Written by Nancey Silvers
Directed by Martin Wood
“Nothing’s wrong. Everything’s perfect, I’m perfect. Everyone knows that.”
I think the only people who don’t dream of living in a house by the water are people who have never been in a house by the water. “The House by the Water” meme represents that perfect point in time when everything has unfolded exactly as it should and you are exactly where you are supposed to be. Or, as in the case of Chesapeake Shores, it represents that chaotic point in time where you recognize that nothing is working and it’s time to let it all fall apart and start over from square one.
The show is based on a popular book series of romances by Sherryl Woods with which I am completely unfamiliar, and because it airs on the Hallmark Channel which I do not associate with the highest caliber of entertainment, I was afraid that Chesapeake Shores was going to rely heavily on a heartwarmin’ ‘til ya gag vibe. I was determined to watch it anyway, because the show is set in one of my most favorite places on earth, a place that represents for me that very longing for the House by the Water referred to earlier. Imagine my horror, then, when I discovered that the show was filmed in British Columbia, except for a very few location shots of the Bay and Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, and should properly be called Vancouver Shores. Yet despite the fact that the visuals are a little jarring to anyone familiar with the Eastern Shore of Maryland (mountains, actual mountains, rising up out of the water!) I enjoyed the show. And I am going to keep watching it, without even throwing things at the screen and rolling my eyes when the physical locations don’t jibe with the supposed setting. Well, minor eye rolling anyway.
The story opens on Abby O’Brien Winters, who has attained pretty much everything she thought she wanted in life – high-powered Manhattan job, high-rise apartment, two lovely daughters she barely knows – only to realize that her life has grown so complex it exceeds even her ability to manage it. The hometown ex she ditched for New York City out of terror that she would never escape her claustrophobic small town life reappears at the same time she pops back home for a little family crisis management. He is introduced – I am not making this up – via a Hunky Guy with a Hammer establishment shot, for a little Thor-factor sexiness, in case we didn’t know there would be romance in this story. While nothing far out on the edge of newness sets up the interweaving storylines for the rest of the series, the acting was on point, the script exceeded my expectations, and the lives of the characters demonstrated more conflict, and a little more realism, than I expected based on the trailers.
Jesse Metcalf plays Trace, Abby’s high school sweetheart who went to Nashville after she dumped him and achieved minor success as a country music singer-songwriter. He ups his music cred for the role by playing and singing a song during the episode– a song about lost love, of course. Meghan Ory, who plays Abby, has good chemistry with Metcalf, and they make a likeable and good-looking pair. But the inevitable love story between Abby and Trace feels a little too inevitable; they seem too good together not to end up together, and every love story must have its obstacles to remain interesting. However, the previews for the rest of the series indicate that Trace has a girlfriend, or at least his girlfriend thinks he has a girlfriend, so there may be stimulating plot developments ahead. Also, though Abby is clearly the main character, Metcalf received top billing, so maybe that will create some additional tension in the show.
Apparently there are places in Canada just as gorgeous as the Chesapeake. As Abby and Trace reestablish some contact, they swim together at night, with the moon reflected in the water around them. The scenes are shot so that it looks like they are literally bathing in moonlight, a beautiful and romantic touch that symbolizes that together they are something special. And it forces me to begrudgingly admit that the substituted location wasn’t a total loss.
Around the same time Abby realizes that she has (almost) everything she thought she ever wanted and it sucks, she also notices that her lifestyle forces her to parent her kids just like her father parented her: as in, not at all. Hailing from the preeminent family in the area, Abby’s father was so busy being the town mover-and-shaker that he was never around, leaving Abby and her four siblings to be raised by their Irish-born grandmother, played by Diane Ladd. Abby confronts her father about the distant relationship he has with all of his children. Abby’s mother left when the children were young, with the circumstances of that departure, and presumably the blame, left for later development. So, the advancement of Abby’s love story will be accompanied by the resurrection, and possible resolution, of old family issues as well.
Meanwhile, Abby’s youngest sister struggles with establishing her independence in a town ruled so thoroughly by her father’s wealth and prestige. Drawn home by her grandmother’s medical issues, also left for later elaboration, another sister lands at the family mansion needing to lick her wounds after her playwriting career in Chicago nosedives. Two brothers, one on leave from serving in the military in Afghanistan, arrive home just at the close of the episode, as does Abby’s estranged mother. Thus sets the stage for a reunion of family members whose lives have heretofore been lived separately, but they all wash up at the family home at the same time, when they all seem to need a respite from their lives. It looks like it’s going to be a family drama in which no one behaves too hatefully, and forgiveness is easily found, but the show already pleasantly surprised me, and it may continue to do so going forward.
The distinctly middle-aged story arc of these characters all reaching a turning point in their lives at the same time gives it more of a coming-of-maturity motif than a coming-of-age theme, though the two youngest siblings are still trying find themselves. The older version of this kind of tale can be just as interesting as the more youthful kind, especially since the older you get, the more the things you do matter. At one point a Sara McLachlan song played in the soundtrack, and I remembered how I used to listen to her in my studio when I thought I was going to be this great artist. I was young and stupid then, and didn’t know yet that young is temporary, but stupid lasts forever, or at least it seems that way sometimes. The story of how people grow up or just grow can make for good viewing. We’ll see how it turns out for this group of characters, set on the East Coast of the U.S. and filmed on the West Coast of Canada.