If you were concerned that Hallmark might be moving away from the series business after recent cancellations, The Way Home Season 1 Episode 1 should have allayed those fears.
In one fell swoop, it expands and elevates the magic of Good Witch and the sense of family from Chesapeake Shores.
What more could we ask from a new series than to incorporate what we have enjoyed from past projects while introducing us to an entirely new world?
The first thing of note is the cast, particularly the women at the heart of the Landry family.
Andie MacDowell is a well-respected actor known for a barrage of successful films, who previously starred in an early Hallmark drama series, Cedar Cove, and stars as matriarch Del Landry.
Chyler Leigh, who stars as Kat Landry, has also worked with Hallmark previously but is best known for her roles as Lexie Grey on Grey’s Anatomy and Alex Danvers on Supergirl.
Holding their own with the veteran actors are teen stars Sadie Laflamme-Snow as Alice and Alex Hook as teen Kat.
When a production takes place in two time periods, casting can make or break it. The actors in The Way Home have a close enough resemblance to make the transition easy, but more importantly, the younger actors capture the spirit of their adult counterparts.
You can see through young Kat and Elliott the adults they’re destined to be, and that helps us connect to both versions and genuinely wish for the adults they become to reconnect with the pure ideals that set them on their life paths.
“Mothers and Daughters” introduces us to the Landry women during a time of change in their lives, which offers a wealth of emotional material to mine.
Kat has recently gone through a divorce from the only man she ever loved, the father of her daughter, Alice. Alice is lashing out, wishing her parents would find their way back to each other.
Alice emerges as the typical angsty teen with the world on her shoulders and not a single soul who understands what she’s going through. When your parents’ lives are falling apart, how could they possibly know what you need or have your best interests at heart?
On one fateful day, Kat loses her job and learns her ex-husband is inviting his girlfriend to move in with him, Alice gets expelled from school, and a surprising letter arrives from Kat’s mother, Del, opening her arms for her to return home and reestablish the relationship they once held so dear.
If only it were that simple.
What drove Kat and Del apart wasn’t typical mother-daughter fare. It was something much more profound and remained buried for a long time. Kat’s return blows the dust off of Del’s pain, which she had carefully concealed for her survival.
Their relationship was broken by tragedy, and Kat’s return uncovers memories that veer between bittersweet and too much to bear.
Kat is warmed by memories of her father and brother, even though they’re tinged with hurt and regret. She left home, which allowed her to pack away the pain and turn her back on it while her mother remained behind, forced to confront her loss every day.
Del: You’re floundering. I can see it.
Kat: I’m floundering because I have nothing left to cling to. You erased all of it.
It’s easy to see how they became estranged, and as the early episodes unfold, we’ll discover more about what happened to Colton and Jacob.
More than a part of that story will be experienced firsthand by Alice, who inadvertently discovered a portal to another time.
Now, I’ll be honest. Time travel is my jam. The appeal of it is beyond the pale. It would not only be an opportunity to see things we’d never been able to experience but to see our own lives from the outside, to relive them again, to see people we lost — it would be incredible.
One of the best young adult movies I’ve ever seen was called The Devil’s Arithmetic, starring a young Kirsten Dunst as a Jewish girl during High Holidays who wanted to be anywhere but with her family.
She thought she was above it all, but like Alice, she found herself back in time, walking lockstep with her great aunt during the holocaust, which gave new meaning to what mattered so much to her family.
Like most kids, Alice thinks she’s got a lock on her parents and even her grandmother. But once she’s transported to the past and comes face to face with her mother as a young woman and her grandmother as a mother in love with her husband and family, she sees things differently with the snap of a finger.
I appreciate that Alice was raised well enough by parents who loved her to recognize how her viewpoint of them was skewed by everything they went through in their lifetimes.
You can see all of it on her face as she stands outside the window of the house, watching them as they were — a happy, joyful family, full of hope for the future.
You can only see things through the lens of your own experiences. Hearing about someone else’s experiences doesn’t put you in their shoes, no matter how hard you try.
Alice gets to walk alongside her mother and grandmother in the present, and the past, which we can only guess will give her a unique perspective to help mend the rift between them.
When I received screeners for The Way Home, there was very little information about the new series other than casting and familial relationships. The opening scene at the pond hinted at something, but I couldn’t pinpoint what it was.
When Elliott pulled Alice aside at school, the conversation stood out enough that I captured the quote.
Elliott: I’d do anything for the Landrys. They’ve always been like a second family to me. It’s nice to meet the next generation.
Alice: Well, technically, I’m a Dewan, so.
Elliott: But if you ever need to talk, I’m here, any place, any time. OK?
He seemed to anticipate that she would need him and that he’d be in a unique position to help.
It’s also impressive that typically complex topics are treated with respect. Kat’s ex, Brady, could have been a buffoon or had a mean streak, so it was a pleasant surprise that he was neither. Instead, he was acutely aware of Kat’s needs as well as Alice’s.
The Way Home writers know that a couple who had been together as long as Kat and Brady wouldn’t toss it all into the fire. It’s not only about raising Alice, either. They still have genuine affection for each other in addition to mutual respect.
It’s a relationship in transition, and although Brady is planning on moving in with his girlfriend, he’s all in with Kat when it comes to her happiness and raising their daughter. It’s a rare gift to find that kind of love portrayed on TV.
Here’s a secret: I’ve seen the first four episodes of the season, and the promise this hour offers pays off handsomely. You’ll find yourself invested in the Landry women and the wonderful people they have in their lives.
It all came together beautifully and suggests that this time travel adventure will take off in unexpected and enchanting ways, helping a family heal after decades of pain and resentment while possibly offering them another chance to right wrongs before they rip gaping holes in their happiness.
The Way Home is an instant classic, an unexpected delight ushering in a welcome new era for Hallmark Channel series programming. What do you think?
Are you all in on The Way Home?
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She’s a member of the Critic’s Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.