; she is the worst teenager in the history of television. Don’t believe me? Watch Homeland again and come have a talk; she is the worst. But in Sweet Magnolias, the children whilst going through their own teenage issues which comes with moments of annoyance have a clarity of hierarchy and respect but the parents are also able to check themselves with children when they know they have gone too far. It is not simpering or overly patronising it is just right
Character wise, the landscape is diverse which is so refreshing to see, typically with shows like these, it is rare to see diversity outside of the known trope in Hollywood, but Sweet Magnolias gets right what Hollywood mostly gets wrong with diversity and characterisation. Characters are not monolith, like humans and the real world, they come with complexities and foibles therefore these characters are fully fleshed out; the men are not just there to serve as a prop to the women and vice versa, they have their own back story and crevices that we get to peer into. Insecurities and fears that make them all the more relatable to us viewers. Dana Sue the plus size woman is a chef and restaurateur who is post-divorce and whose weight is not in any way part of her story line and between Ronnie the cheating ex and Farmer Jeremy, she is doing pretty good. Helen is the Black lawyer whose young love boyfriend Ryan, who is White, returns to Serenity and their back story reveals more than we are led to know also Chef Eric is vested in Helen though he takes his sweet time to make his feelings known… (did he even?), and then there is Maddie who is going through the motions of her own divorce with the town doctor and has the coach of the school, her son’s school might I add, after her. Chris Klein as cheating Bill is so perfect in this role because I want to punch him in the face, he was made for this role, accent and all. Not that I am a southerner or anything but he really does play this role well. It is the first thing I have liked him in. That includes American Pie.
Women gathering round over food and drinks is nothing new, but it is a gold standard when done well and will always win. It is the nuances of such characters that give it something worth investing time in. It is the relatability and their ability to make this reach way past their time on screen. It is carrying on into the real lives of others, margarita nights will now be associated with Sweet Magnolias in the way Cosmo and Magnolia bakery came to be synonymous with Sex and The City. We are now going to “Pour it out”. This show is a winner for all of those reasons and many seasons to come, but most important is the fact that we all feel like a part of the scene. Whatever Dana Sue was going through as a tough head chef who is undermined by her sous chef in a male dominated industry, putting together her life post divorce whilst having to deal with an angst ridden, not a lot annoying, teenager, we feel it. Helen who is now reckoning with the fact that her child bearing years might be behind her accomplished as she is, we are there for her. Or Maddie going through the divorce with Bill, we feel her anger and pain. It is also important that nothing is simply resolved, it is in layers and women are fully represented in all our elements. I love that one of the secondary characters, a journalist is a Black woman who is also a bitch and bestie to the town Mayor’s wife. I love it! Despite going through all this, the women still are there for each other… its gold.
Each woman, stands enough on her own, but the male counterparts come to the plate with histories and baggage that further adds to the complexity and salivating storyline. Even the clichés are used in a way to elevate the story, giving it a different slant. One thing about cliches, you gotta know how to work them so they don’t stick out like a sore thumb and even when they are being obvious it is not sickening. The sexy gym teacher and the budding romance with his star athlete’s mother, (really though Maddie. I hate this for Tyler but here we are.) Coach Karl looks like he won’t be out of place with a cape and spandex, make of that what you will, and her ex-husband Bill who cheats with his nurse, Noreen, played by Jamie-Lynn Spears. (The last time I heard of Jamie Lynn she was sixteen and pregnant, so it was a pleasant surprise to see her here.) The plumbing scene is a cliché and a half and I still LOVE it. The young love returns, inducing the remembrance of a rebellious youth and forbidden romances. I wasn’t much for the connection between Helen and Ryan yet their story works, romances are complicated and as we learn from Dana Sue, Ryan Wingate’s grand-father did not want him involved with a Black girl. The return of the cheating ex-husband right after Dana Sue is introduced to farmer Jeremy; let me just say, the banter between these two- it is all there and it is all SO GOOD! Characters weave in and out of each other’s lives without the interruption to the flow of the story. If we are to delve deeper journalist woman has some story we need to know as does the under chef guy and Chef Erik… there are lots of places for us to explore, lots of stories we want to unravel and this is what makes it so damn fantastic; the characters stay with you.
The language is not vulgar, none of it is sideways, this is wholesome language that gives nuance in the most sophisticated way through the use of allusion and phrases; not everything has to be so fully said it leaves nothing to the imagination but in Sweet Magnolias there is a way with language that does not disguise the full meaning of what is being said. The discreetness of sexual pleasure is there for the adults without being overt or gauche about it. This is also a master class in the of use innuendo.
This show is gentle and true to its name, sweet, full of that small town southern something we have come to expect from these parts. It has soul and a sweet kiss.