Elizabeth Thatcher always dreamed of helping students in struggling western America towns, but when she arrives in Coal Valley, she realizes that her privileged eastern life has not prepared her for the task at hand. Recently hit with the tragedy of the local mine collapsing and killing most of the men in town, the survivors, mostly widows, are still reeling and trying to come to grips with their new lives. Elizabeth is tasked not only with teaching children who just lost their fathers but also with adapting to the new unfamiliar and rugged surroundings that stand in stark contrast to how she grew up. She finds solace in her friendship with Abigail Stanton, the strongest of the widows, who is determined to bring the mine owner to justice for the death of her husband and son. Elizabeth’s life is also complicated by her budding relationship with local Canadian Mountie Jack Thornton, who has been sent to investigate the nature of the mine collapse. Elizabeth, Abigail, and Jack must not only grapple with the challenges in front of them, but must also discover that love is not what you expect at first.
Production Quality (2 points)
It’s definitely about time that someone started making good Christian television series. There’s no better way to start than to adapt from a talented Christian author with established novel series. As far as production goes, the first season of When Calls the Heart has meager beginnings but a lot of good honest and raw material. The camera work is professional, including good angles and video quality. For the most part, in a break with previous habits of Michael Landon Jr. and his crews, the costuming is mostly realistic to the time period and setting. The setting and surroundings are realistic, even if the sets are somewhat limited. The musical score is just average. The editing needs some work, since there are unnecessary rabbit trails, but this is to be expected of these sorts of TV shows. The main point is that for a pilot season in mostly uncharted territory, season one was mostly a production success. With a few small things tweaked, it could have been perfect.
Plot and Storyline Quality (2 points)
Though season one slightly departs from the original plot structure crafted by Janette Oke, it is not a major mistake at this point. The overall plotline stays mostly faithful to Oke’s original purposes. Within the overarching plot, there are multiple subplots, as expected from a TV show, some of which are quickly resolved and others of which are intriguing. Throughout this season, the main characters—Elizabeth, Jack, and Abigail—are fairly well developed through witty and believable dialogue. The circumstances and events that the characters experience are realistic. In the end, this section is held back from being, once again, by a host of small issues, such as underdeveloped or stereotypical supporting characters and subplots not reaching their full potential. Even with this, the plots are very interesting watch and the end of the season makes the viewer want more. In short, Season 1 ended on a high note and left the door open for greater things to be achieved.
Acting Quality (2 points)
The cast of Season 1 is a mixture of professional and semi-professional. For the most part, the actors and actresses deliver their lines well and demonstrate believable emotion. Unfortunately, some of the supporting cast leaves something to be desired and the main cast does not live up to their full potential. As is the case with the remainder of the season, small issues plague the acting and keep it from being its best. But despite these small problems, the cast shows great potential for future seasons.
Continuity Quality (3 points)
When it comes to within-season continuity, Season 1 achieves a perfect score. The driving purpose of the season is to discover the truth behind the mine disaster, and this is not wavered from. Character arcs are both static and dynamic, a perfect balance. By the end of the season, it feels like the characters are different than they were at the beginning, without compromising personality traits. This should be the goal of continuity. Season 1 sets the standard for continuity quality.
When Calls the Heart, Season 1 has almost everything we can ask from a pilot season: above average characters, intriguing plotlines, realistic surroundings, a professional cast, and a driving purpose. Small alterations to plot and\or character quality would have changed everything for Season 1 and would have made it Hall of Fame, something to truly be proud of. But even as it is, Season 1 is enjoyable and will forever be a landmark achievement in the history of Christian TV shows and series. It created anticipation of another season and proved that Christian shows can be quality.
Final Rating: 9 out of 14 points