Dolly’s Heartstrings review: The good, the bad, and the occasionally cringey

Heartstrings - Jolene

Image courtesy of Netflix

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When Dolly Parton’s “Heartstrings” series premiered on Netflix, I streamed all 8 episodes in a single night. That’s right, I spent the equivalent of a workday watching Netflix. Don’t judge me.

The Appalachian queen herself introduces each episode from her namesake park, Dollywood, offering viewers a background to each song. This in itself is a bit exciting because, I don’t know about you, but just seeing Dolly in Dollywood is a treat. I’m that annoying person beside you nudging your arm and whispering – “I’ve been there! I’ve walked on the same ground as Dolly!”

Overall though, each episode makes you feel like you’re watching a slightly edgier, sometimes cringier, version of a Hallmark movie. (I don’t believe “shit” makes it into very many Hallmark movies, but I haven’t seen them all to verify this claim). 

My favorite episode was probably “Jolene,” partly because it’s one of my favorite songs but also because Dolly had the biggest presence in that episode. She is seemingly less present as the series goes on, but we get it — she’s a busy woman.

The acting is overall good, minus the occasional fake southern accent, and the series has some well-known actors sprinkled in. But the script itself is just plain cringey at times, like the line “I’m gonna be instagramming the shit out of this whole weekend!” from the episode “Two Doors Down”. I never know if lines like these are intended to appeal to the millennials or make fun of them, but either way, it falls flat.

Heartstrings - Two Doors Down
Courtesy of Netflix

But it’s not just the lines. Sometimes it just comes down to the weird behavior of our characters. For example, a wife who confronts her husband while on a roller coaster of having an affair. Cause, why not have a serious conversation with someone who’s locked in place and forced to shout at you in response?

Or the mom who continues to argue with her son even after being told Dolly Parton herself is downstairs doing a performance. Was that just me? I mean, sure, they eventually watched the show, but I don’t care what else is going happening. If Dolly is in the house, that’s where I’d be.

It’s not all bad. There are a few good lines too, including a classic boob joke from Dolly. “Don’t you go judgin’ her, though,” says Babe (Dolly) in the first episode. “That’s not why we burned our bras in the ‘70s. And believe me, mine burned for 3 days!”

Heartstrings - Jolene
Courtesy of Netflix

I even caught myself tearing up a bit during the episode “Cracker Jack”. (Dammit, Cracker Jack, why did you have to go after that snake?)

Here’s the thing: Yes, it is cheesy, but yes, it can also be enjoyable for Dolly fans. It almost feels like reading a good book and then watching the movie. If you loved the song, you may like the interpretation. But don’t get too excited — the “book” (aka song) is better.

A couple of times during the series, I caught myself making connections and speculations. For example, Dolly mentions that “dog” is God spelled backwards in the intro to “Cracker Jack,” and this is also something she mentions in the Dolly Parton’s America podcast. Dolly said her dog jumped up on her bed when she was having suicidal thoughts during a dark period in her life, and she interpreted the dog as a sign. In the series, the dog saves the girls from a snake. Was Cracker Jack the dog that saved Dolly?

There’s also a scene in “Down From Dover” where a teacher is getting in trouble for not putting her hand over her heart during the Pledge of Allegiance because she’s concerned about the Vietnam War and doesn’t agree with the current political climate. I caught myself wondering if it was a nod to modern-day controversies such as the NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem. But if we’re trying to analyze Dolly’s political beliefs, good luck, because she famously and intentionally keeps her views close to the chest.

One message is clear. This series is about love, hope, acceptance and faith. “Hope and love are the greatest forces there are,” Dolly says in the “Down From Dover” episode.

So, if you’re in the mood for some cheese, and your significant other is out for the night so he/she can’t make fun of you for what you’re watching, go ahead and indulge. Just don’t overshoot your expectations.

What was your favorite episode? Let us know in the comments!

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