SPOILER ALERT: This post discusses some details and spoilers about season 1 of Netflix' show Sweet Magnolias.
First of all, I love Sweet Magnolias, and (aside from any and all content related to Ted Cruz) I really don't want this creative space to be about bashing other people. I think the writers of this show did a phenomenal job highlighting the complex emotions of divorce, single parenting, balancing work with your personal life– they got a lot of things right, there.
But (and I mean this with no disrespect to the creative professionals who poured their heart and soul into the show) somebody please explain to me:
Why y'all gotta hate on Noreen?
I don't necessarily have a problem with the way Sweet Magnolias portrays Noreen (played by Jamie Lynn Spears): young, naive, and genuinely hopeful that she has a real future with Bill (played by Chris Klein). Sure, she's pregnant by a married man, which is obviously not a great look. But she also really believes that she can have a "normal" family with this man, and honestly-- that is a heartbreakingly relatable reason why some women seek "happily ever after" with the wrong person. Throughout the first season, we see Noreen make a lot of mature, thoughtful attempts to bond with Bill's kids. She doesn't defend the affair, or demand to be treated like their mother; she just tries to be kind to them. No matter how a relationship starts, blended families are always challenging to navigate, so it's refreshing that Sweet Magnolias shows Noreen working mindfully to make her future step-kids feel loved and included. I admire the way she chooses to consider the kids' feelings over her own desire to have a seat at the table.
But, frankly, it feels kinda gross that the show allows the entire town of Serenity to slut-shame this woman.
It's not that I think the characters of Sweet Magnolias should have all been woke and realized that, well, shit happens, and sometimes someone gets knocked up. Or even that I think infidelity is "no big deal," because– of course it is! It's a violation of trust, and when it happens during a monogamous relationship, affairs can absolutely ruin lives. It's understandable and relatable, to me, that the characters of this show would have mixed feelings about Noreen, because in a place like Serenity, you're just not supposed to run around with someone else's man. And as a writer, I get why Noreen would be treated negatively in this setting, because it makes sense to me that characters from a small, Southern town would see her as a home-wrecker.
But, as a woman, I think they did Noreen dirty.
All of those scenes where people gave Noreen the cold shoulder, or she showed up to events and literally no one talked to her? Or the way she avoided some gatherings because she didn't want to make a scene? Just...no. (I'm not even going to get into how disgusting it is that Bill is her boss, and the predatory nature of that power dynamic. I might rant about that in a future post, but for now, all I'll say is, "Ew.") In one scene, poor Noreen is left awkwardly standing by herself at a social gathering while Bill makes the rounds after church. I'm not an expert at the Bible, but I feel like there are definitely some parts in there about, you know. NOT BEING AN ASSHOLE to people.
Maybe this was an intentional decision, by the writers, to juxtapose how many evangelical Christians can move seamlessly between worship and judgmental shittiness. Or the way women are judged so much more harshly for an affair than the men who cheat. But I wish they would have given Noreen a creative opportunity, as a character, to express just how awful it feels to be on the receiving end of it. I wish they had allowed Noreen to have more moments to show people, "This is what you don't see when you treat someone like that."
Sweet Magnolias also missed an important opportunity, with Maddie and the other characters, to portray that people can choose to rise above drama, and treat someone like Noreen as though she's bigger than her mistakes. Yes, I recognize that humans are flawed, and we don't always treat each other the way we should. And, obviously, some sins are really hard to get over. But in a show about strong, powerful women who lift each other up, and carry each other through hard times, it was problematic for me that the "Pour It Out" ladies dragged Noreen as much as they did. Be pissed for awhile, bitch about it to your friends, and cry when you need to. Sure. That's perfectly understandable. But if it's hard to move on, especially if you've started dating someone else, go to therapy. Figure out what you need to do to not feel so ugly inside about it. I just wish, at some point, someone just had pulled Maddie aside and said, "Okay, I get that this situation sucks for you, but they're having a baby together whether you like it or not. If you can't be genuinely kind to Bill and Noreen, get your ass to a therapist and fake it 'til you make it."
My point in all of this, I guess, is just that I think Noreen deserves better.
Mistresses aren't usually portrayed in any positive way in fiction (or in real life), so I appreciate the fact that Sweet Magnolias doesn't just write Noreen off as a one-dimensional, man-stealing bitch. They craft her as a nuanced human being, instead of a narcissistic hussy, and that's a refreshing change from the stereotypical Lolita characters we so often see in literature. And eventually, Noreen stands up for herself (in a moment where I absolutely stood up in the middle of my living room to yell, "IT'S ABOUT FUCKING TIME, NOREEN!"), and she leaves Bill. I just really wish they had shown that even people who make mistakes need some compassion. I get that it's fiction, and it's meant to be entertaining, but in future seasons, I hope Sweet Magnolias does right by Noreen. She deserves that. ❤️
P.S. I still absolutely love this show. I will stop watching it when you pry the remote from my cold, dead hands.