This year, we’ve endured sadistic nuns, swarms of cockroaches, Instagram stalkers, and zombies frequenting strip clubs, but it was the Christmas Collab that just about broke us. Luckily, our health and happiness always comes before sticking strictly to a theme; and a TV series based on the songs of Dolly Parton seems like the most perfect reason to disrupt a monthly theme. Though, strictly speaking, the TV episode we watched this week is as close as you can get to a Hallmark Christmas movie without actually mentioning Christmas.
Heartstrings episode 1: “Jolene”
Inspired by the Dolly Parton song of the same name, Jolene is a flirty troublemaker whose insecurities attract men but ruin her female friendships.
Based on the classic Dolly Parton song, Jolene fully lives up to her reputation as a gorgeous, self-confident charmer who has a smile for every man she sees. After being fired from her day job at a bank, Jolene is looking forward to letting loose in her evening job at sleazy honky tonk bar Baby Blues.
Meanwhile, housewife Emily struggles to care for her preteen son, keep her marriage alive, and organize the community’s upcoming harvest festival. Looking for some spice in her life (and in lieu of the actual Spice Girls), Emily hears from her gossipy co-organizers about the sketchy bar and plans to meet husband Aaron there for date night.
When Aaron stands up Emily for date night (again), she intends to leave right away until friendly bartender Jolene convinces her to stay. An aspiring singer/songwriter, Jolene performs a duet with club owner Babe (none other than Dolly herself)–and she’s good! After Jolene saves Emily from a creepy bar patron, the two are friends for life. Emily is eager to stay in touch with Jolene and offers her a job teaching guitar to son Jed.
All the while, Jolene is having an affair with a married man. In fact, Jolene’s type seems to be complete scumbag, which has Babe worried. Abandoned by her mother as a child, Jolene is quite keen to avoid any sort of emotional attachment, opting instead to focus on her dream of moving to Nashville and making it big as a country music star.
Unlike most of her friendships with other women, Jolene’s relationship with Emily feels very easy and natural. Emily folds Jolene into the family, even though Aaron seems a bit too keen to spend time with the talented young singer with an encyclopedic knowledge of dad music.
With advice from Jolene, Emily attempts to make her love life more interesting. For her part, Emily asks Jolene to perform at the harvest festival–as long as the organizers approve. It’s at this fateful audition that Jolene recognizes her married lover, the husband of one of the women on the board. Disappointed when Jolene tells her the truth, Emily feels caught between her friendships with both women. Worse, Emily begins to feel paranoid that Jolene would be willing to cross the line and have an affair with her own husband, Aaron.
As the harvest festival approaches, Emily distances herself from Jolene and becomes increasingly convinced her husband is having an affair with her former friend. After being heckled during her performance, Jolene confronts Emily, making for the uncomfortably personal fight that can only happen between good friends who know each other well.
Is it too late for Emily and Jolene’s friendship to blossom?
3/5 Pink Panther Heads
I didn’t hate this; Dolly swanning in and dispensing words of wisdom every now and then was very welcome.
Based on this first episode, the series seems to be a condensed version of a Hallmark Channel movie. The obvious advantage to this approach is that the episodes are shorter than a film, thus avoiding the problem of a thin plot making the run time feel endless.
The plot here is a bit flimsy, but it’s enough to keep the hour interesting, and there are enough melodramatic twists and turns to entertain. And the emphasis on the friendship between Emily and Jolene may have been predictable to a fault, but it was a refreshing take on the song’s story. It’s a little aggravating to see Jolene feeling sorry for herself because she’s too attractive and charming, but this episode does touch on some of the truths behind female competition and the highs and lows of friendships between women.
What elevates this is the production values–the show looks and sounds good, and the cast works well with the material they have. Above all, the sassy presence of Dolly makes the first episode a good time, even if the story itself isn’t particularly memorable.