Love in Fairhope
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A hybrid docuseries and romance drama, Love in Fairhope follows five generations of women navigating the twists and turns of love in a small, coastal Alabama town where “your dating app comes up empty after two swipes.”
While the main players are Fairhope locals, the show is produced by Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine, which has turned out hits like Where the Crawdads Sing and The Morning Show. Actress Heather Graham (Boogie Nights, Austin Powers) lends her silky voice to the narration.
Love in Fairhope promises to be “where fantasy and reality collide,” and it makes good on that, giving real-life stories a fairytale treatment. Graham’s narration gives a storybook feel to the show, with the affect and style of one of Reese’s Book Club novels. It’s wistful and all-knowing, dropping us in the middle of these women’s lives — where they have histories, hopes, and years-long romances already kindling. With no talking heads taking us out of the narrative, it’s easy to dissolve into the world of Fairhope.
We’re first introduced to Abby, who just moved back to Fairhope from New York City because things “didn’t work out there.” She’s in the midst of a frustrating situationship with Trevor, who always seems to have someone on the back burner. Then we meet Mya Jo, a sparky college girl back for the summer, and Fairhope’s twice-crowned homecoming queen in the midst of a hometown love triangle. Then there’s LaShoundra, a former pastor’s wife in the middle of a divorce, putting up a brave face for her community. Her storyline is difficult and honest, and thus sometimes a tough contrast to Abby and Mya Jo’s low-stakes goings-on, which take up most of the airtime.
The first episode centers around the Magnolia Ball, the event of the season where there’s always news about who is going with whom. There are shades of Bridgerton in the show’s dedication to the societal goings-on of a small community, with a wise narrator guiding us through the gossip. At the ball, we meet a worthy addition to the cast, town matriarch Miss Claiborne, who at age 76, has attended every Magnolia Ball since its inception. While offering plenty of cigarette-tinged southern witticisms, she’s also the star of her own love story, learning how to move on after her husband of fifty-five years passed. Finally, there’s Olivia, a woman from “Fairhope royalty” who broke rank, had kids on her own, and is now discovering a romance with her longtime crush, Tori. Together they navigate queer love in the Bible Belt. There’s a relatability to each of their storylines, and a nice range of perspectives, from early twenties naivete to motherhood to septuagenarian wisdom.
The town itself is a worthy focal point, serving the perfectly idyllic setting for its characters to float between backyard barbecues and surf lessons on the beach. It’s full of beautifully captured, picturesque moments out of a Hallmark film, from verdant fields to tractor wheels to shirtless country hunks. This emphasis on style can sometimes make conversations feel somewhat stilted, as real life can rub up against a fantasy feel, but as the players warm up to the cameras, and the audience warms up to the tone, much of the weirdness fades to the background. It’s a worthwhile experiment with the form of the reality show, eschewing high-octane fight scenes a la Housewives for the slow pace of a hot Alabama summer.
With true stories in the style of a lush romantic drama, the show unfolds like a real-life Sweet Magnolias. At its best, it feels like quietly eavesdropping on a quintessential small town, with plenty of earned drama to keep you tuned in.
Introduce it to your friends who love The Bachelor–they might find it a fun break from form. Also a great inter-generational watch for visiting family on a cozy rainy day.
Musician and mogul Jimmy Buffett spent part of his childhood in Fairhope. Someone should ask Miss Claiborne if they ever crossed paths.