Looking for a summer binge to enjoy during these hot and languid days? Sweet Magnolias might be the perfect option. This 10-episode production based on the 11-book series by Sherryl Woods offers all the Southern charm and theatrics we love in a good ol’ small-town drama.
Maddie, Helen, and Dana Sue—played by JoAnna Garcia Swisher, Heather Headley, and Brooke Elliot respectively—are three lifelong friends negotiating the ups and downs of divorce, romance, parenting, and a new business. They laugh and cry together, fight with and for each other, and help each other through good times and bad in tiny Serenity, S.C.
Maddie is in the throes of a divorce after her doctor husband leaves her for his now-pregnant nurse (played with vulnerability by Jamie Lynn Spears, Zoey 101). Maddie and her three children, the oldest a star high school baseball player, must figure out a new normal. Helen, a crack attorney, helps her friends and the town negotiate legal and life matters as she negotiates a lifelong love and her growing desire for children. Dana Sue owns and is chef at Sullivan’s, all while facing down work and health challenges, raising her teenage daughter, and dealing with her daughter’s father.
These three strong women go into business together to open a spa (as if they didn’t have enough to do) as their children learn about young love, as their significant others wreak havoc, and as they each take new steps toward love and wholeness.
Sweet Magnolias is multi-layered and surprising in several ways. First, many characters make wise and others-centered decisions and explain why they make them. Maddie’s love interest, Coach Cal Maddox (played by Justin Bruening), doesn’t push her and is concerned about being a good coach and human being first, not just her boyfriend. Ty Townsend, after hearing a fellow ball player berated by his mom, finds a reason to let him pitch an important game. The storyline honors the elderly and needy, advocates for good food sourcing, and shows parents truly loving their children. Pastor June Wilkes (Tracey Bonner) is a wonderful source of wisdom, biblical guidance, and honesty.
Not that there aren’t bad apples, of course. Town busybody Mary Vaughn Lewis (played by Allison Gabriel) is a force to be reckoned with, and Bill Townsend (played by Chris Klein) is a jerk much of the time.
There are adult themes—divorce, teen drinking, sex outside marriage—a little swearing, and these girls love their margaritas, but overall this is a charming, decent, and addicting series. No word yet on season 2, but season 1 ends with a cliff-hanger that will leave viewers crying for a new season. (Netflix)