SPOLIER ALERT: This post divulges spoilers and plot details about Season 1 of the Netflix drama Sweet Magnolias.
One of the tough things about trying to find mutually-agreeable television content with my tween daughter is that, well, she's a preteen girl. She's not quite ready for Scandal, but we're also way beyond Sofia the First. She's curious about love and relationships, but I don't want her to develop unrealistic expectations about dating from The Bachelor. Not that there's anything wrong with The Bachelor. In fact, I am, and will forever be, a devoted Melissa Rycroft fan. (Fun fact: I ran into her at Target once and because I am myself, I gasped, pointed, and shouted, "OH MY GOD, IT'S YOU!" She was, of course, exceedingly kind, and did not ask me what the actual hell my problem is, and for that, I am exceedingly grateful. Melissa, if you ever read this, I'm sorry I shouted at you. Your eyebrows were on point that day.)
Enter Sweet Magnolias.
Unlike my sweet, hopeful (read: not jaded by life yet) daughter, I am usually not a big fan of soapy, romantic dramas. And it took me quite awhile to really get into this one, because a) I have a million children, b) those children are loud, and c) it is neither CNN nor an Aaron Sorkin show. It's a deviation from the type of things I get totally absorbed in: cerebral, gritty dramas, and deeply offensive comedy. Generally, if it's not TV-MA or one of the perennial sitcom favorites like Friends, I'm not interested.
But Sweet Magnolias sucked both my daughter and I right into its net of relatable characters, gorgeous Southern/farmhouse aesthetic, and (relatively) family-friendly plot lines. Starring JoAnna Garcia Swisher, Brooke Elliott, and Heather Headley, Sweet Magnolias follows three lifelong friends navigating parenting, careers, and relationships, in the small, Southern town of Serenity. The series is based on the Sweet Magnolias book series, by Sherryl Woods. Which I have not read, so if you're looking for a comparison of "book versus show," you can find that (and apparently major spoilers) here.
What I loved about this show was that each of the main characters has an unconventional relationship with parenting, in terms of the typical "nuclear family mommy" roles in which women are so predictably cast. Though I do think the show could benefit from more diversity (i.e. more characters of color, more LGBTQ+ representation), the show does a MUCH better-than-average job of addressing modern co-parenting challenges.
For example, main character Maddie (played by JoAnna Garcia Swisher) grapples with her new reality as a single mom, co-parenting with her philandering ex, Bill (played by Chris Kline), and Bill's pregnant mistress, Noreen (played by Jamie Lynn Spears). What I appreciated about the dynamic, here, was that they didn't hide the way that Maddie's desire to peacefully co-parent was often at odds with her still-fresh wounds of divorce. Many times, she confronted Bill or Noreen's parenting decisions (frankly) a little too aggressively, and I often found myself thinking, "Girl, you need to see a therapist, because you cannot let that stuff influence your kids' relationship with their dad." But that's actually a good thing!
Because, think about it: these are thought-provoking, important conversation topics in a blended family. What is each parent's responsibility in a co-parenting arrangement? How does the parents' behavior make the kids feel? What could these characters have done differently to minimize conflict? And how do you know when it's time to ask for help? While there were certainly a lot of moments where I thought, "Yeesh, that's definitely not a productive way to talk to your ex," I also enjoyed that they didn't portray life like it falls into place easily. In fact, what I loved about this show was that (like any real human being, and especially me) the characters didn't always get it right. As a parent watching the show with her child, I really appreciated that Sweet Magnolias gave us so many opportunities to discuss how we would have handled the characters' situations, both what we related to, and what we would have done differently.
Yes, my daughter and I were thoroughly enjoying this comforting (although somewhat predictable) show, and by the 5th or 6th episode of the 10-episode season, we were both settling into it quite nicely. We liked it so much that we decided to binge the last few episodes yesterday, and finish the season.
And that's where things went wrong.
BIG SPOILERS are going to happen now, because some stuff went down, and I have some feelings about it.
In the last ten minutes of the season finale, an indeterminate number of the main characters' kids get into a bad rollover car accident. Like, "paramedics remove an unconscious kid on a stretcher" bad. This utterly unexpected "WTF?!" moment gave me major anxiety. This was "my throat has dropped all the way to my butt" suspense, the likes of which this show had never before provided.
My daughter and I watched that ending and were both screaming, "WHAT?!?! WHO'S IN THE CAR?!? WHAT JUST HAPPENED?!" And, of course, the episode faded to black, and now we are left in the agony of waiting for season 2.
WHAT. A. CLIFFHANGER.
I am SHOOKETH, y'all.
So given the fact that this show has given me heart palpitations, I'm going to need some time to fully digest this information. While I process, I can at least tell you the following about Sweet Magnolias
It is definitely worth watching with your idealistic tween, if she is interested in romcom-type entertainment that centers on family. While parts of it are comfortingly predictable, the characters are very human, and the conflicts provide excellent talking points with your kids. And the end of the first season pulls you in with the kind of cliffhanger that makes it impossible to go on living your life like a normal human being from now on. I can't just go to my podiatrist while Kyle may or may not make it, or while Annie and Tyler might still be trapped in that car. I need details, y'all!
Overall, highly recommend for good binge-worthy girl time television. Especially with your daughters. By the way, this is the family-friendly version of my review of Sweet Magnolias. Stay tuned for the TV-MA breakdown of the opinions I did NOT share with my kid, because this show did Noreen DIRTY, and I have to talk to someone about this.