While the heart of this series is female friendships, the men in Sweet Magnolias admirability showcase respect by consistently moving forward through growth. This is, of course, excluding Bill Townsend, who has ways to go, and frankly, we aren’t even sure if he’ll ever get there.
Erik Whitley, Cal Maddox, Trotter Vidhyarkorn, and Ronnie Sullivan each exhibit admirable qualities that tell us they’re worth caring for. They deserve the women in their lives (platonically and romantically), but ultimately they deserve our respect. It’s a rarity for us to say this outside of a show like Ted Lasso that’s consistently dismantling toxic masculinity. But Sweet Magnolias is trying, and that’s especially the case for its second season.
The men in Sweet Magnolias are trying to do better, and as a result, they’re setting examples for the younger generations in Serenity. They’re fully aware of the importance of love and treating the people in their lives with the type of warmth they deserve. While people like Erik and Trotter have been doing this brilliantly since Season 1, watching Cal and Ronnie grow has been a tremendous treat for Season 2.
In Sweet Magnolias Season 2 got to watch Erik not only be present for every little moment in Helen’s life, but we also got to watch him unfold to her. We watched him put aside his pain to help her, and in doing so, it helped him heal a part of himself that he desperately needed. Erik has always been fantastic. We haven’t seen the worse of him, but we understood that his actions directly result from the pain he’s lived with for far too long. Erik Whitley would give anything for Helen, but also, he’ll extend that same respect for everyone.
For Erik, this season’s primary growth has been for the audience (and the characters within Serenity). We finally learn about the cross he tirelessly carries and the trauma of losing his family that led him to cook for healing. As Erik opened up to Helen, he clarified that he’s the kind of man who isn’t capable of giving in halves. Erik gives wholly because he wants to extend the same love and grace he’s seen to others. He wants to be a reason someone’s load is lighter. He wants to use his pain to make someone else’s darkness lighter. And he’s a man who consistently sees the best in others.
In the light that Erik has always been, so has Trotter—the term human sunshine matches him perfectly. Trotter’s light is infectious and his heart even more so. He embodies the same kindness a town like Serenity should stand on, and as far as the men of Sweet Magnolias go, there’d be a missing piece without Trotter’s presence.
Trotter’s patience with the Townsend boys and his persistent kindness brighten every corner of Serenity. In a season full of challenges, Trotter and Ashley take an essential step by vocalizing their desires to adopt. They then take an even more significant step by mutually deciding that they don’t want to adopt a baby, but instead an older kid who likely feels alone and neglected. In other words, their arc in Season 2 is the best of all the men, and to see them go further with the adoption towards an even happier outcome will be a genuine delight to watch.
And then there’s Cal Maddox, the one we’re most uncertain of by the end of Season 2, but the one whose arc we aren’t doubting. Sweet Magnolias does an excellent job of fleshing out his character this season and giving him depth beyond the pretty boy exterior. The season lets us into a darker part of his character by showing us the lingering anger from his past and the doubts that creep up when he’s unsure of how to control his emotions.
While Cal’s decisions in the finale are likely to have ramifications on both the team and his relationship with Maddie, he’s shown us the tenderness of his heart and the detail that he’s willing to try to be better. He wants to be a better example for her boys, but he has ways to go, and until he actively works on himself (which Season 3 will likely make him do with the introduction of therapy in Season 2), we’re close to seeing the best of him.
Finally, none of the men in Sweet Magnolias have the kind of growth Ronnie Sullivan does, primarily because he commits one of the worst mistakes a man can make. I thought it’d be impossible to forgive Ronnie, but from the moment we watched him take care of his family at the hospital, it became clear that he’s a man who’s always willing to put his family first. Ronnie needed to earn Dana Sue’s trust by showing her growth, and he consistently does that throughout the season.
It’s admirable to note that couple’s therapy is his decision, and though he couldn’t vocalize why he was unhappy in the past, today, the man who stands before us is aware of how horrifically he messed up. Ronnie is now trying to be a better example for both his daughter and the younger boys as well. He’s trying to work on himself, and ultimately, that’s more than enough because we cannot expect perfection from anyone.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Isaac in this equation because while this article is primarily about the men who have a significant other (and how they behave as a result of love), Isaac’s grace and goodness are unparalleled. His consistent means of giving, his acute awareness of his blessings, and the unceasing love he pours into the world are admirable in every way.
The men of Sweet Magnolias know the women (and men) they are surrounded by are treasures. They are fully aware of the gems in their lives, and they are fully aware that whatever they do, they need to let them shine. Do some of their antics prompt eye rolls? Yes, without question. But where it matters, they carry themselves with grace and love. They allow themselves moments of vulnerability because they know the importance of transparency in communication and what they could lose if they don’t give entirely.
Now streaming on Netflix: What are your thoughts on the men in Sweet Magnolias? Let us know in the comments below.