"The fatal flaw of Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings is the dichotomy between the content and the platform," Jordan Julian says of the Netflix holiday anthology series based on Parton's songs. "It often feels like a Lifetime movie—granted, a shockingly well-acted one—between the bad wigs and the computer game graphics. Yet it has the platform, relatively high-profile cast, and gratuitous length of a big-budget prestige drama. This clear disconnect is the source of Heartstrings’ problems. If the show truly did premiere on Lifetime, the network of made-for-TV true crime movies starring retired soap opera actresses, I would be singing its praises just for landing Kathleen Turner alone. Ultimately, the issue is not that Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings is especially bad; it’s that it failed to live up to its lofty streaming-era aspirations."
Heartstrings' problem is there are no twists or surprises that aren't already laid out in her lyrics: "Once upon a time, this series might have been wholesome, sentimental content scripted for Lifetime or another woman-targeted channel," says Robyn Bahr. "It certainly looks and feels like a slick but tightly budgeted show from a bygone age, akin to a Hallmark Christmas movie with maybe a few more neurons. It's bright and femme. The episodes, however, are practically (and painfully) twice as long as any from a network drama — a telltale sign of streaming bloat. In the two episodes available to critics, the first clocks in at 67 minutes and the second lasts an interminable 87. All from a couple of two-to-five-minute ditties."