Most country music stars don’t have their own Netflix anthology series, but then most country music stars aren’t Dolly Parton. We’ve known for a while that Netflix has been working with the legendary singer and songwriter on a series of special projects, and we’re now moving closer to the release date of what we feel might be the most fascinating of them: ‘Heartstrings.’ The official trailer for the show has gone live this week.
The first thing we should point out about it is that the show doesn’t have much to do with Dolly herself, and nor, for the main part, does it have much to do with country music. This is yet another extension of the Dolly Parton brand – a brand which already contains a theme park and an official mobile slots game. She’s almost unique in that last aspect – the only musicians who tend to turn up on mobile slots websites like Rose Slots are rock and metal acts. She’s the only country singer with her own mobile slots game, and she’s the only country singer to have her music adapted into a drama series that isn’t about music. Even after all these years, Dolly is still breaking new ground.
So if ‘Heartstrings’ isn’t about country music, what is it about? Even though the music isn’t featured front and center, it’s still integral to the plot. A team of Netflix writers – along with Dolly – have taken the themes that Dolly deals with in the lyrics to some of her most famous songs and created eight standalone stories based on those songs. If press reports are to be believed, Dolly will appear as an actor in some of the episodes, although those who’ve seen early previews say that only in the final story – suitably based on the song ‘Jolene’ – does she actually play a character. In all of the others, she appears at the very beginning to introduce us to the show, tell us a little bit about the song, and welcome us to the story. That makes it sounds like it might be a warm and cozy show, although the subject matters set to be tackled suggest that may not always be true.
From the few seconds of each of the eight stories we can see in the official trailer, we can get an idea of the topics we’re likely to cover. Romance is definitely as a theme – as you’d probably expect it to be – but there’s also a war drama in there, and an old-school western. We also know from Dolly’s tweets about her new show that there will be a revenge comedy in there somewhere, and a family drama. The format has been described as resembling ‘Black Mirror’ – another highly successful Netflix show – albeit without a single connecting thread that runs through the episodes.
Fans of Dolly are probably wondering which of her songs have been used as the inspiration for the tales, and we’d be happy to give you the information. We’ve already mentioned ‘Jolene,’ which will be the final of the eight episodes, and appears to be at least partially set in a bar, and stars Julianne Hough as the titular character. Before we get to that point we’ll have seen stories loosely inspired by the lyrics and ideas of ‘Two Doors Down,’ If I Had Wings,’ These Old Bones,’ ‘JJ Sneed,’ Sugar Hill,’ ‘Down from Dover,’ and ‘Cracker Jack.’ Kathleen Turner has been enrolled to play the role of ‘Old Bones’ in ‘These Old Bones,’ which on the surface would seem to be an inspired piece of casting. Parton’s character in ‘Jolene’ is known only as ‘Babe,’ which may just be a case of Dolly being Dolly. We wouldn’t expect her to refer to herself any other way.
As keen fans might know (and as we alluded to at the start of the article), this isn’t the first or only Dolly Parton collaboration with Netflix. She and her music were involved in 2018’s ‘Dumplin,’ which featured Jennifer Aniston and received excellent reviews when it was released. There’s also thought to be a feature film in the works, although nobody currently knows for sure when that’s expected to be released, what format it might take, and even whether or not it’s started filming yet.
If this series of eight episodes goes well, it could lead to a second season of ‘Heartstrings.’ Obviously, Dolly Parton has many more songs that could be used as the basis for storytelling, including some of her best-known work. ‘9 to 5’ wasn’t selected for this first run, which suggests that Netflix deliberately held a few big hitters back in case they might be needed further down the line. From the warm words Parton has used to describe the show on social media it can be presumed that she’d be happy to work with Netflix again: In a tweet sent when the trailer launched, she said she’d been dreaming of turning her music into TV shows or movies ‘since she was a young girl,’ and is delighted that she’s finally been able to turn that dream into a reality.
Netflix will likely be watching the performance of the show closely for more reasons than just wanting to persuade Parton back for a second run. If the format proves to be successful, it could open the door for a whole new entertainment concept, with a range of world-famous musicians collaborating with the company to have their own music turned into stories, and providing the soundtrack. It could be an excellent promotional vehicle for both the streaming service and the musicians – the show is likely to introduce Parton’s music to an audience who’ve never come across it before. Many of the stars of the past and the present would part with a lot of money for an opportunity like that.
For now, though, all the focus is on ‘Heartstrings,’ which has to be a success before any of the other ideas can even be discussed. If you want to tune in and find out how the music of Dolly Parton translates into fiction, you can access the whole series as of Friday 22nd November.