It was about a year ago when my wife suggested we watch The Good Witch. She had already seen several episodes, and suggested it as a sort of shared opportunity to watch something we didn’t have to love.
Let me explain. My wife and I have different tastes in shows. Sometimes they overlap, such as when we both found we enjoyed The Goldbergs, or the DC shows on WB, but more often they are at odds. My wife will watch just about anything that features serial killers. She watches Criminal Minds, Mindhunters, The Prodigal Son, and lots of others. I occasionally have an interest, such as Dexter, but for the most part I am ambivalent. She also loves shows about tiny houses, such as Tiny House Nation. I found that interesting for about three episodes, but after that I knew all I needed or wanted to know about tiny houses.
My tastes can be hard on my wife too. For example, I have a love of Canadian comedies, mainly Corner Gas and Letterkenny. My wife has no interest. I also like to watch old episodes of Match Game from the 1970s. There’s no way my wife is sitting through that, even though she loves Betty White (who is a national treasure).
Even when we both enjoy the same show, I have a habit of commenting on the shows we watch as we watch them. This is especially true if the show does something I think is stupid or the plot makes no sense to me. My wife just wants to enjoy the show. The Good Witch was the ultimate compromise. It was a show she thought was silly, but still somewhat entertaining, and she didn’t mind if I mocked it. We could watch it together and both feel free to make fun of it.
So, what is The Good Witch? It is a Hallmark Channel show. It began in 2015, but grew out of a series of TV movies that stretch back to the early 2000s. The central protagonist is Cassie Nightingale. Cassie, played by CBS procedural veteran Catherine Bell, is kind of a witch. She runs both a general curios store called Bell, Book and Candle, as well as a bed & breakfast at her home, The Grey House. She is a widower (her husband apparently was featured in the movies, but died shortly before the show began because the actor wasn’t available for the show). Cassie has several “witch” talents. For example, when people approach her with her back turned, she always says hello to them by name, much to that person’s amazement. This happens at least four or five times an episode.
Cassie can also glimpse the future, and gives people advice based on something that is going to happen later in the episode. This often involves an item from her store, which she almost never charges for. Her store always has what is needed (except for the one episode when it didn’t, and boy was that a donnybrook). The townspeople are sometimes the source of her gentle meddling (she’s kind of Mary Worth with superpowers), but the show revolves around guests at her bed and breakfast, whom she nudges toward their eventual profound moment of change. The show is in no hurry, so often this takes about three episodes to resolve.
Cassie is not, however, the only one with witchy powers. Her daughter Grace and her cousin Abigail also live in the town, but they each have their own issues. Grace is a teen, and does not have the life experience to solve issues in the same way that Cassie does, although she eventually gets people to where they need to go. Abigail is much fonder of solving issues through chaos and disruption than gentle nudges, so things go wrong, even though they are actually going right.
The other major residents of the town include James Denton as Dr. Sam Radford, the man of science who at first is in conflict with, but eventually learns to love the new age witchiness of Cassie. He has a son Nick who starts off as a hoodlum type, but soon falls in line. There’s also Mayor Tisdale, an obnoxious woman who both abuses her power as mayor on a daily basis and genuinely wants the town to succeed. There are plenty of other characters, each comfortably obsessed with their own missions, at least until Cassie turns them around on things.
Then there is the town itself, the aptly named Middleton. It both seems to be located deep in the woods in the middle of nowhere, but also somehow adjacent to Blairsville, their heated rival that is either four hours away or encroaching on their borders depending on what the plot needs it to be. Middleton is a small town, and the early plot revolves around getting Dr. Sam to stay, because he is the only doctor, at least until he takes a job at the nearby hospital. This is the sort of logic you can expect, and I’ve learned to just go with it. Remember, there is magic in this town, so I accept that it can change to fit their needs.
As I said earlier, we started watching the show with a certain sense of mocking, and that has not gone away, but I’ve also learned to love the residents of Middleton, even the mayor, as obnoxious as she is. The reason is both as mysterious and obvious as the witchcraft that is afoot.
To begin with, the town of Middleton may be stocked with kooks, but they are exceedingly well-dressed and attractive kooks. Everyone looks beautiful all the time. They have perfected the art of sweater wearing and taken an advanced course in scarf placement. If anyone looks disheveled at any point, you can be sure the plot is going to kick in to correct that problem.
This goes for the setting as well. It is shot in Canada, and looks like a quaint New England town, although for plot purposes it appears to be close to Chicago. Take any outdoor shot (and most indoor shots) and you can turn it into a postcard. If anything is out of place, it will be corrected. The town will always remain beautiful and the visitors to this town, even if they hate it at first, will quickly grow to love it. Even the ostensible town hoodlums soon fall in line, because Middleton and the Nightingale women are far too powerful a force to be denied.
Make no mistake, no matter who else thinks they are running things, this town belongs to the Nightingale women. Cassie, Grace, and Abigail may be momentarily overwhelmed by the crisis of the episode, but they will soon fix things. That is actually part of the subversion of the show. On the surface, the show appears to be a tribute to old-fashioned conservative values. The town is overwhelmingly white, heteronormative, middle to upper middle classed, and obsessed with the idea that small businesses are the heart of all that is good in the world. Everyone has a job, or a business, and they love it. If they don’t, a new job or business is quickly found for them. The kids, for their part, are excellent students, or will eventually become so, because this town is not for slackers.
The subversion of this conservative world is the fact that the women run the town, and they use magic (not prayer) to do so. That magic always seems to be more new age than occult, but make no mistake, spells are cast, and magic is afoot. Even the non-magical women, such as mayor Tisdale, are running this town. It is up to the men, especially Dr. Sam and his son Nick, to change their ways in favor of the women they care about. This subtext is interesting, mainly because the show seems so devoid of subtext. Both the problems and the solutions are easy to decipher. You just have to wait patiently to the plot to do exactly what you expect it to do. The estranged father and daughter will be reunited, the writer and editor who clearly belong together will fall in love, the heartless developer who tries to tear down the beautiful old building will be foiled and may even become an ally. There’s no need to worry. Everything will be fine. Cassie and the other Nightingale women are on the job.
While this is ever mockable, it is comforting. I like that the town of Middleton is out there, filled with basically good (though utterly self-involved) people who will learn their lessons and become better people. What started as ironic watching has become an actual affection, and when Cassie responds to someone’s question with a knowing smile and tilt of her head (as she does a dozen times every episode), I will still laugh every time, but I will keep watching.