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Review: Debbie Macomber’s 'Cedar Cove'

Hallmark Channel has said it has taken extra time to get its first scripted series to the level that will please fans of author Debbie Macomber’s dozen-plus “Cedar Cove” novels. The pilot was shot last year, and after the series was picked up, the debut has been pushed back a few times while work proceeded on the next 10 episodes.

I haven’t read the books, but this pilot (two hours with commercials) does more than enough to convince me this is a drama worth watching.

The main draw is star Andie MacDowell, who plays Judge Olivia Lockhart, who presides over the municipal court in this coastal town where, the show description states, the cases she hears will mirror social issues faced by the judge, a divorced mother of a grown daughter. In the pilot, she presides over a pending divorce that includes a tragic family complication to which the judge can personally relate, and the way she deals with it in court lands her uncomfortably on the local newspaper’s front page.

The newspaper editor is a newcomer, a Philadelphia transplant, played by Dylan Neal. He’s a divorced dad who immediately takes a liking to Olivia and the feeling is mutual, though the article and other factors complicate their budding romance. He’s a big-city newshound who mildly mocks the Rotary breakfasts and seagull-calling contests he’s now writing about, but demons from his past have made this job a last chance at redemption, professionally and personally. He’s smart enough to know that when Olivia’s mother tells him the paper ought to have a page of seniors’ news each week, that’s not a bad idea. (This is Hallmark Channel, after all).

MacDowell is mostly the smiling, sometimes giggly presence we remember from Groundhog Day or Four Weddings and a Funeral, but she’s not averse to bending a rule in court or using a bit of borderline blackmail to ward off an unwelcome suitor for her daughter, Justine (Sarah Smyth). Neal, too, doesn’t play to Front Page stereotypes. The small-town humor is fairly smart, and while it’s unclear how much crime and punishment might lie ahead, no bodies drop in the pilot, so one doesn’t expect Cedar Cove to resemble Murder She Wrote’s Cabot Cove in the whodunit area.

The lengthy gestation gave the producers time to add some well-known actors to the cast of regulars, among them Bruce Boxleitner, Barbara Niven (who, like Neal, is a former star of the soap The Bold and the Beautiful) and Teryl Rothery. Hallmark is giving this series the care it deserves, and I look forward to hearing reviews from Debbie Macomber fans.