When Calls the Heart: After Five Seasons, I’m Feeling Iffy

*Be advised: my reflections here include some When Calls the Heart: Season Five spoilers.*

While the TV show’s plot reflects a more recent spin-off series from Janette Oke and her daughter, Laurel Oke Logan, the show gets its name from Book One in the Canadian West series by Janette, first published in 1983.

I’m a big fan of wholesome television, and I’ve got quite a love for historical fiction books and historical/period dramas. Even so, after finally watching the fifth season of When Calls the Heart, I’m not sure if I’ll be going on to watch the sixth.

I’ve heard a Heartie or two compare WCTH to one of my all-time favorite television shows: Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. As someone with an appreciation for both shows (as well as admiration for the spirit in which Janette Oke has authored her trailblazing Christian Fiction books), to the WCTH and Dr. Quinn comparison, I must give a respectful but honest “no.”

Neither of these television shows is flawless. But WCTH doesn’t compare to Dr. Quinn.

A novel based on a superb historical drama!

While both shows have their own kind of beauty, Dr. Quinn has a depth and grittiness to it that WCTH simply does not have, and I don’t think WCTH aspires to do so. For viewers who are serious about complex, nuanced, hard-hitting stories; impressive, believable acting; and historical drama that thoughtfully incorporates, reflects, and gives relevant commentary on major and minor aspects of history, Dr. Quinn is easier to take seriously.

Not to mention Dr. Quinn’s racially diverse cast of characters, all with their own rich stories woven into the whole, as opposed to the few, nameless faces of color that hover in the background of WCTH sometimes. Apart from a moment I recall from an earlier season, the actors of color on WCTH never get to say anything besides the brief, negligible, faint comments they might make, again, somewhere in the background.

(If I’ve missed or forgotten an episode or two when a person of color is more than just a background face and actually plays a consequential role on WCTH, someone let me know.)

Now, I don’t consider WCTH to be poor at what it does. Hallmark has a brand, I believe they know their audience, and they cater to it. What’s more, there are moments when WCTH really does shine.

Still, much of the time, the shine, or shininess, goes overboard. The tone and execution is often cheesy and hyper-bright. Plus, there are episodes when the show relies on almost nonstop background music. There’s a difference between well-placed music that enhances scenes here and there, and music that doesn’t stop long enough to let the acting or story stand or build on its own for a while. Too much music in the background can make the emotion feel more forced or manufactured than organic. (I will say, though, that the music in this show isn’t as excessive or overbearing as it is in some Hallmark movies I’ve watched.)

Hope Valley (formerly Coal Valley, when it had an open coal mine) is supposed to be a frontier town, with dirt/gravel roads, fields and woods all around, horses for transportation, and all that. Yet, the actors—the female ones especially—tend to look so…shiny. Super smooth, pink, and glossy, even when their characters are supposed to be makeup-free, and not a hair or a flowing curl out of place. (Also, while film and television actors/actresses often wear wigs and hair pieces to have and maintain just the right look for their characters onscreen, it shouldn’t be obvious. Erin Krakow, playing Elizabeth, is a lovely actress, but it’s unfortunate that her wig in Season Five looks as unnatural as it does. The actress wears her real hair shorter than Elizabeth’s, right?) Even AJ Foster, a female outlaw living a rough life on the run, always has on thick, dark eye makeup and conspicuous lip color.

Because Elizabeth comes from an affluent family in Hamilton, I can go with some of her wardrobe choices. But when the outfits of so many of these frontier townswomen (several widows among them, who aren’t supposed to be well-to-do) are light and powdery or appear rich in color and texture, it’s hard to get a “frontier” vibe from them.

I know that television aims to give viewers something nice to look at, but WCTH seems rather blatant about wanting to look bright and pretty more than it looks realistic.

Granted, I might not have said all this if not for the passing of Jack’s character. It’s tough for a television series to lose one of its leads, and with Daniel Lissing’s choice to leave the show, Jack’s death was the only option that would ultimately make sense for his character. Yet, although I found it to be a rushed and anticlimactic plot twist so soon after Jack and Elizabeth’s long-awaited wedding, and a part of my imagination isn’t fully settled or convinced by a major, sudden death that happens offscreen and shows nothing afterwards but a closed coffin and then a closed grave, I want it to be clear that Lissing’s exit isn’t the only issue that’s made me iffy about continuing to watch the show.

Again, I’m a lover of wholesome, hopeful television—life-affirming stories that make you laugh, cry, sigh, and remember what’s good in the world. And even with the aspects of WCTH that have bothered me, I’ve experienced enough enjoyment to keep watching it through five seasons.

But I’m not sure yet if the show’s good points are enough to bring me back for Season Six. I might rather spend that time rewatching Dr. Quinn yet again, to get my “wholesome historical” fix with excellent writing, depth, diversity, and grit to go with it.

We’ll see.

 

19 thoughts on “When Calls the Heart: After Five Seasons, I’m Feeling Iffy

  1. Linda Bullock says:

    Wow you hit everything on the mark, as if you read my own thoughts and put them down. Awesome piece this is, I agree wholeheartedly. I, too, will not be watching WCTH, and I, too, have started watching my DQ discs again. That show is brilliant and timeless, and every day new viewers find it and fall in love with everything about it. I truly don’t think WCTH will have quite the staying power 25 years from now.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nadine C. Keels says:

      Gee! It’s amazing because even as much as I enjoyed Dr. Quinn back when I was a kid, I come to better recognize its significance and appreciate it more every time I watch it again as an adult. With so many details incorporated into all those episodes, I get something new out of it every time!

      Like

    • Mary Gwin says:

      I found this site because of asking why Erin Krakow is wearing a wig in this show season five! You’d think if their leading star has to do that it could be a good wig!!! I wouldn’t wear that wig! It’s awful! And since Jack and the cafe owner won’t be in season 6, what are they going to do? Loosing two main characters??? I don’t think it will last long after season six! That is sad because I enjoy the show every so often on Netflix.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Nadine C. Keels says:

      Oh dear–the wig! 😀

      I believe Erin Krakow’s hair is actually a good deal shorter now than Elizabeth Thatcher Thornton’s hair would be, requiring a wig for the actress, but I can’t say I understand the poor quality of the styling. I’ve seen plenty of wigs and hair pieces in television and film and had no idea the actors were “wearing hair” until I saw the behind-the-scenes info. Proper hairstyling is truly an art form.

      As for the show losing two of its core actors–I’ve not seen how they’ve managed it, since I did stop watching the show after Season Five. But it seems a number of Hearties have hung in there to still enjoy Season Six. At least it seemed that way to me when I looked on Twitter weeks ago. 🙂

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  2. Pam says:

    I am just now watching the latest available season on Netflix. Elizabeth and Jack just got married, so this is season 5. I could barely stand to watch season 4 with Elizabeth’s awful wig. I was hoping they would fix it this season, but they haven’t. I love all of the actresses outfits, but with the wigs, AJs heavy makeup and bleached hair, and the designer clothes the series has to be watched with a different mindset than one that actually pays attention to detail. The show could have been so much better.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nadine C. Keels says:

      Heeheehee, I hear you, Pam! I also get into a mode where I overlook or tune out certain weaknesses in books, movies, etc. so I can still enjoy them. 🙂 I remind myself that no novel or television show is perfect, or will be perfect for/to everyone.

      I just think in the case of this show, the amount of overlooking and tuning out I’ve been doing has gotten tiring. 😀 The more weeks go by, the more I feel I would be “forcing” myself to watch Season Six because the overall story isn’t over and I’ve hung in there this long. But “hanging in there” ultimately isn’t the way I want to watch television. Or read books, or what have you.

      No less love for Hearties who may go on enjoying the show just fine without me, though. 😉

      Like

  3. Tamara Slatten says:

    Thank you for everything you said. I get frustrated with her bad wig, lack of hats, gloves or hair up, that many of the women should have. On another site, someone defended it, as perhaps costing too much. I am not a hair dresser, but I could churn out some time correct versions myself. Married women back then would have put their hair up, and at least have put on a hat or bonnet. The modern make up is over the top. At least try to look a bit more natural. Don’t get me started on the dyed hair and roots.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nadine C. Keels says:

      Heeheehee, I understand the frustration, Tamara. 🙂

      Funny thing is, the women, including Elizabeth, wore their hair up more in Season One, but I guess it wasn’t “cute” enough. Even so, things like a female restaurant owner cooking other people’s food all day, using a wood stove (with fire!), but she’s always got loose curls flowing around while she’s working in the restaurant’s kitchen? It just doesn’t make sense. 😀

      Granted, on Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, Jane Seymour’s long hair was one of her signatures. But her character, Michaela, was already a woman who went around bucking societal norms all the time: being a bona fide lady doctor in a rugged town, going by the rather masculine nickname “Dr. Mike,” befriending the Cheyenne people, etc. And the writers purposely weaved Dr. Mike’s hair into the story by having her sister point out how improper it was for Michaela to let her hair “fly loose” that way. Because the show was intentional about showing Dr. Mike bucking another norm with her flying hair, it didn’t just come off as an unexplained, historically inaccurate glamour move for the sake of modern TV.

      And still, when it was time for Dr. Mike to perform surgery–no flying hair. She got those pretty long locks out of the way so she could do her job.

      Hahahaha, I know historical accuracy isn’t exactly WCTH’s major goal, and they’re not aiming to be another Dr. Quinn or anything, but still.

      Like

  4. Micole T says:

    I agree with much of what you said, esp about the Wig.. omg that is what got me to this page lol, searching for info that aha .. however, I wanted to point out that in the first season it was much frontier like, smaller town, cheaper clothing, much less makeup.. but then they take the coal company to court and win all that money.. so while it’s not explicitly stated, you know all the widows got settlements that allowed them all to spend money gussying themselves up and the town ha .. I wanna say as season 2 starts .. I think actually Abigail made a mention about the cafe improvements, and her change in appearance is also noted by several, which we are lead to believe is bc she is moving on now.. I took that as the attempt to lead the audience to the same conclusion for rest of the women.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nadine C. Keels says:

      Yes indeedy, I remember the women’s different look on Season One! It’s the only season I have on DVD. 🙂

      While I could see the coal company money allowing the widows to buy some new dresses and whatnot (or material to sew some new dresses), I personally wouldn’t have translated those finances into that big of a change in their appearances. Unless all of the widows were going to find steady jobs or other streams of income to replace their families’ deceased breadwinners, or find new men in town for remarriage, the widows would have needed to save much of their money to last for a long stretch of years–to take care of their necessities, feed and raise their children, have funds set aside for old age, etc. And even if the settlements were indeed large enough to warrant thorough gussying up for each widow, it still wouldn’t have translated into obviously later-twentieth and twenty-first-century eyeshadow and glossy pink lip color and women going from wearing their hair up to wearing their hair down during a time when it was still considered rather improper for a grown woman to wear her hair unbound in public.

      Still, without the impropriety factor, having one’s long hair down on a regular basis wouldn’t have been practical for a lot of the women’s lifestyles. And even with Abigail’s purposeful shift in her appearance as she moves on, she, a café owner, wouldn’t be wearing her hair down at work, in the midst of cooking and baking and serving, especially if her stove is a wood stove, with a fire burning and embers popping. Abigail’s waves and curls regularly flowing freely over people’s food in her café kitchen and dining room doesn’t add up. 😀

      I made mention of Michaela’s hair in an earlier comment about Dr. Quinn… Nah, that 90s television show wasn’t going to hide away all of Jane Seymour’s signature, lengthy tresses, regardless of the time period and frontier setting of the story. 😀 But they were intentional about mentioning the impropriety of it aloud, and even though Dr. Quinn would wear flowing curls at social gatherings and such, she still didn’t do so while she was at work.

      Again, though, I think WCTH knows their audience, and they must figure that much of the audience just likes things to look bright and pretty onscreen. If enough of the audience isn’t too concerned about the accuracy of the look, then hey, WCTH is doing what works for their viewers.

      Now, since I did stop watching the show, I’ve not seen if they’ve improved Elizabeth’s wig situation at all… Again, taking nothing away from actress Erin Krakow, who’s still lovely!

      Like

    • Nadine C. Keels says:

      It’s been over a year since I did indeed stop watching the show, so I’ll admit I’m blanking a bit on who Robert is. 😀 But if he’s the minor character I’m thinking of (one of the children in town?), I believe the actor is of mixed background, Caucasian and Indian Canadian. I wouldn’t have thought of him, so thank you for bringing him up!

      It would be interesting to know how diverse a Coal/Hope Valley town might have truly been and what impact it would have had on the actual story. I do remember that in Janette Oke’s Canadian West series (the novel When Calls the Heart and its three companions) about the first Elizabeth and her Mountie husband Wynn, the indigenous Indian people in the area, their culture/customs, and their relationship with white settlers are important parts of the stories. Not sure if the same is true in the younger Elizabeth’s life and town in the Return to the Canadian West series the television show is more heavily based on, since I haven’t read those novels. 🙂

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  5. Liz says:

    I totally agree with you. The women’s highlighted, perfectly curled luxurious hair, carefully plucked eyebrows, couture gowns and major 2020 make-up ruins this show for me. With “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” we at least see the same dresses worn over and over again, making it more period-relatable. Loved the first season of WCTH where the hair, make-up and costumes were down-played but since then, the few episodes I’ve watched are just artificial and painful because of the glam-factor. Who makes these terrible decisions?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nadine C. Keels says:

      Season One is the only one I’ve got on DVD, and yes, the look of WCTH was better then. ❤

      I think the show is in its seventh season now, the second season without me, so apparently the folks making the costume and makeup decisions know their audience goes for glam, or at least indulges it, if the show is still as glammy as it was when I last saw it. 🙂

      Meanwhile, I spent much of this past weekend watching Dr. Quinn, and my GOODNESS, I hope there's still a possibility for a reboot I heard Jane Seymour talking about toward the end of last year! She mentioned likely premiering it on Netflix if they do it.

      Like

  6. Hersie says:

    I strongly agree. The obvious wig & huge fake eyelashes & hyper perfection & stiff poses to show off un-naturally small (corsetted) waists, modern mens haircuts, only short halting lines with so little depth … all of it has worn pretty thin.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nadine C. Keels says:

      Yeah. It makes me a little sad because there were times when I was really into the show. ❤ Like when Coal Valley's widows went to work in the coal mine to save their homes; and the "Bad things happen if good people do nothing" episode; and some serious moments when Erin Krakow and Daniel Lissing got to display that, yes, they do have real acting chops.

      There just weren't enough of those moments for me. 🙂

      Like

  7. Bernadette Jehnert says:

    I agree with this article. I felt this show poorly handled the death of Jack! In a matter of a short time , they gave us extreme happiness at Jack and Elizabeth’s wedding to Jack’s tragic death. I was so disappointed that it wasted my time and made me mad and sad!! I will not continue to watch into season 6. I do not recommend Hallmark and it’s boring programming!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nadine C. Keels says:

      I feel your disappointment, Bernadette. 😦

      As for Jack and Elizabeth ❤ , I feel like the show stretched out their courtship too long. After a few seasons, the romance, while sweet, became a little monotonous. Because Jack and Elizabeth met as soon as the show began and they obviously started growing feelings for each other from the beginning, they didn't need five seasons to finally make it to the altar.

      I don't fault Daniel Lissing's desire to leave the show and move on career-wise, and I don't think having another actor step in to play Jack would have worked.

      Because dealing with death is a part of life, the death of an important character can be a strong and poignant turning point in a story, if handled correctly. I just think, in Jack and Elizabeth's case, if the show hadn't left them sitting in the courtship stage for so long and instead allowed them more time to be husband and wife, Jack's passing wouldn't have needed to be such a rushed story element, even with him dying five seasons in.

      While it isn't the most enjoyable thing to lose a favorite character, how a character's passing is developed, including its pace/timing within the plot, can at least help the audience to deal with it better. In this case, I think better pacing in the two main characters' courtship and marriage would have allowed more time to develop what came after. 🙂

      Like

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