The latest network to enlist big-screen talent and muscle its way into the original scripted-series business, Hallmark Channel premieres on Saturday its adaptation of Debbie Macomber's bestselling Cedar Cove novels. It's called "Debbie Macomber's Cedar Cove," presumably to avoid any confusion among the author's built-in fan base.
There is, for example, absolutely no potential crossover with fans of the similarly named "Hemlock Grove," though it is set in the kind of small rocky Northern coastal American town other authors do tend to fill up with vampires (Stephen King to the East, Stephenie Meyer to the West). But "Cedar Cove" is content to chronicle smaller, more domestically quotidian doings, most of which revolve in some way around Judge Olivia Lockhart, played by the always lovely Andie MacDowell.
Firm but fair, independent but still a girl at heart, Olivia spends the first half of the pilot contemplating a federal judgeship that tempts her to leave Cedar Grove and its close-knit citizenry. In the end, concerns about her daughter (Sarah Smyth) and her recently divorced best friend (Teryl Rothery) — not to mention the appearance of Jack (Dylan Neal), the handsome new editor of the local paper — convince her to stay.
Because Cedar Cove is just that kind of place.
The second half of the two-hour pilot, and subsequent episodes, deal with the kind of small town uproar once indicated by the appearance of a pool table in your community. A local developer wants to tear down the lighthouse; an apparently indigent man collapses, leaving a literal key to his past; young-adult children try the patience of their loving parents and vise versa, and all the while a local radio show host offers counsel and advice that act as an inspirational voice-over.
It's pointless to deny that "Cedar Cove" has a very high "paint-drying" factor, but it's very pretty paint, professionally applied. Rothery is particularly good and MacDowell is working very much within her comfort zone here, radiant and resonant.
And amid all the noise and haste of modern television, there is something to be said for going placidly. While IFC and Sundance, History and soon even Discovery duke it out with gritty "prestige" hopefuls, Hallmark remains true to its brand, offering a frank and unapologetic alternative. All is not tea and scones in Cedar Grove (though both are readily available); biggish issues will be dealt with, but with hope rather than hysteria.
Despite a certain built-in B & B preciousness, "Cedar Cove" evokes certain splendid shows of another time and place, including the late-great "Family" and the longtime Irish hit "Ballykissangel." And while any new antihero drama has to elbow its way through a pretty big crowd to get to the bar, a show examining midlife romance and the gentle undercurrents of small town life, however idealized, pretty much has the room to itself.
When: 8 and 9:45 p.m. Saturday
Rating: Not rated