JoAnna Garcia Swisher is one of three "Sweet Magnolias" on Netflix. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo
LOS ANGELES, June 3 (UPI) -- Netflix viewers met the Sweet Magnolias on May 19 and made it the No. 1 new show on the streaming service. On Monday, star JoAnna Garcia Swisher was reeling from the overwhelmingly positive feedback from the show's fans.
The "Sweet Magnolias" are three best friends in South Carolina -- Maddie Townsend (Garcia Swisher), Dana Sue Sullivan (Brooke Elliott) and Helen Decatur (Heather Headley). Garcia Swisher said fans are telling her how they relate to her character's struggles and the show overall.
"I've shed a few tears of gratitude," Garcia Swisher told UPI in a phone interview Monday. "I'm normally not at a loss for words, but I am right now."
Maddie shares custody of her three children with her ex-husband, Bill (Chris Klein). Bill had an affair with Noreen (Jamie Lynn Spears) and married her when she became pregnant with his child. Garcia Swisher said some fans have told her they went through a divorce due to similar circumstances.
"That's just sort of a game changer," Garcia Swisher said. "When there's a new baby human that's about to come into the world and into the family, that definitely adds another layer."
Garcia Swisher made her TV debut on an episode of Superboy in 1992 when she was 13. She followed with roles on Clarissa Explains It All and Step By Step before joining the cast of the Nickelodeon series Are You Afraid of the Dark?
She played Reba McEntire's daughter for six seasons on the singer's sitcom Reba. Subsequent shows Welcome to the Captain, Privileged, Better With You, Animal Practice, The Astronaut Wives Club and Kevin (Probably) Saves the World only lasted one season each, though her role as Ariel, The Little Mermaid, on Once Upon a Time spanned several seasons.
"We've all been a part of really great shows that just aren't successful," Garcia Swisher said. "There's no real formula there and it's just a kind of magic in a bottle. I'm so grateful for all of it."
Sherryl Woods' world
Sheryl J. Anderson adapted Sherryl Woods' Sweet Magnolias books for television and asked Garcia Swisher not to read them before playing Maddie. The actor has since read three of the 11 novels and says Maddie represents Woods' creation faithfully.
"I didn't picture her any different than just me," Garcia Swisher said of reading about her character. "At her core, I feel like we are bringing to life a character that Sherryl Woods created."
Netflix recreated the fictional town of Serenity, S.C., in Georgia, where many productions film. Garcia Swisher grew up in Tampa, Fla., which is a bigger city than Serenity is portrayed as, but related to the fictional town.
"I definitely was raised in a very Latin home, but surrounded by Southern lifestyle," she said.
Regardless of population, Garcia Swisher said members of Southern communities tend to get involved in one another's lives, for better or worse. The downside is that everyone in town may have an opinion on Maddie's divorce.
The plus side is she has two friends in Helen and Dana Sue she can always count on. Garcia Swisher said she had instant chemistry with her co-stars.
"That doesn't happen very often," she said. "It doesn't mean that if it's a slower burn that you can't get there. It just happened really quickly for us in this instance."
They remained friends after wrapping Season 1. Garcia Swisher said she has had Zoom calls with Elliott and Headley for the past several months. When her father passed away on Nov. 9, Garcia Swisher said Elliott and Headley were there for her.
"I can't explain to you the level of showing up for me that they did in that moment," she said, choking up.
Where it left off
Sweet Magnolias gave Maddie a second chance at love with high school baseball coach Cal (Justin Bruening). The season finale saw Maddie at odds with both her boyfriend, and her oldest son, Ty (Carson Rowland).
"That whole episode for me, those were big pills for me to swallow," Garcia Swisher said. "If there's a Season 2, Maddie will have to make up for those reactions."
When Cal invited a baseball scout to see Ty pitch, Maddie rushed to judgment that he was interfering with her son. Garcia Swisher felt Maddie could have given Cal the benefit of the doubt.
"If Maddie really is trusting again, maybe she would have given Cal an opportunity to explain himself," she said. "She really just shut him down."
Ty became overexcited, thinking one scout could discover him and send him to the major leagues. He was ready to skip college for baseball, which naturally concerned his mother but Garcia Swisher identified with Ty.
When she was 19, Garcia Swisher moved from Tampa to Los Angeles. Her parents supported her decision, so she wishes Maddie had been more open-minded.
"I think her personal life really got in the way of being able to be a more reasonable parent in that moment," she said.
Garcia Swisher is married to MLB outfielder Nick Swisher. In real life, she believes in baseball dreams more than Maddie might.
"I know what that love looks like for a sport," she said.
Season 2 a mystery
The season finale culminated in the cast of characters arriving at the scene of an automobile accident. One of the victims is Maddie's son Kyle (Logan Allen). The identity of the second passenger remains a cliffhanger. Anderson told Swisher her plan is to make Netflix green-light a second season to find out.
"When I read the script, I was like. 'Sheryl, you would not be so awful to put two of my kids in that car, would you? Like, would you do that to me?'" she asked.
Garcia Swisher also hopes a second season gives Cal and Maddie a second chance.
"I hope they find their way back together again," she said. "I don't know that it's going to be an easy journey by any stretch of the imagination."
She is just as invested in her co-stars' stories as her own. Helen broke up with her love interest Ryan (Michael Shenefelt) because Ryan does not want to have kids. She'd previously had sparks with Erik (Dion Johnstone), a chef at Dana Sue's restaurant.
"Helen and Erik better get together," Garcia Swisher said. "That's all I'm saying. I need to see that come to life on television please."
Dana Sue's husband Ronnie (Brandon Quinn) sought reconciliation with her. Garcia Swisher is all for that, too.
"I'm really looking forward to seeing Ronnie and Dana Sue, how they've kind of come together in the end," she said.
Sweet Magnolias Season 1 is now streaming on Netflix.