Dolly Parton's Heartstrings (Netflix)
Who was the real Jolene from Dolly Parton's 1973 hit song? The truth is more boring than fiction. There was no Jolene, she's a character in a story. Dolly Parton just made her up.
As music consumers there is little we can do about this type of deception. There's still no law declaring songs must be based exclusively on the real lives of their creators. As Parton puts it simply, in the trailer for her new Netflix drama anthology, Dolly Parton's Heartstrings: "Songs are just stories put to music." This is probably the closest thing we have to a legal definition.
The truth, which Parton cheerily tells us in the introduction to the 45-minute dramatic adaptation of her two-and-a-half minute song, is that Jolene was just a name she always liked. The lyrics were inspired by seeing her husband "flirting with this red-headed hussy" at the bank. The weirdest thing about any of this is the thought of Parton going to a bank.
This is where the TV version of Jolene picks up: with part-time bank teller Jolene, cast directly from the lyrics sheet (flaming locks of auburn hair, ivory skin and eyes of emerald green) being swiftly and probably unlawfully dismissed for flirting with a customer. Sweet revenge.
In this modern retelling, Parton's narrator is small-town mum Emily, trying to organise the annual Harvest Festival while raising a Fortnite-addicted 13-year-old son and trying to keep the flame alive with her husband, the kind of successful middle-aged man who spends his spare time schlepping about in unflattering athleticwear.
She meets Jolene during an out-of-character trip to the disreputable local honky-tonk. Baby Blues is owned and operated by a wise woman called Baby, played by Dolly Parton herself. She has blue streaks in her hair.
In the context of the song, it's understood that the character of Jolene and the imagined threat she poses represents the narrator's inner insecurities. Translating this into a screenplay, Jolene becomes more like the monster in a particularly unsubtle horror movie. A monster that Emily unwittingly invites into her home, to give her son guitar lessons.
The 21st century Jolene is also a staunch feminist. "He's married, I'm not – I'm not the one doing the cheating," the recidivist man-taker argues when Emily bails her up about sleeping with a friend's husband. Later, she writes and performs a country ballad with the chorus: "My mistakes are no worse than yours just because I'm a woman." True.
Adapting the enduring melodrama of a 1970s country pop hit into an episode of late-2010s television drama is a hell of an experiment. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it doesn't yield the most subtle or nuanced results, but there is still some hugely enjoyable pay-off in the moments when dialogue and lyrics overlap.
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"I can't compete with you, Jolene!" Emily pleads during one confrontation in the middle of the Harvest Festival. "My marriage, my happiness ... my everything depends on you!"
The corny rock biopic is dead to me now. Adapting popular song lyrics into even cornier television drama? This is the future I want to see.