Sweet Magnolias will presumably satisfy fans of the books, but for everyone else, its litany of romantic drama cliches might be too saccharine to stomach.
This review of Sweet Magnolias (Netflix) is spoiler-free.
There’s nothing like a midweek series about female friendship, romance, and Southern living to really get the blood pumping, and Netflix has you covered as ever with Sweet Magnolias, an eagerly awaited adaptation of the novels by Sherryl Woods that were published between 2007 and 2014 — eleven of them! Woods has written so many novels (well over 100) that she probably can’t remember the ins and outs of these, all set in the fictional South Carolina town of Serenity, but the fans can and have been waiting. Now, they need wait no longer, as the 10-episode first season debuted globally today.
Ten episodes seem a lot for this kind of thing, but when you have eleven novels to work from it’s a drop in the ocean; unless this release is an indescribable catastrophe, it’s hard to imagine a second season won’t follow — the lives of best friends Maddie Townsend (JoAnna Garcia Swisher), Helen Decatur (Heather Headley) and Dana Sue Sullivan (Brooke Elliott) certainly seem complicated enough to accommodate it.
For instance: The three lifelong chums hit on the bright idea of turning an old house into a luxury spa, which might have the knock-on effect of helping Maddie through her messy divorce from pediatrician Bill (Chris Klein), who knocked up his nurse, Noreen (Jamie Lynn Spears), and left his first family behind. The breakdown of the family unit is felt by Maddie’s kids, Tyler (Carson Rowland), Kyle (Logan Allen) and Katie (Bianca Berry Tarantino), and you can see the same thing with Dana Sue and her rebellious daughter Annie (Anneliese Judge), who is also mad about her dad not being around anymore.
It’s all very complicated and only made more so by wrinkles such as a burgeoning romance between Maddie and Ty’s ex-pro baseball coach, Cal Maddox (Justin Bruening). A lot of this — in fact, let’s be frank, all of it — is very standard romantic-drama material and there’s nothing, really, that Sweet Magnolias does that feels distinct. It even has obvious music cues to let you know exactly what you should be feeling at all times, just in case you’re falling behind the travails of the big ensemble.
But it’s fine, and for those who’re into the books, it’ll probably be more than fine. The cast is strong and they all seem pleased to be there, and the sheer number of concurrent subplots are sure to yield some intriguing results — a standout in the early-going is Dana Sue earning the ire of a disgruntled sous chef. It won’t set the world alight, and it’s aimed at a very specific audience that doesn’t really include me, but you can’t be mad at it for that. The question is whether or not its unashamed enthusiasm for cliche proves too saccharine for most viewers to stomach.
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Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.