‘Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings’ only works because it’s Dolly Parton
Only Dolly Parton could get away with “Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings.” That is, if Dolly herself didn’t appear in each episode, this show would be nothing more than Netflix’s attempt to corner the Hallmark feel-good movie market.
“Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings” consists of eight episodes with unrelated storylines all based on the most famous of Parton’s songs. Each episode explores a different aspect of family, friendship, love, loss or acceptance, and features Dolly’s own commentary on the history of each song’s creation and legacy.
The series’s first episode takes inspiration from famed song “Jolene” and reimagines the titular character (Julianne Hough, “Grease Live!”) as a struggling musician stifled by the traditions of a small town. The next story, “Two Doors Down,” has a similarly light, comedic tone and follows an estranged family as they each reveal personal secrets during a lavish New Year’s Eve wedding. Other than a few various petty conflicts, every loose end in these episodes ties up nicely and each have happy (albeit slightly unrealistic) endings.
While the opening episodes of “Heartstrings” are framed as lighthearted comedies, the series becomes more of a melodramatic tragedy than the average holiday heartwarmer as it progresses. “If I Had Wings” and “Cracker Jack” delve into Parton’s sadder tunes and depict fractured families or friend groups torn apart by terminal illness or addiction. Though some moments are genuinely emotional, most of these episodes feel engineered to produce tears rather than to elicit the emotions so central to Parton’s music.
Despite its best attempts to connect with what makes Dolly Parton an icon, “Heartstrings” feels too commercial and hollow in comparison to its source material. With vapid and occasionally ridiculous dialogue, characters closely resemble two-dimensional archetypes employed to easily move stories forward. Even the storylines, which consistently rely on plot twists, seem too simplistic and trite to get invested in.
Without the compelling narratives of Parton’s original lyrics, “Heartstrings” fails to capture the heart of the country singer’s music. However, for all its faults, the show succeeds in capturing the fun of her storytelling. Dolly Parton has long been one of the kindest and truly positive musicians in American pop culture. Despite the cheesiest aspects of “Heartstrings,” the wholesome joy of the series is undeniable. Even with iffy writing and moments more worthy of eye rolls than tears, the show’s heart is in the right place.
Dolly’s personal involvement with each episode serves as the perfect reminder to the audience that her music is more about feeling than judging. Although “Heartstrings” tries its hardest to manufacture these feelings in abundance and loses out on some of her songs’ subtleties, the show still retains some of the sentiment in Parton’s lyrics.
“Heartstrings” is less focused on technical quality and devotes itself instead to being a comforting show for the holiday season. Without Dolly’s infectious personality, the show probably wouldn’t work. But if you love the Queen of Nashville enough to overlook the show’s flaws, “Heartstrings” is worth the watch.