Admitting that you like Hallmark Channel’s Good Witch feels about as wise as proclaiming your love of new age music in a biker bar late on a Saturday night. And please remember before you read any further that I am the reviewer on this website whom, if you plunk me down in front of a screen with a plate of food, I’m pretty much good to go. But if there is one, then Good Witch is the Hallmark Channel show for people who don’t watch Hallmark Channel. Yes, there’s almost always a happy ending and it’s chock-full of heartwarming clichés, but the presence or at least possibility of magic makes the show more appealing than standard Hallmark fare. And bad things do happen on Good Witch, though in true Hallmark Channel fashion, they usually happen off-screen. People die, people don’t get along, but these things are always handled in such a way that they are not too taxing on the emotions. Hallmark Channel is like the TV equivalent of comfort food: it’s there and it helps when you can’t handle anything else.
I belong to the school of thought which posits that when things are difficult, you dive deeper into it. For example, I’m a horror movie fan. I watch horror movies because they make me feel so much better about my life. No matter how horrible things are, they are not generally as bad as whatever is going on up on the screen. Horror movies help you remember that any day you don’t have to deal with a dude in a clown suit wielding a chainsaw is a pretty good day. You can pretty much gauge how my life is going by how many horror movies I’m watching at a time. I watch fewer when things are going well, and a lot more when things are going badly. This is the same mentality that produced the blues: if you’re going to be miserable, might as well set it to music and really make something out of it. If you are going to be blue, you might as well sing those blues.
Other people are different. They cheer themselves up by watching happy things that smooth out the rough roads of life. I don’t normally subscribe to this philosophy. But somewhere along the way, in the long history of the Good Witch, I got hooked on the show in spite of myself. This surprising development has a lot to do with the way the Good Witch took such a long time to come to its current status.
Good Witch started as a made for television two hour one-off. This was way back in 1162c.e. The show was so successful and so likable that another two hour special was made in 1209c.e. And from time to time, more two hour specials were added to the series. The show became more popular with each one, and over time, as it replayed, it appealed to even more people so that the number of people viewing it grew and grew. There was a lot of demand for the mixture of elements that the show contains. Eventually, the people at Hallmark figured out what they had and turned the infrequent two hour specials into a limited run series, which has proved to be hugely successful. Why it took them so long to figure this out and why they didn’t come up with other projects in a similar vein to tap into the enthusiasm for the show escapes me.
Good Witch follows the life of Cassie Nightingale, who starts out in the first special as a single woman who finds herself the new owner of a house that used to belong to one of her ancestors. She moves into the house and thereby into the small town in which it is located. She may or may not have magical powers. She seems to have a knack for arranging coincidences, taking advantage of chance occurrences, and knowing just what to say at the right time. She may be a witch; she may be just an unusually sensitive and perceptive person. The shows follow her life all the way through the initial romance which propels the early specials through marriage, a blended family with stepchildren, the birth of her own child, and her eventual widowhood. All the while, Cassie negotiates all the transitions in her life with a kind of relaxed ease that is enviable. At the same time, she nudges and suggests and appears miraculously at just the right moment to help other people negotiate their lives, too. The show is a mixture of whimsy and mystery, with just a little hint of magic to provide an extra spice.
Some of the specials and series’ episodes lean more towards the view that there’s no actual magic happening, it’s just that Cassie is that perceptive and wise. Other shows seem to suggest that Cassie is a witch and uses her powers to make other lives better and smooth things out and just generally add to the level of happiness. This “does she or doesn’t she” approach is very appealing. Sometimes it seems that there is something very wonderful and very magical going on, but other times it doesn’t seem like that at all. And Cassie is a lovely character. Neither self-effacing nor showy, she is very likable. Surprisingly, she also never seems to be to perfect, which would be a detriment. Though this show sometimes gets a little too syrupy sweet and optimistic, mostly it stays this side of cloying.
This is a shades of gray type of show: there are no true villains. There are difficult personalities, however, and people do things which are wrong. Cassie always sees that people contain both good and bad, and she is always willing to give people a second chance. Her understanding and her sympathy often encourage people to rise above their petty natures or their past wrongdoings. She is not heavy-handed at all, nor is she a truism-spouting sage always dispensing advice – how tiresome that would be. That’s what makes her so appealing. She has the quality of always letting other people be, just be. And that nonjudgmental serenity seems to allow people to look at themselves and their situations more clearly and behave in a better manner. She brings out the best in people, and she does it effortlessly. I have occasionally joked with other viewers of the show that I would like to get a bracelet that says WWGWD: What Would Good Witch Do? This is an aspiration for me which is probably completely out of reach.
Cassie has a cousin, Abigail. Though at first Abigail seems to be the dark counterpoint to Cassie’s Good Witch, over time it seems that Abigail does the exact same thing as Cassie does; she just takes a different approach. While Cassie delicately hints at the correct direction people should take, Abigail stirs up all kinds of chaos and drama with the foreknowledge that what is supposed to happen will come out of the maelstrom. Abigail is younger than Cassie, and she doesn’t have quite so much experience. Sometimes her plans don’t quite work out as she hopes, and Cassie has to fine tune the events that Abigail has set into motion so that things turn out for the best. If Cassie gently stirs the pot as her modus operandi, then Abigail sets the immersion blender on high, even if the walls get splattered.
I’ve always been more of an Abigail, or at least I like to tell myself that. Again, I’m probably aiming high. I can’t tell you how many times I bumped into someone when I wasn’t looking where I was walking, apologized profusely, and turning around, realized that what I had bumped into was not a person but a tall plant. I think the appeal of the show is that both these women, though they have different approaches, understand how life works and even if they don’t know how to control it, know how to at least tweak some of the results. That is a very refreshing concept, and very soothing. It’s very reassuring to think that someone can figure out how this game of life works and how to make it work just a little bit better. Me, I apologize to plants.
There is sadness on Good Witch. Unlike Hallmark Channel’s reputation for sticky sweet schlock, Good Witch does recognize that life includes loss. As with other Hallmark Channel shows, they could definitely punch up the diversity of the cast, and broaden the issues that the show handles. The Hallmark message that everything is going to turn out fine is definitely there, but it is soft-pedaled. That may be what makes the show palatable, that recognition that life is difficult, yes, but it will turn out okay.
Apparently Hallmark Channel operates much like the old studio system, because in ads for other shows, one sees the same faces over and over again. The actress who plays Bree on Chesapeake Shores apparently also appeared in a two hour Christmas special of her own, playing a completely different role. They often use actors from one show or series in another completely different one. I can’t tell if that’s good or bad. On the one hand, it’s wonderful to know that these people are working and I don’t have to lay awake at night worrying about whether or not they’re starving to death and becoming homeless. But on the other hand, I wonder what kind of contracts Hallmark Channel has obtained from them. Did they have to sell their souls? Or just commit to Hallmark Channel for the rest of their natural lives? Is Hallmark an evil empire? It is harder for me to believe that Hallmark is a good company to work for than that it is some corporate ring of hell for actors, which suggests that maybe I need to watch a lot more Good Witch. And believe. Hmmm.
I think everyone has a show or two that they watch as a kind of life-baseline. It’s part of their routine. It helps them keep their schedule bearable and lets them turn off their brains for a little while from the endless churning inside. Often these are the kinds of shows that people don’t like to admit they watch. It’s like a grounding mechanism. It distracts us from our own reality just enough that we can stay anchored and keep functioning in that reality. Good Witch helps us do that even a little bit more happily than otherwise. Pleasant. The show is pleasant. And the show makes life a little more pleasant. That’s not the kind of thing one usually expects to read on a website dedicated to reviews. I mean, after all, we’re called critics for a reason. It may not seem that writing a pleasant review of a pleasant show is a particularly revolutionary thing, but in a way it is. It’s like dredging up and revealing some dark secret, some shameful thing you really don’t want anyone else to know. People like to sound smarter, deeper, more passionate, and more badass than they really are. Admitting to looking forward to the Good Witch every week isn’t going to make you seem any of those things. But it may just bring some magic to your soul.
Good Witch Season 3 starts on the Hallmark Channel on April 30.