‘Heartstrings’ struggles to live up to its name

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The show may be called “Heartstrings,” but don’t expect your own to be tugged at while watching Netflix’s new series. The anthology show based on Dolly Parton songs was hokey and poorly written with annoying characters and odd plot lines.  

The premise of “Heartstrings” is that each episode is the story of one of Dolly Parton’s hit songs: Among other hits, there’s “Jolene,” an alternative narrative of the seductive bank teller who once flirted with Dolly’s husband. One episode recreates “Down From Dover,” the story of a pregnant girl who waits for her lover to return from war to marry her. There’s also a retelling of “These Old Bones,” about a lawyer who represents a fortune teller in a court case.  

For the rest of the review, I’ll focus on “Jolene” as an example of the show’s shortcomings.  

“Heartstrings” was just as ridiculous as any Hallmark movie but had a little more mature drama. In “Jolene,” this was the questionable friendship between middle-aged, married Emily and the younger singer Jolene. Emily meets Jolene at the bar where Jolene works, and the two strike up a friendship when Jolene saves Emily from a creepy guy.  

Emily feels unnoticed by her husband lately and quickly opens up to the confident, gorgeous Jolene about how her and her husband’s sex life is lacking. Jolene encourages Emily to try something new, but Emily doesn’t trust Jolene after she finds out that Jolene has been sleeping with her friend’s husband. In fact, Emily then assumes that something is going on between her own husband and Jolene when she tracks his phone and finds him at Jolene’s bar.  

There were so many moments during “Jolene” when I cringed at characters’ dialogue or actions. I immediately questioned why Emily and Jolene would ever be friends and why Emily, who has a husband and child, would go so quickly to Jolene, a young woman in a very different stage of life, for advice. Their relationship felt contrived and unrealistic.  

Other cringey moments included watching Emily try to spice up her sex life through role playing a “90210” character, her husband’s unamused reaction and her husband’s subsequent whispering of the name “Jolene” in his sleep, as per the song lyrics.  

I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to feel toward each character, and I ended up not liking any of them. I wasn’t sure if we were supposed to be mad at Jolene for sleeping with a married man or want her to succeed on her way to stardom. Similarly, I felt bad that Emily felt unnoticed in her relationship but I didn’t like the way that she went about trying to fix that.   

The message of the episode was therefore confusing. I didn’t know what writers were trying to say about jealousy, confidence or equality in relationships. Was it ok for Jolene to sleep around and just do whatever she wanted, or was she (as she said in the show) not cheating on anyone but “cheating the wife as a woman?” Was Emily’s roundabout way of addressing her marital problems effective? 

Sometimes, when something is good, you just shouldn’t mess with it. “Heartstrings” overcomplicates Dolly Parton songs, adding in extraneous details that subvert the simple truth of the songs. If you really want to hear something touching, simply listen to Dolly’s actual music. 

Rating: 1/5 

Thumbnail photo courtesy of @netflixfamily Instagram.


Stephanie Santillo is a senior staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at stephanie.santillo@uconn.edu.

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