If there’s anything that’s been good to come out of quarantine, it’s that I was introduced to one of my new favorite shows: Sweet Magnolias.
The Netflix show was the perfect answer to my quarantine blues, introducing me to three amazing, strong, independent, outspoken women that had their own unique stories to tell. Through it all — the good, the bad and the downright disheartening — they had each other to lean on through it all.
But Sweet Magnolias was more than just our three leading Sweet Magnolias. There were a wonderfully diverse cast of characters, including the kids in Ty, Annie and Kyle, as well as the charming Erik Whitley that breathed life into this wonderful show.
And because I love this show so much, I decided to do a rewatch — especially now that Netflix has finally renewed Sweet Magnolias for a second season — complete with a review.
So let’s revisit the pilot of Sweet Magnolias, which introduced us to three strong, independent and vibrant women and their town of Serenity. Here are five things I learned from the pilot:
1. I want to live in a close-knit, small town like Serenity.
Let’s be honest, most of us want to live in a small town with a close-knit community. There’s a southern comfort about it that made the setting not just part of the story but a character in the story. Serenity is the kind of small town that you grew up in and still have the same friends — and even enemies — that you did as a kid. Where everybody knows everybody, which can be both a blessing and a curse.
And I was instantly enchanted by the town of Serenity, which funny enough also served as the town of Mystic Falls in Vampire Diaries. But that’s another story.
Watching the pilot for the first time, I wanted to be part of the town of Serenity. After watching the entire first season, I felt like a part of Serenity, which is part of the magic of the storytelling.
I also learned that I need a margarita night like the Sweet Magnolias. As Helen says: “There is not a problem in the world that can’t be solved without having a drink and a talk with the two of you.”
2. We need more shows with strong women supporting each other.
Let’s start with the obvious: We need more female-driven shows like Sweet Magnolias on television in general. But something that makes Sweet Magnolias so amazing is that these women — Maddie, Helen and Dana Sue — are middle-aged women that have lived a good chunk of life with a wealth of experience. And we get to see their stories play out.
From the start, I knew that Helen was my favorite of the Sweet Magnolias. Don’t get me wrong, I love them all. But there was something about Helen that just really spoke to me — and I wanted to protect her with everything in me. Even though she didn’t necessarily need protecting. She’s a badass lawyer and an amazing aunt. But no one has it perfect, even those that appear to be. Helen is successful when it comes to her career — she’s the best damn attorney in the state. But for her, she wants the family. She’s getting older and she wants a child, as she asked for advice for a fertility specialist.
There’s no doubt that Maddie is struggling more than the others when we begin this story. Her ass of an (almost) ex-husband, Bill, not only cheated on her with a younger woman but knocked said woman, Noreen, up and left Maddie and his family to do what’s right by Noreen. While Bill kept repeating that he wanted to do right by Noreen, I was struck by the fact that he had never done right by Maddie. Why wasn’t that something he was concerned about? Typical man. Typical ignorant, cheating-ass man. Obviously, Maddie isn’t doing well, much like her oldest son Ty. But Maddie keeps it together in front of others, something I certainly related to, only to let it all out when she was in the privacy of her room. The betrayal is hard to shake, but Maddie seemed determined from the start to keep strong not only for her family but for herself.
The thing I loved about this show immediately was that I could see myself in every one of these three main characters. While I’m not a badass chef like Dana Sue, I can certainly relate to her overworking ways to make sure things get done rather than ask for help. Dana Sue is also dealing with a split from her husband Ronnie, which at the time we don’t know what happened. But the split happened, which indicates it was something serious. While Dana Sue appears fine on the surface, that’s likely not the same deep down. That much was apparent from the pilot. Dana Sue is someone that keeps a protective shield over her heart and masks it with channeled frustration at times.
3. I wanted to know just as much about the kids as I did the adults.
This focal point of this show has always been and will always be the adults. But I knew from the moment I watched the pilot that I was as interested in seeing more from the teenagers as I was the three leading ladies. Which impressed me from the get-go.
Rewatching this episode, you start to notice things that you didn’t notice from the first couple times around. (Because, let’s be honest, I’ve already watched this series a couple times through before starting this rewatch.) And the pilot did a great job of illustrating the struggles that these teen characters were going to go through in this first season.
For Ty, it was clear from the start that his struggles were going to revolve around his anger stemming from his father’s infidelity and how it fractured his family. Being a teenager is hard enough without the entire town looking and talking behind your back. And that certainly doesn’t help one’s focus on the pitcher’s mound. As a child of divorce, I didn’t have to deal with it as a teenager like Ty (I was 3 years old). And everything is so much more heightened when you’re a teenager with all those hormones raging and emotions out of whack. And it’s safe to say that Ty is not handling it well. Even in the pilot, you could tell all that anger building up is going to explode at some point.
With Annie, we immediately saw that she is crushing on her best friend Ty. There’s nothing like teenage crushes and first loves that make for some amazing storytelling and drama. Especially when Ty’s younger brother Kyle is also crushing on an oblivious Annie, who can’t take her eyes off Ty. But Annie is also dealing with her parents separation, albeit in a much better way than Ty. Although, at this point, we didn’t know exactly what went down with Dana Sue and Ronnie. But Annie is left dealing with the tension between her and her mother, who is on a short fuse given the drama she’s dealing with at work. There’s nothing like mother-daughter teenage drama to bring you back to the good ol’ days.
Sometimes you can’t appreciate the breadcrumbs a show throws your way until you watch the pilot after watching the entire first season. Which is why it was so evident to me how invisible Kyle felt from the start. The first time around, it came off as Kyle was quiet and I didn’t make much of why. Then it hit me, everyone around him has been ignoring him. The classic middle child syndrome — you feel invisible — and Kyle is living it as a teenager. Whether it was Kyle fawning over Annie, who was fawning over his older brother, or Kyle’s dad walking straight by him to talk to Ty or even his mom focusing on Ty more because of the struggles he’s going through with their separation. Kyle just seems to be there without anyone to acknowledge him. Until Noreen comes around. Which makes perfect sense to me why Kyle gravitated toward her so quickly and why it hurt so much when she leaves later on in the season. She was the only one that paid attention to him, that made him feel like he wasn’t invisible, that he was important. And it breaks your damn heart.
4. Maddie and Cal were going to be a thing.
From the moment Bill Townsend appeared on screen, I knew I hated him. And I didn’t even know the full extent at that point. It was the way he was sitting — sulking in his chair, eyes trained on the table and not the woman whose life he’d ruined — that irked me as much as it did Maddie. Although I don’t think I’d have had as much control as Maddie did in that situation.
With Maddie’s marriage — and her family, who has to deal with the consequences — falling apart, it’s enough to make her breakdown. And it was clear that she needed a fresh start. She needed to stop fretting about that poor excuse for a man and find someone that will treat her the way she should be treated.
But while it felt too soon for Maddie to move on — as evidenced by her reaction in that divorce proceedings meeting — as soon as pretty boy Cal stepped on screen, I knew. I knew that he was the guy. He was going to be the one of pull her out of this.
The palpable chemistry and the small smiles made me wonder how their previous meetings had gone. If there had been any. Because Cal was instantly enchanted, and Maddie responded without even realizing it.
5. There were a diverse group of characters that I wanted to get to know better.
One thing that was clear from the start was that Sweet Magnolias was about more than just Maddie, Helen and Dana Sue. Sure, they were the focal point. But looking at all of the characters that were introduced around them in the pilot, I couldn’t help but want to get to know them better. Which, obviously, we did.
Let’s start with Erik freaking Whitley, who was sent by God to Serenity. Now, obviously I’m writing with previous knowledge of Erik, having already watched this season, but I remember that even after my first viewing of the pilot that I wanted more Erik. Not only is he gorgeous eye candy, but he was the antithesis of the arrogant Brad and I wanted Erik to get a chance to shine as Dana Sue’s new sous chef.
There were other characters that appeared in the pilot that we’d get to see more of later on, including Cal, Isaac, Miss Paula and Harlan. After my first viewing, I found myself hoping that we’d have plenty of time to get to know these secondary characters. And while we got to see more of them, it wasn’t enough. Thankfully, we’ve got a season 2 to look forward to.
- I’m just now noticing all of the magnolias in this episode — in the trees, on Maddie’s shirt, etc.
- I want a best friend like Helen, which is what I learned within the first three minutes of this show.
- The first mention of Ronnie, Dana Sue’s estranged husband, came in this pilot yet we didn’t meet him until the season finale. Which is a damn shame for us.
- Look, I love Chris Kline, but Bill’s southern accent is just bad.
- Is there anyone that didn’t know that Cal and Maddie were going to be a thing from their first scene?
- With all the focus on the adults, I knew the kids were going to be just as interesting in this series. Whether it’s Ty’s reaction to his father’s infidelity or Annie’s tension with her mother.
- I loved Erik Whitley from the moment he appeared on my screen.
- Leave it to a man to demean a woman because she’s higher than him, better than him. I’m looking at you, Brad.
- Awkward, thy name is Noreen picking up Bill’s kids from Maddie’s. And the car ride with Kyle.
- Everyone needs a margarita night with friends — it’s cathartic.
- Why is Ty sitting so far away from Annie and the other kids at church?
- Why don’t I hate Noreen? I feel like I should, but I don’t.
- We could all use a godmother like Helen, let’s be real.
- Even from the pilot you could tell Kyle feels invisible, ignored; something that comes into play later on in the season. It’s also why Kyle seems to migrate towards Noreen, who is the only one in his life that actually pays attention to him. He doesn’t feel invisible with her.
- Peggy seems sympathetic toward Noreen being an outcast in this situation.
- Ty’s anger towards his dad is palpable. Read the room, Bill.
- God gifted us Erik Whitley, let’s be honest. What. A. Man.
- Bill keeps saying he wants to do the right thing. But he already squandered that when he cheated on Maddie and knocked up Noreen.
- Although letting Maddie keep the family house is the best thing Bill did in this entire episode.
- I knew I wanted Helen and Erik to be a thing from the moment he shared his chicken pot pie with her. That man. Dear lord.
- While the pilot was far from the most exciting episode in this first season, it did the job and kept me coming back for more. And I’m thankful I did.
Stay tuned for the next installment of my Sweet Magnolias rewatch next Saturday.
Sweet Magnolias is streaming on Netflix and season 2 is coming soon.