The Hallmark Channel might not be the first place you think of when it comes to Halloween viewing--though their seasonally themed fare is renowned--but the network is home to one of the longest running and sprawling supernatural franchises in television history. And despite its prevalence and popularity over the past 12 years you've probably never heard of it.
The Good Witch began life as a made-for-TV movie in 2008 starring Catherine Bell as the titular heroic magic practitioner, Cassie Nightingale, and has since spawned six sequels and an ongoing TV show that's about to hit its seventh season. So what makes The Good Witch so beloved? And why has it been ruling the Hallmark waves for over a decade? It's probably to do with the way the creators center sweet family drama with just a touch of witchcraft. Plus, there's the fact that it's led by the lovely Bell who plays the central witch with an easy charm. Make no mistake, this is a magically saccharine series which might make the more bitter among you gag, but its made-for-TV origins and success make it an intriguing addition to the B-movie landscape.
Often thought of as solely the domain of bad action movies or blockbuster rip-offs--The Asylum's movies are the kings of those, anyone remember Transmorphers?--female-led B-movies are alive and well on both Hallmark and Lifetime. The latter focuses more on thriller and genre fare, predominantly written and directed by women, and honestly makes some legitimately great stuff. Whereas Hallmark's made for TV offerings fit into a smaller and safer box, they're still pumping out original movies on a regular basis that are watched by millions of eager viewers.
Hallmark has built their brand on cozy takes on female-led stories, no matter what those stories might be. The average viewer might be surprised by just how many sweet, cozy, and often cooking or book club themed murders occur on their channels each weekend. Good Witch follows that trend, set in the generic and fictional Middleton, USA, which is--if we go by the second movie--located in DuPage County, Illinois. Following the adventures of Cassie Nightingale, a witch who depending on where you watch from is either suspected and despised or loved by her small town neighbors for her very subtle use of witchcraft. Her magic mostly centers on making natural medicines and herbal elixirs for her fellow Middletonians, as well as maybe being slightly psychic. Basically, whatever the narrative needs, Cassie's powers can deliver it.
The first The Good Witch movie followed Cassie as she moved into a notoriously haunted house and opened her magical herb shop. Think of Practical Magic without the A-listers and the death curse. Cassie's move inspires some of the town's gossips to believe that she's practicing black magic. Even though that sounds like it could go horribly wrong, it was actually the starting place for a romance that would run through the seven movie series between Cassie and local "good cop" Jake Russell (Chris Potter). One of the funniest things about the followup movies is how they exhibit some classic Hallmark tropes but just adjusted to include the fact one of the characters is a witch. The Good Witch's Garden sees Cassie attempt to turn her--once feared haunted house--into a charming bed and breakfast, which must be one of the Hallmark template screenplays as it happens so frequently in their films. The second film is also a key part of Good Witch lore as Cassie is accepted by the town's most powerful gossip and future mayor, Martha Tisdale. She also gets engaged to her police partner Jake during the climactic garden party. How sweet.
Quick proposals and unrealistic DIY projects are both regular Hallmark tropes, which likely enamored viewers to them despite the supernatural twist. The next movie, The Good Witch's Gift, is a Christmas-set farcical romp as Jake tries to arrange a wedding for himself and Cassie--who now owns a popular boutique--only to fall foul of many-a-troublesome situations. Of course, it all shakes out so the nuptials can take place on Christmas Day! The fourth movie in the series centers on family, with Cassie now a stepmother to Jake's children and her badly behaved witchy cousin turning up out of nowhere. The fifth takes on the strain of becoming a high powered politician and a mother at the same time as Cassie becomes mayor. The sixth recycles the conflict from The Good Witch's Gift as Jake tries to throw Cassie a party. And the seventh and final film focuses on Cassie planning a wedding! So many parties!!
In a way, the Good Witch series works as an interesting microcosm into the tropes and stories that Hallmark chooses to tell. Each movie takes one of the standalone narratives they'd usually focus on--small business woman tries to make a new start, a newcomer shakes up a small town, the struggles of balancing motherhood and business, a low level crime wave occurs and has to be solved--and wraps it up with a supernatural bow. That's for better and for worse because as charming and cheesy as a Good Witch series can be, it also suffers from the same core issues as all of Hallmark's programming, which have extended into the TV show too.
Hallmark movies are incredibly white. They center white families, white towns, and often play into dodgy ideas of a "better time," which are as fictional as Hallmark's creations. The Good Witch also falls into this trap. Just like pretty much every other Hallmark property, it doesn't feature any relationships that aren't hetrosexual and any characters that aren't cis. There is a shocking lack of anyone other than white leads and white townspeople. But my hope is that will change as Hallmark recently seemed to respond to these long held critiques with leadership and (a little) more diversity in their upcoming holiday lineup. Seeing as The Good Witch is about the idea of the outsider and (sometimes) being oppressed for being different, it feels like a shame that this wasn't one of the first places Hallmark rectified their record. But as the network pulled--and hesitantly reinstated--a commercial with a same sex couple kissing last year, I'm hardly surprised it took so long.
If you can take that into consideration but still want to explore this massively successful female-led franchise--we all need some cheery cheese this year--then five seasons of The Good Wife are currently streaming on Netflix. You need to have the Hallmark Movies app to enjoy the many, many parties of the Good Witch movies, though. With an already announced seventh season headed to Hallmark soon, the Good Witch train shows no sign of stopping. Let's just hope they take advantage of its huge following to reimagine what magic looks like on Hallmark.
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