When Discovery+ launched earlier this year, many in the TV business wondered who would subscribe to a streaming service that offered unscripted programs usually watched after idly flipping through channels on a lazy Sunday afternoon. The answer is… me. As someone who has absorbed so much of Guy Fieri’s travel series Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives that it’s not out of the ordinary to turn on the show and realize it’s an episode I’ve already seen, I am the target demographic for Discovery+. The addition of the service to the streaming landscape has allowed me to watch my favorite comfort shows on-demand. And yet, I had no idea that I would become so obsessed with Magnolia Table with Joanna Gaines.
Magnolia Table, which is available as part of a preview for Gaines’ upcoming Magnolia Network (launching on the Discovery+ app, the new Magnolia app on July 15, and as a linear cable channel early in 2022), finds the popular Fixer Upper host and entrepreneur instructing viewers on how to cook various dishes from her cookbooks in a beautiful, rustic kitchen that was once a flour mill. But what sets the show apart from the dozens and dozens of other culinary-themed programs out there that want to teach you how to cook is the relaxed feel of the series, which is so laid back in its approach to production that it doesn’t cut away from or edit out its host’s mistakes.
Most cooking programs you see today are overproduced and extremely polished, with trained celebrity chefs like Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis explaining how to cook meals that will make your mouth water, but don’t necessarily always feel achievable for the average home cook. Even when the host isn’t a professional chef, like Ree Drummond of the popular Food Network series The Pioneer Woman, the show still goes through the entire post-production editing process to clean it up and make it ready for air. This is all fine, of course, especially when you’re just looking for something to pass the time or are already fairly adept in the kitchen, but it’s a breath of fresh air to see a show like Magnolia Table that eschews the glossiness of perfection that most culinary programs attempt in order to focus on the act of cooking.
In a special “making of” episode of Magnolia Table, Gaines explains why she decided to keep the show a little rough around the edges. “I had started feeling like, ‘Oh this is not real, this is more produced,’” she recalled of doing a test shoot for the show. “I think that’s normal. That’s not anyone’s fault, that’s just how you shoot TV […] But the process was harder for me because it felt produced. I think I realized in that moment, ‘Hey, if I’m going to do this, it’s going to be me really cooking something, start to finish. Don’t stop me. If I mess up, we show it.’”
In one episode in Season 1, this actually happens. Joanna attempts to make hollandaise sauce for eggs benedict but messes up and has to start the process over. The show doesn’t edit any of this out; instead, it becomes a teaching moment that reinforces the reality of life, which is that sometimes you’re going to make mistakes. Moments like these make the show feel accessible in a way very few other cooking shows are, as if it’s the The Joy of Painting featuring Joanna as the Bob Ross of the kitchen. She really makes you believe that you can cook any of the items featured on her show, and you probably can.
In a year when most of us are cooking for ourselves and our families more than ever before because the pandemic has forced us to stay home, Magnolia Table is a perfect addition to our lives. Not only does it teach viewers to cook comforting and filling dishes they’ll actually want to eat—like sausage and gravy or a delicious chicken casserole—it uses common and easy-to-find ingredients as well (you might want to ignore how much butter goes into each dish though). A good but not perfect comparison for the show might be Rachael Ray’s 30-Minute Meals, which teaches viewers at home to cook entire meals in a short time frame so that it fits into everyone’s busy schedules. The meals aren’t complicated but they are delicious. Ray has also famously said she is not a chef but a cook, and the same thing can be applied to Gaines, as she also has no formal culinary training.
Despite this, plenty of networks probably would have given Gaines, who launched an empire and became a household name in the wake of the success of her home renovation series Fixer Upper, her own cooking show. But then she’d have had to answer to outside parties and network executives who might not have allowed a relaxed series like Magnolia Table to make it to air. With the freedom provided to her by Magnolia Network, a joint venture between Gaines, her husband Chip, and Discovery, Inc., Joanna is able to make many of the executive decisions herself, and in doing so has successfully delivered one the most comforting and welcome new shows of the entire pandemic.
Season 1 of Magnolia Table with Joanna Gaines is now streaming on Discovery+.
Kaitlin Thomas is an entertainment journalist and TV critic. Her work has appeared in TV Guide, Salon, and TV.com, among other places. You can find her tweets about TV, sports, and Walton Goggins @thekaitling or read more of her work at kaitlinthomas.com.
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