In the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, it can often times be hard to find things to help escape the chaos of the world. However, the recently released Netflix show Sweet Magnolias, that is based on the literary series by Sherryl Woods, does just that. It follows best friends Maddie Townsend (JoAnna Garcia Swisher), Helen Decatur (Heather Headley), and Dana-Sue Sullivan (Brooke Elliott) as they navigate through long-standing friendship, their careers, and hardships in the sweet small town of Serenity, SC. From the first episode, it is clear why the show works. The dynamic between the entire cast, but especially the lead women, almost engulfs you, making you feel like you, too, are part of the Sweet Magnolias.
WARNING: From here on out, there will be spoilers, so proceed with caution!
Although at first the show starts slow, the pace and length of the episodes fit well together. Whether you sit and watch the entire show in one sitting or pace yourself with one episode daily, the plot leaves you wanting more because of the powerhouse leads that drive the show. Their individual storylines are heavy in themselves, dealing with real-life issues from Maddie’s sticky divorce battle with her husband Bill Townsend (Chris Klein) who has had an affair, to Helen wanting to settle down and start a family of her own with or without a man while also being a successful attorney. Chef Dana-Sue runs a successful restaurant in a small town, but while battling with her health and firing her sous-chef. When Maddie, Helen, and Dana-Sue get together to discuss their hectic lives with their margaritas, it makes you want to pour a glass and lounge right there with them. As Helen says, there’s not a problem in the world that can’t be solved by having a drink and a talk!
Helen purchases a home belonging to a local respected woman named Frances Wingate (Cindy Karr). The three women continuously talked about owning their own business over the years so they turned the home into a spa that they named The Corner Spa, and it has the Sweet Magnolias at the forefront with Dana-Sue handling their cafe, Helen taking care of the legal side of things, and Maddie doing what she does best as a planner: taking the management position.
Watching Maddie go from scatterbrained and heartbroken to finding solace in her relationships, life, and career while still providing her sweet nurturing nature with her kids has you rooting for her the entire time. Maddie unveils a quick friendship turned relationship with Cal Maddox (Justin Bruening), the high school baseball coach of her son Tyler. In the very first episode, Helen tells Maddie she is going to help her get everything she deserves out of her divorce; it’s evident throughout that what Maddie needed were the loving arms of all of those around her.
The series also shows a lot of character development in their children — Tyler ‘Ty” Townsend (Carson Rowland), Kyle Townsend (Logan Allen), and Annie Sullivan (Anneliese Judge) — as they weave through teenage hormones and high school drama. The trio also has its fair share of teenage angst and lashing out on their parents, whether it be due to Tyler not being able to have his parents at his baseball games as Maddie and Bill navigate their divorce, Noreen and Bill asking the kids to be in their wedding, or Annie feeling neglected by the two people she loves most, having had her parents split up as well. They grow as individuals as the series progresses. It’s also extremely refreshing to see that the teens of the show are actual teenagers thus making it easier to connect with their struggles and making them feel that much more relatable.
This is Jamie Lynn Spears’ first acting job in nearly 12 years, but it almost feels like she never left the spotlight in the first place. Playing the sweet and ingenuous nurse Noreen Fitzgibbons, Bill Townsend’s love interest and mother of his unborn child, she really captures the essence of her character. At times it’s almost hard not to sympathize with her, seeing her struggle to fit into the town. Eventually, she starts to find her footing in the gossipy sweet town of Serenity before ultimately deciding to leave Bill and realizing that she just wants to put her child first, even though that means leaving to go back home.
Although there’s heartbreak, seeing Helen and Ryan finally putting an end to their relationship that has spanned over a long period of time, the season ends on a relatively high note. On the Townsend side of things, Cal finally tells Maddie he loves her, although she doesn’t fully trust herself to open up to him, she makes him a surprise dinner to prove to him she is ready to move forward in their relationship. On the other hand, fresh off of his split with Noreen, Bill is determined to spend more time with his children and being the father figure they have needed him to be as of late. Bill spends a day with Katie (Bianca Berry Tarantino), his daughter, before he tells Kyle he bought tickets to Hamilton for them. Tyler ends up getting scouted by Cal’s friend, who thinks he would be a good fit for the Braves but Maddie wants him to go to college first. Meanwhile, Dana-Sue gets an offer from an old friend to buy him out of his restaurant. He has a family emergency to take care of, which leads her to talk to her ex-husband, Ronnie, into getting a divorce so she can get a business loan. The situation turns messy quickly, and he ends up wanting to come back to Serenity. She then has a heart-to-heart with Isaac Downey (Chris Medlin), desperate to know if she is his mother. Finally, through the heartache, Helen prevails, seeking guidance and love from her friends — and early morning margaritas. She decides that she wants to meet with a specialist to finally discuss having a child, no man necessary.
The drama doesn’t end there, though. After a prom after party hosted by Jackson Lewis (Sam Ashby) turns sour, he gets in a fight with Tyler. When Kyle tries to stick up for him, he gets pushed to the side and there’s an outburst of emotions; Kyle tells Tyler to stop ignoring him. When Kyle notices everyone staring, he runs out of the house with the cavalry rushing after him. Maddie then gets a call and the scene pans to a car crash. Maddie and Bill are first to the scene with Helen and Dana-Sue nearby. Kyle is pulled from the overturned car but it is unsure who else was in the car with them. Because all of the kids didn’t have their phones, they couldn’t answer their parent’s frantic calls of reassurance that their children are okay.
The show’s intent does not stray beyond its purpose of being a bubbly feel-good binge. It has a similar feeling to the one you would get watching Hallmark or Lifetime movies — there is a reason those networks continue to pump out syrupy new titles each year. Because the ending of the show is open-ended, it leaves room to continue the story if it gets renewed. Only time will tell if Netflix chooses to do so, but in the meantime, if you’re someone that enjoys the character and community of small-town living, pour a glass of your finest whiskey or construct your favorite margarita and get to watching all 10 episodes of the new Netflix series Sweet Magnolias now!