With all the viewing options at your fingertips, it can be hard to discern what the best pick is. Each selection requires a time investment, especially when it comes to series. We’re here for you at Casting Networks with this installment of This or That, the series in which we review two new pieces of content. Keep reading for our take on Netflix’s new series Sweet Magnolias and Acorn TV’s Dead Still, with a recommendation on which to watch and which to set aside.
From its trailer, you might assume that the new drama series would be the perfect escape from current events. With a heavy dose of southern charm, Sweet Magnolias centers on three adult women whose friendship has been solidified by growing up together in the same small town. The trailer shows one of the friends from this tightknit group, Maddie, reeling as she tries to keep her head above water while going through a divorce. She realizes everything’s about to change and at one point utters the very relatable sentiment, “I’m holding it together by duct tape and happy thoughts, and I’m near out of both.” Viewers anxious about radical changes they’re experiencing during this time may have been tempted to look to the series for some encouragement. Though categorized as a drama, its trailer shows light and comedic moments. Unfortunately for Sweet Magnolias, the pilot delivers on neither its comedic elements nor its dramatic ones. Heavier scenes often fall into melodrama, and when attempts at humor are made, they usually feel forced. We’d hoped that names like JoAnna Garcia Swisher and Chris Klein might elevate the syrupy dialogue and tropes about small-town life that fill this series, but they unfortunately aren’t able to pull it off.
This comedy crime series may just be the fresh addition to your watchlist that you never knew you needed. In a world where film and TV seem stuck in the world of remakes, Dead Still is a fascinating new show. Viewers will find themselves immersed in 1880s Ireland during the Victorian era, a time in history when postmortem photography was all the rage. You read that right — families would pay memorial photographers to capture them on film with their recently-deceased loved one. The series focuses on Brock Blennerhasset (Michael Smiley), a photographer well-known for his postmortem shots. The strange profession inspires a number of quips and comedic moments that fill the pilot and are executed in a brilliantly dry manner. The pilot also introduces the series’ big mystery, which involves a string of murders that seem to be connected with Blennerhasset’s work. There are just the right amount of creepy moments that come with that plotline to push what is already a well-done comedy into a thoroughly fascinating show. Smiley displays well-executed character work as the mild-mannered man who photographs the dead, and his performance is matched by Kerr Logan, who plays his assistant Conall Molloy. Eileen O’Higgins shines as Blennerhasset’s outspoken niece, as does Aidan O’Hare with his portrayal of the detective whose work brings him to the postmortem photographer.
With incredibly strong performances from its cast and a fresh premise, Dead Still is the clear choice for those looking for a new comedy series for their watchlist. It finds humor during a strange period of history, which may resonate with viewers who’re experiencing the more nonsensical aspects of our current times. We’ll just reference the toilet paper shortage and leave it at that. So when looking for the perfect series to watch right now, rather than trying to find solace in a saccharine show like Sweet Magnolias, you can immerse yourself in a mystery crime series that packs in a lot of well-executed humor. Thanks to its fascinating subject material and talented cast, Dead Still is the clear winner of this round of This or That.