The inherent challenges associated with producing a first original series for Hallmark Channel that adheres to its movies’ soft-focus profile are readily apparent in the early chapters of “Debbie Macomber’s Cedar Cove,” featuring Andie MacDowell as a judge in an idyllic town where a new arrival is chided for locking his car. Creating drama within a place where very little happens represents a tall order, and while some will no doubt view this as a refreshing tonic from sex and violence elsewhere, it’s the video equivalent of that smooth-jazz station you program into the car but never listen to.
Adapted from Macomber’s novels (which have already provided the foundation for three successful Hallmark movies), the two-hour premiere introduces MacDowell as Judge Olivia Lockhart, who presides over a Washington state courtroom where common sense and chewy goodness are every bit as important as analyzing the law. Tempted by the prospect of an appointment to the federal bench in the opener (and let’s be honest, it’s not titled “Debbie Macomber’s Seattle”), Olivia also begins a flirtation with the new newspaper editor, Jack Griffith (soap alum Dylan Neal), who jokes about the town being Mayberry.
Jack has private reasons for landing just this far off the beaten track, while Olivia must also fret over her grown daughter Justine (Sarah Smyth), who is romantically involved with an older, wealthy land developer, Warren (Brennan Elliott), which is about as close to conflict as the show comes. In the second hour, Warren’s plans to tear down an old lighthouse yield a strong pushback from the citizenry, and leave Olivia caught squarely in the middle.
To be fair, “Cedar Cove” isn’t intended to rival the current crop of ambitious cable dramas, but rather to offer a distinct alternative to them. As MacDowell said in an interview with the New York Times, “There’s not a lot of light on television,” adding that Hallmark wants its viewers to “relax and feel good.”
That’s about right, but there’s still a distinction to be drawn between “light” and “weightless,” which is roughly where this new show registers — in part because the Olivia-Jack relationship is the only aspect with any resonance.
“God, I miss the ’60s,” an old hippie exults during the show’s second hour. In TV terms, so does this series — just not the elements of it to which he’s referring. And while the audience for Hallmark’s movies indicate there is a place for that sensibility, dramatically speaking, visiting “Cedar Cove” feels like a dead end.