HEARTLAND is apparently Canada's premier TV drama. And when the show, which is set on a ranch in Alberta, Canada, focuses on the difficulties running a modern horse ranch, it's a lot of fun to watch. Yet all too often we're treated to ridiculous and predictable story lines that are preposterous and make the characters shallow. Let's start out with Amy (the appealing Amber Marshall), the granddaughter of the patriarch, Jack Bartlett (Shaun Johnston). Amy is a young horse-whisperer, who is something of a local legend. But every time she sees her boyfriend, Ty (Graham Wardle), she's an emotional mess. These two miss each other's signals all the time. Her sister, Lou (Michelle Morgan) is even worse. When the series opens, Amy's older sister returns to her grandfather's ranch to attend their mother's funeral. Lou is a mess of insecurities which all-too-often, she disguises by acting superior. She bosses everyone in the family, and when she finally finds the guy she loves, she does the same thing to him. When she gives birth to their daughter, she becomes a total control freak. Lou is smart and very good at business, but suffers from intense guilt as a mother. Her husband is the soul of patience, and I'm amazed at how nasty she can be. Their dad, played by Chris Potter with all the charisma he can manage, is perhaps the most unappealing of the clan. A first class womanizer, this ego-maniac always puts his own needs ahead of his two daughters. When he finds out he's the father of a young boy, he suddenly acquires a conscience. His daughters need to kick his selfish ass out of the house.
Amy's boyfriend, Ty, first appears in the series as a troubled teenager, with a no-good father, a weak mother and a bully boyfriend. On parole, Ty is taken into the family where he quickly establishes himself as the resident good guy. His hard work, impresses Jack, and Amy is drawn to this emotionally fraught young man. Over and over again, the writers create absurd dramatic hoops for these two actors to hurl themselves through.
The Fleming/Bartlett clan are very generous. Mallory Wells, a young teenager, who lives with them, is the daughter of a father who is a traveling musician and a mother who chooses to spend her time with her husband. Why they don't seem to mind that they have abandoned their daughter is beyond me. Mallory is a classic whiner and a stunning bore. Later as Mallory looks to be fading from the show, another kid, with a troubled past comes to live on the ranch. Then there's Caleb Odell (Kerry James) a talented rodeo rider and good time boy, who often works at the ranch. He takes one look at Ashley, a stuck-up classmate of Amy's and falls in love. Ashley is in a constant war of wills with her controlling mother, Val. So of course, she falls in love with him. From country clubs and being an a-list member of the horsey set, where Ashley is a champion horse athlete, she moves into Caleb's trailer, where--surprise, surprise--they are constantly at each other's throats. Val never seems to get a real comeuppance over her obvious and mean- spririted meddling.
The scenery where this show is set is stunning. Rolling hills, vast fields of grazing land, mountains and drop-dead vistas constantly arrest the eye. And then there are the horses. Beautiful animals all, who do amazing things from racing to jumping to simply dancing. The writer seems to find more believable story lines for the horses than they do for the show's characters. Even Jack, the family patriarch who can find solutions to most situations, can't seem to get his romantic life sorted out.
Clearly I'm in the minority here. HEARTLAND has been on the air for nine seasons. I'm nearly at the end of the sixth season on Netflix. I like this series low-key story telling and it keeps me engaged when it stays away from soap opera and focuses on the animals and scenery.
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