Film & Television

TV Phenomenon:
Have Yourself A Hallmark Little Christmas

According to multiple studies — and personal experience — if you ask a midlife woman to identify the single feeling that dominates her life, the answer will be simple: “Tired.” Whether this is due to being overworked, juggling career and home, caring for elderly relatives, navigating the minefield of parenting teens, facing an aging body and the new health concerns that accompany it, worrying about finances, redefining or walking away from a long-term relationship — or, in most cases, some exhausting combination of much or all of the above — sheesh — it’s no wonder we’re tired.

There are myriad remedies available to us. Yoga, book clubs, white wine, hormone therapy, apple cider vinegar gummies. 

And, this time of year there’s something even more powerful. The Hallmark Christmas movie.

If you’ve spent any time zapping through the channels on cable TV, you’ve probably run across a couple of them (or a couple dozen of them). In addition to the Hallmark Channel, which has certainly earned the pole position in this popular seasonal genre, there are festive and sentimental offerings on Lifetime, Up TV, Netflix, and several others. Over the past few years, the movies have evolved from secret, guilty pleasures to mainstream media events. Catalogs sell nightshirts and fuzzy socks that read, “Don’t bother me, I’m watching a Hallmark Christmas movie.” Saturday Night Live has parodied them. Hallmark released a mobile app that schedules and tracks your viewing (St. Nicholas forbid that you should miss a single one!). Actresses who built Hollywood careers in secondary roles (like Lacey Chabert, previously known as Mean Girls Gretchen Wieners) have become Hallmark Christmas movie superstars. The Facebook group has more than 22,000 members. And the series has its very own float in New York’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

If you watch long enough (and a weekend is more than long enough), you’ll notice that there are only a handful of plots. These are refreshed, details are changed, but the gist remains familiar, comfortably familiar.

There’s the successful but jaded career girl who returns to her picturesque hometown for the holidays, just in time to reconnect with her handsome (still single or now widowed) high school sweetheart. Together, they put on an old-fashioned Christmas Fair in order to save the historic children’s library from demolition. 

There’s the working-class American girl who accidentally meets and falls for a handsome stranger who is actually a royal prince/tycoon millionaire/movie star incognito. She shows him the true meaning of Christmas and he falls for her, overcoming the objections of his mother the queen/army of lawyers/ Hollywood agent.

Then there are the identical twins who switch lives for the holidays. The working sister (see description above) longs for the warmth and stability of being a stay-at-home mom. The domestic sister craves the excitement of big city (typically Chicago) life. Naturally, they realize that the Christmas trees are always greener on the other side of the fence. A joyful family reunion ensues.

And, there are movies that teach valuable lessons by sending our heroine into the past (her own or some romanticized version of a distant decade) or, after an eggnog-fueled wish comes true, to some mythical village where it’s Christmas every day. Very merry for a while, she soon learns that once a year is sufficient.

And, finally, there is a small sub-genre devoted to movies that pay homage to the works of Jane Austen, principally Pride & Prejudice. Good examples include Christmas at Pemberley Manor and Pride, Prejudice and Mistletoe. Oh no! Will party planner Elizabeth Bennett end up with misanthropic millionaire William Darcy?

Are you kidding? 

The one thing all Hallmark Christmas movies have in common is a happy ending.

They’re also unendingly wholesome. Adult characters drink hot chocolate as often as wine, beer, or hot buttered rum. And, while there are plenty of Christmas trees and traditions, they’re fairly low-key on the subject of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. 

These movies are not without their detractors. Aside from silly (often outlandish and always predictable) plots, they have been criticized for a distinct dearth of non-white heroines, interracial romances, or anything close to an LGBTQ storyline. Hallmark is making an effort to correct this, and the current season’s offerings do depict a bit more diversity. The acting, directing, and production values aren’t going to win any awards soon. But that isn’t why people — women in particular — watch them.

When the real world is feeling too rushed, when you’re spending 80 hours a week at work, when all the care you’re providing to multiple generations of family goes completely unnoticed, you can count on a Hallmark Christmas movie to lull you into a state of contentment. These kind, attractive people (in ugly holiday sweaters) are there for you. For two blessed hours, you can forget diets and deadlines and dirty dishes.

Michelle Vicary, executive vice president of programming and network publicity for Crown Media Family Networks, which owns the Hallmark Channel, recently told BuzzFeed, “People need to feel good. They need to feel positive. There’s so much good television that is dark, edgy, and fantastic. But in the huge spectrum of the human experience, things can also turn out okay. Life can be good and life can be positive, and people need that too. That’s where we come in and that’s where our brand comes in and delivers on an emotional experience that says, ‘You know what, things are going to turn out okay, and you’re good and life is good.'”

If you find yourself involuntarily rolling your eyes, you’re not alone. Then again, you may be in a quickly disappearing minority: 85 million unique viewers — primarily women — watched Hallmark Christmas movies last year. And the network is on track for an even greater number this season. 

So, not to feel left out by all the Hallmark holly jolly, here is the plot for my proposed Christmas movie:

Identical twins, who share a December 24th birthday and are whimsically named Noël and Carol, find that with Christmas fast approaching, they aren’t in the holiday spirit. Noël, a talented surgeon, was just passed over for a promotion at the hospital, and Carol, a country veterinarian, finds that her husband has left her for his male secretary. (See how I managed to get a minor LGBTQ plot twist in there?) Over hot cocoa, they imagine how much better life was back before Mom and Dad sold the Christmas tree farm to the town’s evil millionaire, Mr. Potter. (Allusions to classic Christmas films like It’s a Wonderful Life are always welcome.) Just as they are fading into a marshmallow stupor, the “Ghost of Christmas Way the Heck Past” suddenly appears. (For diversity’s sake, she’s played by a now aging African American actress vaguely familiar from one of Norman Lear’s 1970s sitcoms.) The girls confess that Christmas isn’t what it used to be, so with a wave of her holly branch, the ghost transports Noël to Dickens’s London and Carol to Austen’s Bath. In period “meet cutes,” both girls accidentally run into their hometown honeys, disguised respectively as Oliver Copperfield, lowly chimney sweep, and Fitzwilliam Bingley, a junior naval officer.

After a series of misadventures, the twins wake to realize that Christmas in the modern age can still be . . . well . . . Christmas. At the annual town holiday singalong, they bump into their past loves, now in modern dress. Noël learns that Copperfield has left his career as an NFL quarterback to run the town orphanage. Carol’s former beau Bingley has bought out Mr. Potter and is now running the Christmas tree business, living in the farmhouse with his trusty golden shepherd, Eggnog, who is about to have puppies. Noël meets a crippled orphan named Teensy Tim and successfully operates on his withered leg. Carol helps Eggnog through a difficult home birth, and there are just enough puppies for all the orphans, who are immediately adopted by the good people of the town, who, apparently, didn’t realize the kids were there until they saw them with the puppies. Noël decides that she’ll stay and open a surgical center adjacent to the orphanage. Carol agrees to move her veterinary clinic to a picturesque old mill on Bingley’s Christmas tree farm and help him revive the business. Just as the sun sets on the charming town square, it begins to snow. Noël and Carol, along with their smitten companions, raise a cup (of cocoa) and declare, “Merry Christmas to all. And to all a good night.”

If you’re feeling stressed, or blue, or just plain tired, watch a Hallmark Christmas movie. It’s cheaper than therapy and less addictive than wine.

Then again, 85 million American women might disagree. 

 

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  • hillsmom December 26, 2019 at 12:55 pm

    Thanks for a good laugh! I was watching a lot of the Hallmark offerings on both the channels, just because they make me feel good, too. It’s delightful to watch something which doesn’t show people being blown up or some zombies coming, and don’t forget the IMPOTUS trying to sound lucid. Fortunately there’s football if one prefers condoned violence for a break. (Go Eagles!)

    Reply