The Road Home Marks a New Era for Hallmark

In "The Way Home," a time-traveling pond transports a Canadian family back in time to relive a tragic loss. As expected, the show has a lot of twists and turns, but perhaps the biggest surprise is that it airs on...the Hallmark Channel.

When “The Road Home” debuted last winter on my cozy network—my go-to place for cozy romance and feel-good Christmas treats—I was intrigued. The premise sounds more likely to be a dark thriller from The CW or Netflix. I don't usually do theorizing when watching Hallmark, but this requires careful reading.

The show's second season, which premiered last month, follows the lives of three generations of women: grandmother Del Landry (played by Andie MacDowell), daughter Kate ( "Grey's Anatomy" actor Chyler Leigh) ) and 15-year-old Alice (newcomer Sadie Laflamme-Snow).

When the teenager inadvertently travels back to 1999 - just before her uncle disappeared as a child - the women gather on a family farm in New Brunswick, Canada, to try to overcome the loss of their uncle. And, maybe stop it altogether.

Chyler Leigh searches for clues in "The Way Home." Peter Stranks/Hallmark

When I started performing, I was hooked. I'm not alone. According to Nielsen data, "The Way Home" was the third most-watched cable series in 2023, surpassing several Yellowstone dramas.

Hallmark itself is the No. 1 entertainment cable network for women, according to Vulture. Another installment of the series , "When Calls the Heart ," was the most-watched cable series last year, according to Nielsen.

Of course, Hallmark's DNA is at the heart of "All the Way Home" -- family, strong women, and a hint of romance -- and while the focus is on sadness, nothing gets too harrowing. But even so, this show definitely feels different, like discovering that your favorite bakery can also somehow make delicious pizza.

Andie MacDowell stars as Landry matriarch Del in "All the Way Home." Peter Stranks/Hallmark

"People are very loyal to the brand because they know they're safe there and won't be offended or hurt by the content," said Evan Williams, who plays Elliot A family friend and crush. A worthy accomplice of the Landrys' time travel. "But we took it a step further and said, okay, starting from this foundation, how can we tell a story that has narrative weight, takes risks, has stakes?"

Season 2 of "The Way Home" answers that question more confidently than ever before - using a familiar cast and iconic backdrops to set the stage for the thorny journey ahead (Season 2 will delve into something even darker , the more distant past).

It also does so by introducing new perspectives. While most of the network's rom-coms center on women in their 30s, "The Way Home's" Gen-Z protagonist shows the show's interest in expanding to new audiences

Evan Williams, Sadie LaFram-Snow, Chyler Leigh and Andie MacDowell star in the second season of "The Road Home." Peter Stranks/Hallmark

"Watching it through Alice's eyes gives different generations the opportunity to watch the same show together and talk about something that's accessible to all of us," Laflame Snow tells Bustle on the set in Toronto.

Lee agrees. She watched the first season with her husband, teenage daughter, and 20-year-old son — and she was surprised by their undivided attention. "Everyone is in the same place and it's great to see what's going's pretty crazy," she said. “The response has been amazing.”

That's not the only way the show and Hallmark are growing their audience. The Way Home's panel at New York Comic Con in October 2023 proved that the network is getting better at telling genre stories. Last year's holiday movies alone, for example, included a time-travel romance, an alternate reality inspired by Family Guy , and a Hanukkah-themed Groundhog Day featuring a magic spinning top .

Vic Michaelis and Brian Greenberg engage in a recurring romance in "Reincarnation." Craig Minnelli/Hallmark

If you pay attention to the credits, that might not be too surprising . Hallmark's slate includes several films by writers who also work on the horror genre—as "Christmas Place" screenwriter Ron Oliver once told Empire, "the visuals of both mediums are Got promoted,” making genre crossover a natural next step.

While it's unlikely that the channel will stray from its conventions to the point of Saturday Night Live's "Iconic Horror" spoof, "The Way Home" still mixes things up in an exciting way.

"It's very close to the bone," Williams said. "Addressing grief, addressing different things that don't get a lot of coverage in the mainstream media. There's space. I think we're ready."