What’s Worth Watching: ‘Coat of Many Colors’ on NBC for Thursday, December 10

Dolly Parton's Coat of Many Colors - Season 1
Quantrell Colbert/NBC

Dolly Parton’s “Coat of Many Colors,” Thursday, Dec. 10, 9/8c, NBC

If you somehow mistake the Partons for The Waltons, that will be just fine with NBC. The network has gone all in with Dolly Parton to tell her story, based on her “Coat of Many Colors” anthem, with as much Hallmark-style sentiment and unembarrassed schmaltz as the Great Smoky Mountains can bear. The big difference: Instead of a John-Boy to give perspective on a big not-always-happy rural family living on love in a hardscrabble mountain setting, Coat of Many Colors uses adorable little Dolly—or “Dolly Rebecca,” as she’s called when scolded for misbehaving—as the eyes and ears to document the Partons’ spiritual and personal highs and lows in the mid-1950s.

The actual Dolly Parton, resplendent in red, introduces the movie from a sleigh outside her Dollywood theme park, warbling the tune that serves as inspiration for a tale that might be more appropriately accompanied by a hymn. Because what sets Coat of Many Colors apart from other run-of-the-mill holiday TV-movies is its serious depiction of deep Christian faith, embodied by Dolly’s devout and loving mother Avie Lee (Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland giving a convincingly warm, unaffected performance). Having borne seven children with another on the way, Avie Lee indulges her little “songbird” Dolly in precocious starry-eyed fantasies of future fame, and talented young Alyvia Alyn Lind’s Dolly is thankfully closer to a countrified Shirley Temple than Honey Boo Boo in channeling Dolly’s aggressive spreading of uplift.

But when a personal tragedy shakes the Partons, Momma’s tested faith creates a wedge in her marriage to farmer husband Lee (a stoic Ricky Schroder), who refuses to step inside the church where her minister father (Gerald McRaney) preaches. It doesn’t help when proud Dolly, who also feels abandoned by God, rejects the “coat of many colors” her mother sewed with her very own hands. (And yes, an analogy is made to Joseph’s coat from the Bible.)

Clearly there are lessons to be learned, and many tears to be shed along the way. Predictable? Yes. Inspirational? Even more so, and only a Grinch would bet against the ability of Dolly Parton to draw a sizable audience this time of year. (If successful, look for more Parton-inspired movies down the road, including one based on “Jolene.” Maybe Nettles can star in that one, too. She’s that good.)