[Warning: General spoilers ahead.]
After a four-year hiatus, Hallmark Movies & Mysteries returns Murder She Baked to us with a brand new mystery and a brand new series title. Now rebranded as Hannah Swensen Mysteries, the first installment, Sweet Revenge, picks up six months after Just Desserts. I got a little verklempt when I watched this one, y’all, and I think it’s a lovely Valentine for the longtime fans, who, like me, have really missed these characters.
Hannah and Mike are happily engaged, Dolores is a newly minted romance novelist, Norman is single and maybe not quite loving it, and there’s a new sister in town–Michelle, played by Tess Atkins–who’s been a staple in the books but not previously referenced onscreen. The murder du jour is a fitness instructor at Hannah’s gym who also happened to be Mike’s neighbor. They team up to solve the crime while carefully navigating Mike’s assigned partnership with Stella (Lucia Walters), a federal agent brought in to help.
I spoke with Alison Sweeney and Cameron Mathison about the new outing, and their joy at getting the band back together. I’ll have Mathison’s chat tomorrow. Here’s what Sweeney had to say about diving back into Eden Lake for the new series, on which she is now the star and executive producer.
She was thrilled to revive the characters and their mysteries and points to the fans and the rich source material as big reasons for making it happen. “No matter what I did, what I posted, what other projects we worked on, everyone would always ask, ‘When are you going to do another Murder She Baked?’ And people kept asking,” she recalls.
“I started asking [the network], ‘What is the plan? Is there something we can do?’ And finally we figured out a way to bring these characters back to life and I’m just so thrilled and excited and I felt the same way you did being back on set and playing Hannah.”
“[The rebrand] was a product of it being a new production and having new people involved. Murder She Baked was a specific title to do with the previous executives and we weren’t able to keep it going. So we wanted to embrace the Hannah Swenson character and the Joanne Fluke novels–there are 28 of these books out there. So we’ve got lots of room to grow. We thought that [the new title would] help the audience remember it’s all about Hannah and her friends and this wonderful bakery and solving those mysteries and would be the right way to move.”
Alongside the rebrand, the new film has a different score, and Sweeney says that was by design. “We wanted to really come up with a musical theme that was specific to this story. We were looking, with the framework of the Regency gala at the end of the movie, [for something aligned] with the classical music,” she points out. “That’s something that’s near and dear to my heart. I really wanted to take a fresh look at the music and [that’s] reflected in this particular story.”
The film is the first adaptation from screenwriter Marcy Holland (and directed by Pat Williams), and Sweeney says Holland was also a fan. “She read the book and we discussed these characters at length and she was ready and willing and excited to jump into the Swensen family. And she just got it right out of the gate. When I read the first draft, I had this huge smile on my face the entire time,” she says.
“It’s so exciting, but also sort of comforting, when you’re taking a chance on something. I felt a lot of responsibility being the executive producer on this and bringing it back to life. I was excited and I knew the fans wanted it, but I also felt nerves of making sure we honor what the fans are looking for and satisfy what they’ve been craving for and asking for all this time. There’s sort of extra pressure associated with that. And then when I read the script, it put all my concerns at ease. I knew we had a winner.”
Michelle steps into the narrative role Andrea played in the previous films, and Lisa Durupt sits this one out. “Michelle was heavily featured as a main character in all the novels. And so for me, my question was why wasn’t she in the first movies, and I didn’t have a say in that as I came in close to the start of production on the first Murder She Baked film. I was really excited to be able to introduce this character that I think plays such a big role in Hannah’s life,” she shares.
“And of course, in Dolores’s life and, and in some ways it was a really fun compliment to our characters that she is sort of that rebellious black sheep character. And she likes to challenge the status quo with Dolores. And so that was a really fun element. And I thought it really complimented the family of women really well.”
“I love [Lisa] so much and hope that we can make it happen [for her to return]. In some ways it’s hard, because you want to have the whole family there, but also you have a mystery and the storyline with Dolores is her romance novel.”
“I think we just decided to make sure we spend our time wisely with these characters that we could develop and leave the door open for Andrea’s return in another episode down the line when we can use her to her full advantage. We wanted to flush out the Eden Lake family and help everyone feel like they’re really a part of this community.”
The relationship with Norman in this one is a little less easy going than where we left them in the last film, and Sweeney says that’s a nod to the source material. “That’s another thing we pulled from the book. Having had lots of wonderful discussions with Joanne about these wonderful complex characters, the dynamic with Hannah and Mike and Norman in the books…she just really loved to move forward two steps and then step back,” she explains.
“There was certainly a big discussion with us and the network about where we were going to start from. Mike and Hannah have been engaged for six months with no progress [toward a wedding]. And I think Norman is wondering what that means,” she says.
“And he hasn’t found anyone else in his life to fill that spot for him. It’s still Hannah. And so, [engaging with her] would be awkward for him. I really loved the idea that even though everyone’s friendly, it’s just awkward [for them] and fun for the audience to be a fly on the wall during those types of moments.”
Sweeney says returning to the movies clicked wonderfully into place, especially when she was reunited with Mathison. “I think the first scene I had with Cameron when Mike walks into the bakery and charms Hannah. It was so good and felt like we were right at home again. And I had that moment of realizing, ‘This is what the fans were missing and looking forward to.’ So I was really excited about that,” she shares.
Sweeney also enjoyed giving Barbara Niven a larger arc. “I love her so much, and she is such a lovely human, but also such a great actress. I have always admired and enjoyed working opposite her, but I picked this storyline, this particular book because of Delores writing the romance novel about Hannah’s love life,” she says.
“It tickles me so much that every time I would read it or talk about it with anyone, I could just picture Barbara doing those scenes. And she just really made it come to life better than I had envisioned. And that scene where she trots over to Hannah with the wedding dress, I could hardly stop laughing at every take.”
Sweet Revenge: A Hannah Swensen Mystery premieres Sunday at 9 pm/8c following a daylong marathon of Murder She Baked. Here’s a sneak peek, and all our Murder She Baked coverage is here. My one-on-one interview with Cameron Mathison is here.
Photos and Videos Courtesy of Crown Media.
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