Sweet Magnolias Season 2 builds on the first season’s foundations to deliver a more serious outing that puts its core characters through the wringer.
This review of Sweet Magnolias Season 2 is spoiler-free.
I must confess that I was surprised by the first season of Sweet Magnolias. On the one hand, it wasn’t very good – a saccharine, almost deliberately middle-of-the-road suburban family melodrama adapted from the same-titled series of novels by Sherryl Woods, who has written over 100 mystery and romance novels, which is never a good sign. But on the other hand, it gradually became pretty engaging, ended on a massive cliff-hanger, and almost immediately found a rabid fanbase on Netflix. A second season was inevitable.
And a second season is here. This return to Serenity, South Carolina runs another ten episodes, each almost an hour long, which you’d think was too many. Correction: It is too many. And yet the same pattern repeated itself for me. I found myself initially annoyed, then a little bored, and then completely invested in time for a tear-jerking finale that predictably resolved nothing and makes the third season almost as likely as the second was. (There are eleven novels in the series to adapt, and if we ever need more, I’m sure Woods could knock a few out in a couple of weeks at her usual pace.)
Anyway. It’s usually a meaningless criticism to say that fans of something will love the latest version of it since that’s their job, but one of the things that occurred to me during my two-day binge-watch of this was that fans will really love Sweet Magnolias Season 2. It retains the same love for Southern living, religion, friendship, and family, but delves deeper into all of the core characters and puts them in more difficult predicaments. With so much room to work, it takes its time developing subplots and arcs so that when they eventually reach a resolution – or don’t, as the case may be – it feels earned and meaningful.
There’s an argument to be made that some moments are moved past a little too quickly, but I think that’s somewhat justified by how much time is spent on their emotional fallout as a result. This isn’t a series of forced drama and wonky logic; virtually every plot beat develops organically, and the characters aren’t forced to behave in nonsensical ways to facilitate conflict. In fact, the secret weapon of Sweet Magnolias Season 2, as in the first season, is the fact that the friends and family at its core feel like friends and family, not just a bunch of actors working on the same set.
I won’t go into the specifics of the drama that unfolds here (we have recaps of each individual episode for that.) Suffice it to say, though, that the core trio of Maddie (Joanna Garcia Swisher), Helen (Heather Headley), and Dana Sue (Brooke Elliott) is put through the wringer, forced to navigate quandaries in their personal, professional, and romantic lives, all while trying to support one another and their families. The accident that closed the first season is the catalyst for many storylines here, including some welcome ones about kids being forced to navigate their anxieties and confront their futures even while grappling with physical and emotional pain. Everyone gets their spotlight here, and they do the very best they can with it.
Of course, I could do without the puritanism, things can get a bit preachy, and there was one subplot, in particular, involving a few of the kids that drove me crazy in how it couldn’t see the forest for the trees. The low-stakes plotting might be off-putting to some, but I didn’t mind that; it felt truer to life, and while this show obviously depicts a kind of upbringing and culture that is worlds away from the one I’ve had as a working-class Englishman, I nonetheless bought into the show’s optimistic humanity. You can never have too much of that, after all.