Episode 1: Pilot
By: Carlos Uribe
Cedar Cove is a show about the personal life of a small-town judge.
Cedar Cove holds the distinction for being the first original series to air on Hallmark. The channel has been doing television movies for a while now but this is the first time it's launching an actual show. Cedar Cove is basically the exact kind of show you would expect to find on the Hallmark channel. It's a small-town drama that centers around a judge. It's filled with tragic moments that are engineered to generate tears without actually feeling like it's real-life. It's quite possibly the most cheesy show since 7th Heaven. There is nothing wrong with this as I don't mind some cheesy moments in my entertainment. I have no doubt that the same people who flock to watch Hallmark movies are going to love this show. It really isn't a show for me. I might not mind some cheesy moments but I don't want a television series where they are basically every single story beat. It doesn't help that the pilot is largely predictable when it comes to big plot movements, the characters aren't very well developed, and it's very close-ended to the point where I don't need to see another episode. That's actually a huge problem with the pilot: there is nothing that really is going to want to make the viewer want to come back. The pilot's direction also suffers some serious issues in that it feels very staged. There wasn't a single scene that felt natural. I like being able to escape into a television show but it's impossible to do that when everything feels like a play. This is an issue that will probably be corrected in future episodes as the actors get more comfortable in their roles and with their coworkers but it's one that makes it difficult to really immerse yourself from day one.
The pilot for Cedar Cove largely plays out like a Hallmark Channel movie. There is the judge who gets offered the job she's always wanted. Her name is put on a list to be a federal judge. It's basically her dream but she turns it down in the end because then there wouldn't be a series. This is a show about a small-town judge, not a federal one in a large city. The series is going to require her to stay in Cedar Cove so it should come as no surprise when she decides to stick around. It's actually kind of annoying how long the pilot kept up the ruse because it was so obvious. If this was a movie, it might have worked. She does get a case which suggests the show might have a weekly case where her ruling manages to improve the lives of the people involved. It's basically a promise of a “feel-good” ending every week which might work for the fans but it's too light for my tastes. While all of this is going on, the new guy in town (a reporter so he can ask questions) falls in love with her. It's a cheesy love story that has lines like “I can't stop thinking about you.” That should basically give you an indication of what this show is really like. The only good part is that making him a reporter gave the writers a perfect vehicle to introduce the town and it's quirky residents. The final plot has to do with the daughter who was planning to marry someone because she wanted security rather than love. Only this relationship seems doomed because the judge blackmails him to break up with her. There are seeds for a love triangle because her old high school sweetheart, who has no planned future, has come back to town. It's a very basic love triangle where she has to pick between safety or taking a risk with love. Only it's not terribly interesting when we all know what the outcome is going to be and there's no reason for anyone to root for the guy she agreed to marry. The pilot was predictable, it never really had a compelling story, and by the time it was done it felt like there was nowhere else for the show to go. The case got it's happy ending, Jack and the judge begin their new relationship, and the only plot that doesn't get resolved is Justine's but you know where that's going. There's too much closure that the rest of the season isn't justified by the pilot.
The main character in Cedar Cove is Olivia Lockhart, the town's judge. She wants to make a difference, believes in the law, and presumably shares no relation with Diane Lockhart. I guess a major issue with me is that I never really connected with her. She's obviously trying to do the right thing but there was never anything that made her interesting or compelling. Being a judge who tries to make a difference isn't bad but it can't be all that defines the character. Her love interest, Jack Griffith, is as bland as possible. He's a reporter who used to be alcoholic which is why he moved to the small town. It's his last chance. It's the most predictable backstory you could give someone and it's not like his alcoholism really makes him interesting. He quickly falls in love with Olivia, tries his best to track down stories, but there's never any moment where I found myself rooting for him. The two main characters of the show might be in love but it's ultimately hard to care about them. There's nothing more to Olivia outside of her job while Jack simply doesn't work well as the male lead. What's worse is that these two characters feel like their the most fake of them all, the most scripted, the most artificial. It's possible they might be fleshed out more as the series goes along but it's not a good start that the two begin as lifeless as possible. Not only does the plot give no reason to come back to Cedar Cove but the characters don't either. I'd like to note that it was a nice touch that Jack kept drinking coffee: an obvious substitute for alcohol. I'm being overtly negative in this review to this show that I need to point out that it does do some things right.
The rest of the characters don't fare that well. The judge's daughter, Justine, is stuck in a relationship with security but no love. She's now going to be tempted by her former high school sweetheart whose a risk but whom she's obviously meant to be with. There is no question on this matter and I doubt this “love” triangle will split up any potential fanbase this show has. Justine isn't a very complex character and the attempt to give her a layer failed miserably. It's revealed near the end of the pilot that Justine had a twin brother that died when they were thirteen. She had watched him drown. We are told she never really got over him and later on she tells her mother that she's been thinking about him all this time. Only this doesn't work because there is no indication that she was actually doing this before we find out that the judge's son died. She never mentions him, she doesn't wake up from a bad dream about him, and she doesn't seem to even care about him until she's caught watching a tape of them from childhood. This kind of grief should have been reflected from the very beginning rather than shoehorned at the very end. The rest of the characters don't really make that much of an impression. The quirky ones are quirky while the rest are rather boring.
Cedar Cove begins on the wrong foot. I wouldn't mind a show with a lot of cheesy moments but I at least ask for characters that are going to sell them. The judge and the reporter should have been more interesting and compelling rather than as bland as possible. The daughter could have been developed better throughout the pilot rather than an attempt to force depth into her later in the episode. The plot could have had a little less closure and a little more promise that there's more to the story. The pilot for Cedar Cove promises a weekly Hallmark Channel movie. Some people might be interested in that but I'm not. If you like what the channel has done, I recommend checking this show out. If not, then this is a show you can miss without losing any sleep over it.