When Hope Calls, Season 1 (Series Review)

Related image
It’s like When Calls the Heart on an obscure streaming service!

Plot Summary

When Lillian and Grace, two orphan siblings, agreed to travel to a new town to run an orphanage, they had no idea what would be in store for them. Of course, they probably could have made an educated guess since they went from Hope Valley to a basic copy of this fantastical borough. This new town has equally important aspects as Hope Valley, such as the obligatory town doctor, the expected general store, and of course, a predictably hair-gelled Mountie just waiting to get hitched. What else could fans of When Calls the Heart want besides another series on the cable channel rather than on a streaming service nobody uses?

Production Quality (1.5 points)
The budget for When Hope Calls (WHC) is clearly lower than When Calls the Heart (WCTH), and this is most strikingly obvious in the poorly constructed town set that looks like a bunch of clapboard buildings plopped in the middle of a mowed-over field. The structures’ false fronts are also too much. This aside, must like WCTH, WHC is limited to just a few select sets, props, and locations, and there are some cheap special effects on top of this. Nonetheless, the production is aided by typically fine video quality, audio quality, and camera work, even if the soundtrack is pedestrian and boring. The editing tends to lag at times, such as leaving scenes running too long, but this production is overall just average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)
Much like its parent show, not very significant happens throughout the course of the WHC “plot.” The only remotely interesting elements are used up by the third episode as the series devolves into typical small-town romance nonsense. If it’s possible, the characters are much more blank and cardboard in WHC than in WCTH even if they are less sappy in the former. This is created by a lot of stiff and awkward attempts at conversations as some characters seem to be mysteriously concealing things that are never revealed while others seem to wonder why they are even there. The dialogue is very stock and phoned-in, which creates wooden characters, and the so-called comedic elements are beyond cheesy. Any struggles the characters experience can’t be adequately related to because they seem so plastic and forced. Elsewhere, the town setup is shockingly unrealistic on a historical level, and the Christian themes are very shoehorned in. In the end, with no driving purpose or actual point, the first season’s story is basically just a lot of trumped-up drama with nothing substantial to back it up.

Acting Quality (1 point)
In keeping with Michael Landon Jr.’s common practices, the cast of WHC appears to be as fake as WCTH’s (except not as over the top). This includes how they interact with each other as well as what they look like. On appearances, none of them look historically accurate except for some slight attempts at realistic costuming. When it comes to acting, line delivery seems laborious for some cast members while others seem bored with their roles. Emotions overall seemed forced and unnatural. Some cast members show potential in different roles but don’t live up to their full potential. In the end, this section’s rating is basically expected.

Continuity Quality (.5 point)
As previously mentioned, the best potential for engaging continuity is quickly discarded in the beginning and replaced with drab procedural recurrences. In the middle and at the end of the season, many of the episodes run together and feel like the same thing is happening over and over again. Then, this is culminated with an awkwardly forced climax and alleged cliff-hanger ending in the final episode. Basically, this season doesn’t have much going for it.

Conclusion

What else is there to say? Shows like When Hope Calls have a specific purpose in mind and do whatever it takes to fulfill that purpose. The storylines are predetermined, the production is as cheap as possible, and the cast is as pageantry as expected. All of these criteria are tailor-made for a reason, so we have to commend MLJ and company for at least being consistent in their poor novel adaptations. Why not try to capitalize on the success of a series like When Calls the Heart? However, what is it ultimately accomplishing besides creating more sub-par Christian entertainment?

Final Rating: 3 out of 14 points

When Calls the Heart, Season 7 (coming in 2020)

Image result for when calls the heart season 7 scenes

Coming to the Hallmark Channel in 2020

Writer(s): Brian Bird, Michael Landon Jr., Kevan Smith, Jack Wagner

Director(s): Brian Bird, Michael Landon Jr.

Producer(s): Brad Krevoy, Brian Bird, Michael Landon Jr., Alfonso H. Moreno, Neill Fearnley, Eric Jarboe, Susie Belzberg, Michael Shepard, Jimmy Townsend, Annie Brunner, Derek Thompson, Elizabeth Stewart, Lori Loughlin, Erin Krakow, Amanda Phillips Atkins, Vicki Sotheran, Greg Malcolm

Starring: Erin Krakow, Lori Loughlin, Lori Loughlin’s replacement/memory (Kellie Martin?), Pascale Hutton, Jack Wagner, Kavan Smith, Mark Humphrey, Erica Carroll, Carter Ryan Evancic, Eva Bourne, Chris McNally, Kevin McGarry, Rob Estes, Jocelyn Hudon, Morgan Kohan, Aren Bucholz, Martin Cummins

Plot Synopsis: From the ashes of Jack’s death and Lori Loughlin’s Abigail’s departure comes new blossoms of romance – for literally every character. Elizabeth struggles to choose a new husband from the two lookalike bachelors in town…oops, three, I forgot about Gowan. Gowan is pursuing his on-again off-again relationship with his alter ego Mr. Nice Guy. Abigail’s daughter-in-law will likely be planning her wedding to that generic doofus whose name escapes me. Doctor White and Nurse Blonde are finally ‘secretly’ engaged because plot and are planning their ‘secret’ wedding. Rosemary and Elizabeth’s friendship is on tenterhooks as Elizabeth juggles being a MOM, a TEACHER, and the heart of the show. Lllllllllleeeee is trying his hardest to fill Jack’s large shoes by having important conversations with Bill, but he struggles with being everyone’s confidant. Will petty fantasy love and friendship survive all these first-world problems? Most importantly, will Elizabeth get married again, and who is the new Abigail?

When Calls the Heart, Season 5 (Series Review)

Why are we still here?

Plot Summary

When Constable Jack Thornton returns from the North back to the nice little town of Hope Valley, everyone expects him to finally marry Elizabeth Thatcher, which the series has been building up for way too many seasons now.  Thus, the TV couple finally ties the knot and is married long enough for Elizabeth to get pregnant, and Michael Landon Jr. and company follow this up by the long-awaited and long-expected death of the male lead, which leaves Elizabeth (shockingly) free to love again.  Elsewhere in Hope Valley, the other characters are doing the same things they always did with no significant alterations in their character arcs (except Jesse is a good guy now or something like that), but when you have a rabid fan base and unlimited season renewals, why would you try anything creative as a writer?

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

If anything improved in this season of When Calls the Heart, it’s that the production got slightly better.  Video quality is still crisp, and camera work is still professional, but the sets and locations seem to have improved somewhat.  Props are pretty much the same old stuff.  The soundtrack is that same recycled and very tired and uncreative score that can be found in pretty much any other Hallmark production.  Further, the editing is pretty standard in Season 5, and overall, there’s not much keeping this production from being nearly perfect (except for the soundtrack), which shows you that it pays to have a good budget.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

What was Season 4 about?  I already forgot.  The railroad?  Anyways, I challenge any Heartie to tell me what Season 5 is actually about except for completing Michael Landon Jr.’s favorite romantic chase storyline with the female lead’s marriage, pregnancy, and eventual husband’s death.  Shocking turn of events, I know.  Well, Hearties can be consoled that Michael Landon Jr. is known for rebuilding the romantic chase for the young widow by introducing a new love interest later in the series.  By killing off Jack and freeing Daniel Lissing from this nonsense, Landon Jr. and company opened up a whole new world of storylines to pursue for at least three or four or five more seasons, so you can rest easy!

Acting Quality (1 point)

Are we still here?  These same old tired cast members are still old and tired.  Erin Krakow, Lori Loughlin, Daniel Lissing, Kevan Smith, Pascale Hutton, et al. haven’t changed much since last season.  Michael Landon Jr.’s approach to casting, acting, and makeup is no better than it’s always been.  However, there are a few bright spots from some of the peripheral cast members that keep this section from being zero.  Nevertheless, most of Landon Jr.’s casting work seems like a plastic surgery pageant.

Continuity Quality (1 point)

At least this season creates a story arc that is somewhat interesting, which is the loss of Jack.  It was really the only card this show had left to play, so now this move opens up a whole new world of plot possibilities.  However, I don’t expect many of them to be any good.

 

Conclusion

As I predicted months ago, after wasting away at least two seasons kicking the can down the road ad nauseum and trolling with his typically pageantry and empty characters that are ripped off from a Janette Oke novel series that doesn’t even remotely resemble the dollhouse show this series has become, Michael Landon Jr. has finally come full circle with his favorite storyline of all: the young widow plot.  As can be seen throughout the Love Comes Softly series, including Love Comes Softly and Love’s Unending Legacy, Landon Jr. is infatuated with the chase of a romance, but once the couple marries and has some kids, it’s time to kill off the husband between movies and introduce a new romantic chase for the young widow.  It’s no surprise to see the long overdue exit of Jack Thornton from this series, especially since Daniel Lissing probably has better things to do.  Expect next season to introduce Elizabeth’s new love interest and her new chase after the grief has subsided (please bring back Charles).  Also, since we’re going to keep mindless renewing this troll-fest, let’s go ahead and experiment with some other cast members this show needs right now.  I vote for Erik Estrada, Morgan Fairchild, Kris Kristofferson, and Corbin Bernsen, to name a few.  Cast-member-guessing is the only thing keeping this show interesting at this point.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 14 points

 

Hope Island, Season 1 (Series Review)

Plot Summary

As penance for his past indiscretions, Revered Daniel Cooper is sentenced to take over a small church on the small island community of Hope Island, off the coast of the northwestern United States.  Though skeptical at first, he finds a charming town of quirky people who accept him with open arms.  The days on Hope Island are not without intrigue and conflict, but at the end of the day, they all like each other and everything stays pretty much the same all the time.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

As a late 90s\early 2000s production, Hope Island can look archaic at times, but it’s not all bad.  On paper, the production is fine, including good video quality, camera work, and audio quality.  The soundtrack leaves something to be desired, however, and there are some dumb sound effects used throughout.  The opening sequence is long and boring, and most of the flashbacks have a very strange and almost un-watchable quality about them.  Further, the editing is pretty standard, and overall, this production is just above average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

It’s really no surprise this vaguely Christian series on the old PAX channel didn’t get renewed.  It contains nothing creative and settles for many predictable small-town concepts, elements, subplots, characters, and tropes.  The storylines therein are very safe and pedestrian as each character fits perfectly into their molds: the main character with a secret past who comes to a new area for a new start, his obvious love interest (who doubles as the diner character) who doesn’t like him at first, the young white couple whose relationship we’re supposed to be interested in, the quirky self-seeking schemer and his clueless sidekick, and all those one-episode characters who appear only once in over twenty episodes, even though this is a tiny island with a couple hundred people on it.  Besides this, there are far too many attempts at comedy that aren’t even funny and are actually quite juvenile.  Also, there are some odd attempts at ‘edgy’ content that fall completely flat and feel out of place and desperate.  Christian themes are only used when convenient, and conflicts are easily resolved with coincidences and convenient turns.  Unfortunately, there’s not much good to note here.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

As a professional cast, these cast members are mostly fine and typical.  However, they have some odd, head-scratching moments at times.  Other times, they are too awkward, especially when they are trying too hard to be funny.  However, there are enough good moments here to make this section average.

Continuity Quality (0 points)

Hope Island follows the predetermined inspirational series formula that rolls out one thing after the next.  Each episode is its own 45-minute bubble of time that has little effect on the following episode and receives little effect from the previous episode, except for the predictable romantic subplot arcs, which are the only notable story or characters arcs present here.  This series is basically a collection of shallow conflicts that are introduced and quickly resolved and never mentioned again, thus not warranting any points in this section.

Conclusion

PAX was trying to blaze new trails in Christian\inspirational made-for-TV entertainment before UP existed and before Hallmark rebranded themselves as a plastic dollhouse.  Now PAX has turned into that absurd channel called ION and has even more laughable content than Hallmark.  Hope Island is a microcosm of the late 90s\early 2000s attempts at mainstream Christian content that didn’t work out, not only because of its split personality of trying to please two different audiences or because of its underwhelming production and acting quality, but mostly because it’s so boring.  It was hard enough to sit through over twenty episodes of this; I can’t even imagine what another season would be like.  Alas, we never saw another season, which is a blessing.  Now, as I continually say, it’s time for a real, truly quality Christian series to be made.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 14 points

 

When Calls the Heart, Season 4 (Series Review)

Happy plastic people

Nurse Carter’s still here for some reason

Can’t forget about Rip

Plot Summary

After the marriage of Lllllllee and Rosemary, stuff just sorta keeps happening in Walnut Grove Hope Valley.  Rosemary has a daily ‘funny’ escapade and continues to parody herself until she becomes a perfect character like the others.  The town counselor, Abigail, tries to take over the mayor’s office from the breathy Gowen while she’s still trying to run her café.  That odd fake-looking guy named Bill is still hanging around being mysterious and doing sheriff stuff.  Elizabeth and Jack are still performing their endless and painful will-they-won’t-they dating dance until the writers finally get tired of it and decide to send Jack to the north to fight the good fight.  A railroad subplot is introduced (I wonder where that idea came from) to try to keep this television series on life support.  But who cares what happens anyway—ratings are up and a fifth season is on its way already, so who are we to talk?

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Much like Season 3, the production of When Calls the Heart has remained relatively stable since the early, low-budget days passed.  Video quality and camera work are professional as always.  Audio quality is standard, but that same old stupid soundtrack gets really old, especially when you hear it on other Hallmark movies.  Sets and locations are extremely limited as the series further settles into its small town feel.  There’s no branching out here, that’s for sure.  Editing also standard and very phoned in as each episode follows and mindlessly predictable progression.  They stretch out, one after the next, like indistinguishable zombies in Michael Landon Jr.’s makeup jobs.  What more can we say?  The money is clearly spent pretty wisely, but for what?

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

In a change from Season 3, this season’s storylines bring some minor complexity to the screen, especially where the railroad is involved.  However, the writers overplayed their hand with the railroad characters and made them too evil in some kind of weird attempt to make the breathy Gowen a nice guy.  Regardless, the railroad intrigue is resolved far too easily and dispensed with as quickly as it was introduced.  Besides this, Season 4 is full trite subplots and asides: Elizabeth helps a troubled child with something, Rosemary always has a new scheme, the fake-looking Bill is mysterious, Abigail is the town hero, Lllllllee does business stuff, Pastor Hogan does protective stuff, Cody is a middle school boy, Jesse is still hanging around for some reason, and Jack has to ‘fight the good fight’, as we are reminded in nearly every episode.  Too many characters are fixed and too many conflicts are easily resolved.  Random ‘mysterious’ characters are introduced to only be discarded or used as more fodder for manufactured drama.  Overall, with tons of inconsistently used characters and a host of overused ones, Season 4 of this series overall lacks direction and focus, but what else is new?  The writers are clearly either trolling or phoning it in because they don’t have to try.  Why try something risky when safe pays so well?

Acting Quality (1 point)

New season, same old cast full of fake-looking plastic people and Hallmark retreads.  No emotions are believable and everything seems manufactured and childish.  There’s nothing new to talk about here except for the fate of Daniel Lissing.  Is this an elaborate scheme to generate attention or just the loss of a main actor?  Only time will tell.

Continuity Quality (0 points)

As noted in last season, Season 4 has no plot or character arcs that should be commonplace in recurring series’.  Most characters are static or become more perfect.  There are no plot twists or character complexities.  Though the railroad storyline had potential to be complex, it simply did not reach its full potential.

Conclusion

When Calls the Heart has long been a series that has lost its way.  Living off of the old days at the beginning of the series and constantly reminding us through flashbacks what these cast members used to look like before they became #Hallmarked, Landon Jr. and company are just phoning in episode after episode as their sappy series gets mindlessly renewed time and time again.  But what does it matter as long as they have a faithful following who are intent to grab on to anything of remote substance produced by the pharmaceutical-backed mother channel that still tries to pretend like it’s about greeting cards.  It still remains true that When Calls the Heart fills a huge void of wholesome entertainment that no one else seems to be able to fill with anything more substantial than this.  So here we sit, in mediocrity and safeness.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 14 points

 

When Calls the Heart, Season 3 (Series Review)

Plot Summary

Following the shocking proposal of Charles, both Jack and Elizabeth are left confused about the true nature of their relationship.  They must sort out how they really feel about each other, even in the midst of other controversies, including Bill Avery’s dark secrets, the constant schemes of Henry Gowen, and the town’s new adaptations to the logging industry.  Also, new and budding romances are aplenty in the newly christened Hope Valley, along with new colorful characters.  Like always, the people of Hope Valley will have to navigate each new challenge together and keep remembering that hope is just around the corner.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

So, for starters, the production quality of When Calls the Heart diminishes significantly in Season 3.  The camera work stays the same as always, but the sets and locations are severely limited, with obvious reuses of them.  The characters rarely do anything outside of the winding street of Walnut Grove Hope Valley.  As usual, the costuming and makeup is worse than ever, making it impossible for the audience to believe that these people are supposed to be low to middle class frontier people.  The musical score is abysmal and the editing is all over the map, mostly settling for an episode-by-episode approach.  There’s nothing wrong with this, but as will be discussed later, it disrupts the original purpose of this show.  In short, corners were cut in this season, demonstrating an overall lack of regard for quality.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Not only is the Season 2 ‘cliffhanger’ resolved with lightning speed, it is quickly replaced with one mindless storyline after another.  People do this and that, Harriet Olson Rosemary schemes stuff, the town has events, people come and go, and Jack and Elizabeth continue a mind-numbing and painful dance of on and off romance.  The Hamilton characters are kicked out; we’re not sure if this was a blessing or a curse.  Bill Avery, once a promising double agent character, is reduced to a washed up guy who hangs around town.  Henry Gowen continues his usual bad guy stuff and generally accomplishes nothing.  Ever the town counselor, Caroline Ingalls Missy LaHaye Abigail acts like she’s doing things like running a diner and riding horses and taking care of orphans.  Elizabeth attempts to teach and play acts a hard working frontier woman while Jack does Mountie stuff.  Lots of things are talked about that happened off screen.  The Christian message is long gone by now, replaced with trite Joel Osteen sayings from Abigail and Pastor Hogan.  Shallow subplots are introduced and quickly resolved.  Overall, there is zero creativity in this season and the much-anticipated season finale climax fizzles out with the New Year’s fireworks at the beginning.  The writers give us no reason whatsoever to want another season, because there is no direction whatsoever anymore in this series.  But in the upside down world of Hallmark, Michael Landon Jr. and company trolled the ‘#Hearties’ for an entire season of false pretense and proved that they could do whatever they wanted and still get renewed.  The mind boggles.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

The acting has been on a downward trend since the first season, but Season 3 reaches new lows.  The starring cast demonstrates they have no intention to try to be good at acting, nor do they have to try.  Any air of professionalism demonstrated in previous seasons is gone, replaced with mindless line delivery and forced emotions.  Every scene seems very staged and fake, just actors and actresses saying lines they don’t really care about.  The only thing that keeps this portion from being zero is some slightly interesting acting from certain cast members.

Continuity Quality (0 points)

As previously mentioned, the original purpose of When Calls the Heart has been washed away in that flash flood or that mud slide.  The continuity collapsed along with the mine (again).  There is no driving purpose to Season 4.  Once this show’s strongest point, the continuity has been completely abandoned in favor of a mindless stretch if silly episode that accomplish next to nothing.

Conclusion

This was such a disappointing season to endure.  There was so much potential in this show, but it has been tossed by the wayside.  It’s so sad to know that an opportunity to create truly quality and far-reaching Christian entertainment has been squandered in favor of more fake and manufactured ideas.  We get that from Hallmark all the time—why not change things up?  The viewers are not stupid, so why treat them that way?  Creators need to think better of their audiences and give them shows that provoke the imagination and challenge the status quo, not lull them to sleep or incite undue laughter.  It is clear that they knew they could do whatever they wanted and still get renewed, and it is likely that Season 4 will still be heavily watched.  But we at Box Office Revolution are still waiting for someone to use Hallmark resources for a better purpose: to create a show or movie series that is dynamic and truly changes things up.  We sincerely believe this is what God has called some Christians to do, and we wait to promote and support whoever will accept the challenge.

 

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 14 points

 

When Calls the Heart, Season 2 (Series Review)

Plot Summary

With the high-stakes trial against the corrupt Henry Gowen’s coal company brewing in Coal Valley, Elizabeth Thatcher, Jack Thornton, and Abigail Stanton all have other issues of their own to deal with.  Just as she and Jack begin growing closer together, Elizabeth feels a pull from her well-to-do family in Hamilton to come back them.  She soon feels her relationship with Jack become clouded by an old childhood friend.  Jack’s troublesome brother resurfaces and forms an ill-advised connection to Elizabeth’s family.  As Abigail discovers the hard truth about Bill Avery, she also receives word of a family member she never knew she had.  With new and sometimes frightening things on the horizon, the people of Coal Valley must band together and be prepared to face the unexpected.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Despite increased popularity and an obviously increased budget, Season 2 of When Calls the Heart does not gain any more ground in production quality.  For what it’s worth, it doesn’t lose any ground either.  Camera work is the same, including great angles and video quality.  Sound quality is the same, and unfortunately, so is the vanilla soundtrack.  The introduction of new surroundings—Hamilton—is both a blessing and a curse.  As they progress, series should change and do different things as to not get stuck in a location rut, but Hamilton also brings with it a license for Michael Landon Jr. and company to commit one of their favorite errors—pageantry and over-costuming.  Characters in both Coal Valley and Hamilton are transformed, almost into dolls.  It would be one thing to pose a distinction between rich city characters and frontier characters, but this does not occur.  In other issues, the editing does not improve in Season 2, as it is still equally choppy as Season 1.  In short, Landon Jr. and company once again fall into the typical Hallmark trap: pretty good production with overdone and unrealistic costuming.  This puts a damper on a series with huge potential.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

The season begins on a strange note by discarding an otherwise interesting wildcard character and by quickly and easily resolving the coal mine trial without any real suspense or appreciation.  It’s like the writers were just trying to rush to something else, but it’s not clear what they were rushing to.  The Hamilton subplots are intriguing, but it’s hard to feel like there’s any real meaning or purpose behind them.  Season 2’s central plot and subplots not only water down the original Christian message, but they also feel shallow.  For the most part, the original characters remain mostly intact, but the newer characters are not developed as they should be.  Bill Avery perhaps has the most interesting character arc and shows potential for the next season.  However, Season 2 ends on a head-scratching note with a slightly forced cliff hanger that only seems to be begging Hallmark for a renewal.  In summary, while there was great potential in a Season 1 follow-up for further character development, Season 2 falls flat and does not meet expectations.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Despite a largely similar cast to Season 1, Season 2’s cast takes the foot off the brakes, so to speak, and seems to not try as hard as before.  Several actors and actresses, including Erin Krakow and most of the Hamilton characters, seem to be overplaying their roles and forcing emotion.  Some actors and actresses remain the same, but the biggest issue here is that no one improves.  This should be the case in a television series.

Continuity Quality (1.5 points)

Within the season, Season 2 is fairly consistent as far as internal subplots.  It is hard to discern its overall arc except for indecision.  However, the relationship between Season 1 and Season 2 is disjointed.  The increased budget popularity seemed to make the writers think that they did not need to preserve the honest originality of Season 1, because they didn’t.  This was a disappointment.

Conclusion

There was much anticipation and expectations following the unprecedented success of When Calls the Heart, Season 1, yet Season 2 failed to meet these.  As a season itself, it was about average, and would have been fine as another pilot season.  But sophomore seasons should build of the successes of the first, eliminate mistakes, and overall improve, not start over at square one.  The writers have given themselves an interesting choice and framework to work within for Season 3, and it will be interesting see how it goes.  This concept has loads of potential in its corner—time will tell how it plays out.

 

Final Rating: 6.5 out of 14 points