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Chris Medlin Explains the Mass Appeal of Netflix’s Hit Sweet Magnolias

Chris Medlin

Last year, I saw a series pop-up on Netflix: Sweet Magnolias. I immediately assumed it was a sequel to the classic film Steel Magnolias, so I clicked on it and started to watch. I quickly learned that Shelby, Ouiser, and Truvy were not making a comeback and that this show had its own set of adorable characters.

If you haven’t seen it, the show is what some might say a “lite read” — but in a good way. It doesn’t require you to think too hard or follow plots that twist and turn and cause confusion. It’s a simple show about a simpler life — with caveats — in a simple Southern town, Serenity, S.C.

I watched season 1 and asked myself some not-so-simple questions. Was the expenditure of all that time on the show worth it? Did I get anything out of it? Was I only watching because the three main women characters all had hunky boyfriends or exes? For a guy who loves to watch sports, why did it appeal to me and to millions of others?

When season 2 popped up this month I gave in and watched it. And I have no regrets. And I wasn’t the only one. It was Netflix's top show when it debuted.

The series stayed true to form, and in these days of inflation, Omicron, Russia, and the darkness of winter, the show was a bright, refreshing break from reality. I won’t give away any of the show’s storylines or secrets. Watch it for yourself and make your own judgments.

However, there was one plotline that intrigued me. Last year, a good-looking, biracial stranger, Isaac, came to town in search of his birth mother, who was supposedly from Serenity. The three main women characters all rallied to his support, and this season the character, Isaac, was able to find his birth mom, with one other surprise.

The character of Isaac is the breakout role for out actor Chris Medlin. He’s appeared on Broadway in Mean Girls and Diana, but the Netflix series has rocketed him to stardom.

I had the opportunity to catch up with Medlin about the show, his character, and the sometimes difficult task of finding birth parents.

When he popped up on Zoom, I told him my predicament. “I like watching sports, Chris, so why am I watching a show like this — and enjoying it?”

Medlin had a good laugh. “I think it’s very accessible to everyone. The concept of the show is based on the meaning of family, so it’s a family-friendly show,” he said. “There is some drama around the characters, but their stories are told in a nonoffensive way. I’ve also heard from others who were surprised that they were watching a show like this that they wouldn’t ordinarily watch. At its heart, the show is about Southern families and values, relationships, and community.”

Chris Medlin

I asked Medlin if those attributes applied to his personal background. “Yes, they do in so many ways,” he recalled. “I come from a small town in Tennessee, and it’s the same town that Dolly Parton was born in. In fact, my grandmother went to grade school with her. And just like the show’s Serenity, everyone in my hometown was always there for each other.”

Medlin told me that what he loves about the show is that there’s so much diversity among the cast. “You have people of color, women play the leads, there are gay characters. It’s a very inclusive show, and that’s a credit to the producers and writers.”

The series is based on a series of books; however, the character of Isaac was added by the show’s creators. “In the beginning, I had to build a life around Isaac,” Medlin said. “And this season, my role was really expanded, and my plotline about finding my birth parents was one of the major issues covered on the show.”

He added, “Isaac’s story is very common for so many who are from broken homes, have absent parents, or who were adopted and want to know who their birth parents are. So many people related to Isaac, and I was so surprised to hear from so many people who were also searching and wondering about their parents.”

Medlin said he could relate to the character of Isaac since he was raised primarily by his grandmother. “I have my own history of being from a small town and coming from a nontraditional family, so I could understand why people were sympathetic to Isaac’s character.”

Chris Medlin

Shifting gears, I wondered if Medlin agreed that one of the reasons people might be tuning into the show is because of the hunky men who reside in Serenity.

“Oh yes, I’m sure that doesn’t hurt,” he chuckled. “There’s a basketball scene with most of the guys, so I had to work on my basketball skills, which were pretty nonexistent. As we were shooting the scene, one of the producers said, ‘We have our sweet magnolias, and you guys will now be known as the sweat magnolias.’”

Finally, one of the mysteries of the show is whether Isaac is gay. Is he? I asked Medlin. “I don’t know, and I get the question a lot. In Isaac’s case, he had a massive challenge in front of him of locating his birth parents, and he did that in season 2. So I imagine in season 3 — if we are renewed — that the writers will delve into the more personal aspects of Isaac.”

Chris Medlin on set

Medlin said that since the show has become a big hit, he is starting to get recognized quite a bit in public. “It’s funny, I’m wearing a ball cap and mask, and people come to me and say, ‘Oh, my God, you’re on that show!’ I can’t believe they can tell it’s me with half my face covered up.”

I suspect that once the mask mandates are lifted, Medlin will be recognized on a more frequent basis. In the meantime, now that I’ve spoken to Medlin and have a bit more clarity about the show, I’m surprisingly looking forward to season 3 and more scenes with the “sweat magnolias.”

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