The southern charm of Reese Witherspoon's Hello Sunshine meets the glossy drama of Vanderpump Rules in Hulu dating show Love in Fairhope. The series follows five women of different ages and backgrounds as they experience romance in the small town of Fairhope, Alabama, but while their desire to find love may be real, their stories are grounded in artifice. Hulu admits as much in the official description, calling Love in Fairhope a "uniquely unscripted fantasy" that sees "real people star in a story inspired by their own where fantasy and reality collide." Obvious questions emerge. Who crafted this fantasy? Can a made-up story even be unscripted? What do these words mean when jammed together in this context?
Love in Fairhope doesn't attempt to answer these questions — in fact, the nine-episode season doesn't even acknowledge the insincerity of its premise. That, coupled with Heather Graham's narration and some uncomfortably bad acting during staged scenes, makes for a wholly bizarre viewing experience. To be clear, it's not necessarily a positive experience, but I did find it to be a memorable one marked by successive stages of shock, denial, guilt, anger, depression, acceptance, and, of course, obsessive Googling. This is my journey through the wild world of Hulu's Love in Fairhope, a show unlike anything else on TV at the moment.
The opening minutes of Love in Fairhope are so viscerally awkward, I nearly turned it off altogether. "The first chapter of our love story is actually about chapters — starting new ones," says Graham, ever the shrewd narrator. Her mealy-mouthed commentary segues into a brief bio of Abby Mannich, a "heartbreak, hometown girl" who moved back to Fairhope after her relationship in New York ended. After getting ready in slow-motion, Abby walks into a local bar, where she chats with Brit, a bartender who does an extremely bad job of making it seem like they've spoken before. "Periodt! Yes!" shrieks Brit, as Abby explains she's "done with putting guys first and neglecting" her own needs. "So, you're single and ready to... mingle?"
Melodramatic voiceovers, slow-motion intros, and "longtime friends" who know nothing about each other's lives — what is happening?
Abby's night out, which culminates in a morning-after conversation with former flame Trevor, gives way to Mya Jo Williams' grand return to Fairhope after a semester at college. Mya Jo has a close bond with her best friend Nick, and though their romantic history is brief, they still harbor secret feelings for one another. As if Graham's narration isn't clear enough, Nick is introduced riding a tractor with his shirt off, the sun beating down on his broad shoulders. (Naturally, when he sees Mya Jo, he puts on a jacket that remains unzipped for the duration of their conversation.) They talk in circles about Nick's new girlfriend and the town's upcoming Magnolia Ball before Mya Jo drives off, at which point Nick puffs up his chest and looks directly into the camera.
Surely Love in Fairhope can't be a real show that a variety of production companies (including Hello Sunshine, which has a pretty good track record) spent actual money to make. I must be imagining Nick's dead-eyed stare; by the end of the premiere, Graham will reveal this has all been a joke and the cast will snap out of this weird half-fantasy.
Maybe I'm being too hard on this show, even if it does sometimes feel like a crossover between the worst parts of The Hills (the obviously fake relationships, contrived conversations, and "surprise" appearances) and a daytime soap opera. Though she doesn't get as much screen time as Abby and Mya Jo, LaShoundra Young takes Love in Fairhope in a totally different direction as she opens up about her messy separation from her husband Kendell, a popular pastor in town. LaShoundra and Kendell's story is grounded in something approximating reality: In Episode 2, "Second Chances," LaShoundra reveals her husband mismanaged their money, destroying the decades of trust between them. Their effort to figure out what comes next and co-parent their son is every bit deserving of the somber music playing beneath these scenes, which go a long way toward lowering the cringe-factor of the season as a whole.
Congratulations, Love in Fairhope, you've manufactured two of the least compelling love interests in recent television history. Trevor is the quintessential f-boy — he refuses to commit to Abby and flaunts his other hookups in her face — but his good looks are his only redeeming quality; he's so dull that it's impossible to root for their relationship or understand why she continues to go back to him over the first few episodes. Nick isn't much better: While his friendship with Mya Jo seems genuine, he has all the personality of wet cardboard. What do Abby and Mya Jo see in these men? Better yet, what do the producers see in them? Everyone involved in this situation, from the cast to the viewers, deserves more than these two duds.
This show has absolutely no grasp of which of these five stories are interesting, and which aren't. Love in Fairhope puts so much emphasis on Abby and Mya Jo that it neglects the other cast members, particularly Olivia Ogletree, the daughter of "Fairhopian royalty" who recently got back together with her ex-girlfriend Tory, and Claiborne Walsh, who's ready to find another "soulmate or best fried" after losing her husband of 50-plus years.
For long stretches, Olivia and Claiborne don't appear at all, which is a shame because relationships like theirs remain underrepresented on TV. (Honestly, Claiborne would be a great candidate for The Golden Bachelor.) The true heart of the show lies in their complicated romantic journeys, as well as LaShoundra's, but instead of foregrounding stories about queer women finding their way in the rural South or an artist in her 70s navigating modern dating, the series shoves two conventional, entirely unbelievable love triangles down viewers' throats. What's more depressing than that kind of squandered potential?
I am now one with Love in Fairhope. For all its artifice, I've been sucked into these relationships — I want Olivia and Tory to work through their conflicting feelings about having children and LaShoundra to find her footing after a positive pregnancy test. And while I'm less invested in Abby and Mya Jo's stories, I'm hopeful they'll move forward with more worthy men (or at the very least, more exciting). That said, the finale cliffhanger suggests Abby and Mya Jo haven't left the past in the past quite yet, but I reluctantly admit I'll be tuning in to see how their "uniquely unscripted fantasies" end, should the show be renewed.
If I'm being honest, "obsessive Googling" has been a constant of my Love in Fairhope viewing experience, but this stage really kicked into high gear after watching the finale, which again takes place at the Magnolia Ball, one year after the events of the premiere — or so Graham tells us.
As far as I can tell, the Magnolia Ball, which Graham claims is now in its 51st year, is a figment of producers' imagination: There's no record of the alleged "historic" event taking place in Fairhope, or any mention of it on Instagram. It's also a stretch to claim the season took place over the course of a year, as filming took place from July to November 2022, followed by a brief stint in February 2023, during Mardi Gras season. All signs point to the Magnolia Ball being a stand-in for large Mardi Gras events in Fairhope, which cast members including Abby and Olivia posted about at the time.
It doesn't seem like any of the relationships featured in the show have lasted, if they existed at all. Abby's Instagram includes no references to her fiancé Ben — her ex-boyfriend in New York who proposed after an off-camera reunion — save for a few photos from her "engagement party," in which her friends are conspicuously covering up her ring finger. Kendell is absent from LaShoundra's Instagram, as is any mention of a pregnancy, while Mya Jo's suggests she did make it to Miami after all.
Only Olivia's social media presence offers hints of a real relationship: In late October 2022, she and Tory dressed up as Megan Fox and Machine Gun Kelly for Halloween and posted their costumes on TikTok. But that's the last we see of Tory on Olivia's Instagram, corresponding to their breakup later in the season. (For what it's worth, Claiborne's Instagram, where she goes by the hilarious name "Ritz Quackers," features mostly photos of her art and ducks, which is on brand for Fairhope's quirky historian.)
But real or fake, Love in Fairhope's commitment to the bit makes it one of the strangest things on television. For that, Hulu's "reality" show deserves a second season, if only to see what fantastical situations producers cook up next.
Love in Fairhope is streaming on Hulu.
Claire Spellberg Lustig is the Senior Editor at Primetimer and a scholar of The View. Follow her on Twitter at @c_spellberg.