Posts Tagged 'tv'

We like, we like to party.

I have tried, in my day, to be a person who throws great parties. The idea appeals to my nature as someone who is social but not spontaneous, an organizer at heart. But the expectations rarely meet the reality, do they? People arrive late and leave early and don’t appreciate your carefully curated playlist and would rather drink beer than the special themed cocktails you purchased specific liquor to make. Then, as time passes, we graduate to just meeting friends for a glass of wine and being home and in sweats by 9pm. Still, there’s a part of me that thinks back and wishes I’d had a little more success throwing Totally Major Parties. (Is it because I never had drugs? Should’ve had some drugs.)

At least my expectations never rose to those of Jennie (Torrey DeVitto, known to me as Spencer’s sister Melissa on Pretty Little Liars), who states multiple times over the course of The Best Christmas Party Ever that parties can be life-changing. She’s dedicated herself to party planning, sure that the path of her own life was changed at a Christmas party when she was seven years old, when she asked Santa for a job for her father. Santa was really the owner of the toy store Tyrell’s, and so began a great career for her now-deceased dad, and a lifelong friendship with old Mr. Tyrell, who throws a huge party that’s open to the public every year.

Jennie expects to take over the party planning company she works for when her boss, Petra, retires. It’s a rude awakening when Petra announces that her nephew Nick (the deeply cute Steve Lund) is coming to work for her, in order to someday inherit the company. Nick, an aspiring actor, has zero experience in planning anything, but charms everyone in sight — except Jennie, of course. She wants the ornaments and tinsel and lights put on the tree in the right order, and she doesn’t want pigs in a blanket at a classy party. Jennie is, in other words, uptight.

But Jennie is also beautiful and confident and clever, which makes Nick crave her approval. And he doesn’t like it much when a suave client named Todd, who works for the company that’s just purchased Tyrell’s, asks Jennie out on a date. Nick does his best to win Jennie over, but keeps making missteps, like inadvertently embarrassing her by asking her to tell a joke in front of a group, and taking over business meetings with his spontaneous ideas. And why should Jennie like him, really, when he’s swooping in to take over her company because of nepotism??

But Nick is relentless, and starts to win Jennie over by buying her a “truce hot dog” and discussing their lives. He teases her about being single because she can’t have fun, but she says it’s really because she compares guys to her amazing dad. In turn, Nick confesses that he’s a jokester/actor because it helped him make friends when moving around as a military brat, and it’s hard for him to let his guard down. They’ve totes bonded. But Jennie still has that date with Todd…

Bad news for Nick. Todd actually seems like a good dude, AND he and Jennie can commiserate over losing opportunities to nepotism (his bro took over their family biz because their dad thought he needed it more and Todd could handle life on his own). Plus, he gains points by taking her to a restaurant at the top of a skyscraper so that they can see the other buildings first light up for the Christmas season. COMPETITION.

On the night of a big Christmas-in-Hawaii themed party, Nick continues catching Jennie’s eye by doing things like being cute, badly playing the ukelele, and making small children like him. Plus, the party goes so great that they finally being to realize how Nick’s crazy ideas and Jennie’s attention to detail complement each other. Jennie wishes she could be more captivating with clients like Nick is! Nick wishes he could act natural around others like he can with Jennie! Could a match in love AND business be brewing?

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Cue a hot hula girl interrupting the big moment. Nick hired his pretty actress friend Kim to work the party, and they have plans to hang out after. Which is just fine, because won’t Jennie be seeing Todd, anyway? Isn’t that the sort of guy she wants?

Maybe not so much after all. Todd has a lot of ideas about the annual Tyrell’s Toys Christmas party since his company is taking over, and none of them fit with the traditional all-for-the-kids vision. It’s more like a VIP, caviar/hot waitresses/Lamborghinis-as-sleighs vision. You know, CHRISTMAS. Now Nick, he loves Jennie’s idea for a Nutcracker theme, but he also knows it isn’t what the clients want. They argue, and when Jennie realizes she’s been unreasonable and tries to offer up another truce hot dog, they’re interrupted once again by that blasted Kim. And this time Kim and Nick are going ICE SKATING. The romantic skating scene is for the protagonist, you meddling minx!!!!

Over a sad mug o’ nog, Jennie’s friend Natalie reminds her that Jennie should HATE Nick anyway because HE’S STEALING HER JOB. She has a good point, but then again Jennie is doing a pretty good job of sabotaging herself. Todd gets so frustrated over Jennie’s insistence with adhering to tradition with the Tyrell’s party that he ends up having to fire her — supposedly on his boss’s behalf — but still wants to date her. He gives her a gift he found in the company archives, a photo of her as a kid at that oh-so-important party. It’s actually totally sweet. DAMMIT, TODD.

Back at the ranch, Nick finds out he got a part on a soap opera that he auditioned for a while ago, but he can’t even be happy about it because he’s so focused on helping Jennie. He even pleads with Todd to hire her back, to no avail. Meanwhile, Jennie goes to talk to ol’ Mr. Tyrell about these pesky new owners of his store and how they’re not honoring his handshake deal about keeping the party as-is for the community. They all decide to go forward with throwing the party themselves… but will Nick take the part and have to leave on Christmas Eve? He’s ready to stay, until roses arrive for Jennie from Todd, and she seems for a moment to consider giving the guy another chance. It’s because she thinks you’re dating the hula girl, you idiot! And wouldn’t you know, his agent calls right at that moment — and he agrees to head to LA. (Nobody tell the makers of this film that daytime soaps are based in NYC anyway.)

As the group rallies to make the party happen (without telling Petra they’re going behind a former client’s back…), Kim confesses to Jennie how Nick fought for her with Todd. Hula Girl knows what’s up. But romance will have to wait, because Petra just found out about what they’re doing, when lawyers showed up to warn her about violating a non-compete clause. Jennie readies herself for a lecture and maybe a firing, but then Petra gets wise on her ass. She looks up “party” in the dictionary — repeat, SHE LOOKS UP “PARTY” IN THE DICTIONARY — “a social event, a gathering of people.” In other words, you’re not alone, I’m here for you, bitch! She’s only mad to have been kept in the dark, and tells them to go full speed ahead, because she’s got lawyers, too. Yay, old rich white lady!!

On the morning of the party, Nick must depart. He and Jennie share one last hot dog, and then it’s off to the airport. While there, he opens her gift to him — a vintage clock radio, in reference to how he once said he feels like a clock radio because he always has to be “on.” That doesn’t actually make that much sense as a gift when you think about it (he DOESN’T like being like a clock radio, Jennie), but sure enough it sends Nick running back to the party, ready to declare his love.

But is the party about to implode?? Todd and his boss have shown up after seeing a piece on the local news; will they try to shut it down? Shit, son, this is Christmas. One look at the happy kids and the boss man is converted, actually blaming Todd for trying to stop the party in the first place. (Poor Todd.)

And then! Nick bursts in and confesses his feelings to Jennie. Their kiss is eeeeeaaaaaasily the hottest Hallmark kiss so far this season. (Poor Todd times two.) AND IN FRONT OF THE CHILDREN. Jennie and Nick are gonna bone down so hard tonight. And Christmas is saved and all that. The end.

The Best Christmas Party Ever is on the high end of this year’s Hallmark crop. The plot is cheesy in a fun, not overly-serious way, the characters quickly gain layers beyond the first characterizations of “uptight girl” and “fun-loving guy,” and the actors have actual sexy chemistry. “If you think It’s A Wonderful Life rates a 10, Best Christmas Party Ever is at least a 20″ says a crazy person on IMDb! How can you argue with that? It’s the penultimate entry in this year’s line-up, but will Hallmark end on a high note? Stay tuned for our season finale.

Countdown to Christmas scorecard:
*female lead’s name is a Christmas reference: 4/11 films
*male lead’s name is a Christmas reference: 2/11
*female lead gets fired: 4/11
*male lead has sad childhood Christmas memories: 3/11
*romantic ice skating scene: 3/11
*romantic tree decorating scene: 7/11
*character comes to senses after heart-to-heart talk with father figure: 5/11
*dead parents: 6/11

Another Christmas Angel? Inconceivable.

Gather ’round, children. Closer, closer. I have a little bit of bad news, and then some very good news. First, I have to tell you: Santa isn’t real. I know, I know. It’s tough to face the truth. But there’s something else, something even better, that IS real.

FEMINISM IS REAL, BITCHES!!!

And that’s why, since Santa is a completely fictional construct, there ain’t no reason that Santa can’t be a woman. (Miss me with that Mrs. Claus bullshit. Do you even know her maiden name? DIDN’T THINK SO.)

In Christmas at Cartwright’s, single mom Nicky (growing Hallmark staple Alicia Witt) loses her job before Christmas when the dress shop she works at closes. She’s determined to stay positive and find a new position with the holiday hiring upswing, but nothing has worked out so far. She’s dodging her landlady, explaining to her daughter Becky’s teacher why she can’t afford a reading tutor, and certainly not putting any effort into dating, though Becky is determined that a love match is just as important as a job match to make her mom’s life great again.

One evening, Nicky and Becky are walking home when they find an odd sort of silver coin on the ground, one with an image of an angel on it. Becky is sure this will be good luck, and indeed, Nicky soon finds that her neighbor and friend Liz has a tip about a job at Cartwright’s, an upscale department store. She goes to the interview with high hopes.

While waiting for the interview, Nicky starts chatting with a cute manager named Bill who finds her dropped resume (get it together, girl). This turns out to be bad, though, because the lady exec conducting the interview, Fiona, clearly has a crush on Bill, and thus develops immediate, utter contempt for Nicky (everyone knows only whores chat). That good luck from the coin seems to have run out already.

Or has it???

While trying to leave the store, some sort of elevator malfunction dumps Nicky on an Employees Only floor. As she tries to find the way out, she stumbles on a room full of Santa costumes and gets locked in. She hears a voice outside, asking her if she’s put on the suit yet. The kids are waiting! And by the way, being store Santa is a really great job that comes with all sorts of benefits!

Who is that voice outside the room? That elfish man who bears a strong resemblance to the angel on that silver coin? IT’S MOTHERFUKKIN WALLACE SHAWN.

Literally the only way I could have been happy about a third “angel helping on the ground” film in this year’s line-up is by having that angel be Wallace Shawn. Well played, Hallmark. Well played.

Nicky makes a snap decision to go with this weird situation, pitching her voice low and slapping on the beard before anyone can see her. Soon her slim, “new, modern, healthy-looking Santa,” as Harry the Christmas Consultant slash Angel describes her, is a huge hit with the kids, especially since, with Harry’s winking help, Santa seems to be almost psychic about what the kids want. Peg, the store’s longtime Head Santa’s Helper, is beyond happy with this new guy who takes the job so seriously. But Bitchy Lady Exec Fiona is livid to have had her pick for Santa replaced, and also deeply suspicious about the new hire, who’s gaining popularity while failing to push expensive gifts on the kids and parents. She demands a background check on this man Nicky Talbot.

Meanwhile, in her non-Santa guise, Nicky keeps running into Cute Manager Bill. In the coffee shop, in the tree lot, in the elevator: he’s everywhere. And a much better prospect than the sad single dads determined Becky gathers to introduce to her mom at her school’s Open House. They finally make a dinner date, and all seems to be working out beautifully. Except, of course, the fact that she still has to hide her job from him.

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This becomes an issue on the date, when he confides in her about a past fiancée who cheated on him, and how it’s made him value honesty. Uh oh. Panicked over the fact that she’s lying to him about her vague “holiday” job, she pretends that a call from Liz is a huge emergency and flees. Liz’s advice for a sad and guilty Nicky is to just make it through the next week until Christmas and then try again to go out with the dude. Ah, logical.

BUT there’s still that pesky matter of Fiona. Harry has angel-ed away the background check several times, but this is only causing her ire to grow. And when Harry gets called away on some other angel business, the shit hits the fan. A store security guard catches Nicky in the Santa dressing room and assumes she’s stealing, dragging her to Fiona for some reason. She recognizes the name “Nicky Talbot” from the background check, revealing the Santa lie to everyone (including a disappointed Cute Bill), and fires her, vaguely citing bad publicity for the store.

Nicky’s very upset about the situation, but then Liz, a former publicist, gets her story of being fired for being a woman — despite being the most popular Santa the store’s ever had! — on the local news. Getting a story of injustice on the local news is, of course, the only thing it takes to right a wrong. (Hey feminists, have we tried this in real life?? So easy!!!)

Back at work, Nicky apologizes to Bill for lying. His response is that he’s not so much mad that she kept the truth from him, but that he wishes she’d given him a chance, and not assumed he would equate cheating in a relationship with a mother desperately trying to take care of her child. Ouch, Bill. Ouch.

Meanwhile, the big boss Mr. Cartwright is pissed that Fiona fired Nicky, so he fires her. Nicky tells him about Harry helping her, but — SHOCKING — he’s never heard of the guy. She finally puts two and two together, and soon discovers that Becky was way ahead of her the whole time. She recognized her mom in the Santa outfit when she went to the store (thank god; only a true idiot wouldn’t know their own mother just because of a fake beard) and had a secret talk about it with Harry. She knew he was an angel all along. So she may be a bad reader, but she ain’t dumb. (Oh and she’s also been getting extra reading lessons from her teacher at recess as a Christmas gift to her mom. HEARTWARMING.) Mr. Cartwright offers Nicky Fiona’s old job as Head of Special Events, and all seems right with the world.

Except she hasn’t gotten her man yet!!!

Luckily, Peg has gone above and beyond in her Santa’s Helper duties once again. She convinces Bill to give Nicky another chance, and he stops by Nicky’s place that night, having come to his senses about how awesome a lady Santa is. (You know you guys are gonna have some fun with that suit, come on.) They kiss, everyone gathers by the tree, and Wallace Shawn creeps outside the window, admiring his handiwork.

This silly but well-done movie was a much-needed tonic after the last dreadful movie featuring an angel. (Sidenote, is Christmas the only time angels can help people? Are they on vacay the other eleven months of the year? I don’t think there are this many angels running around when it’s Valentine’s time on Hallmark.) And bonus fun fact! The screenwriter, Margaret Oberman, was one of the few women writers on Saturday Night Live in the ’80s, and she also co-wrote Troop Beverly Hills! TROOP BEVERLY HILLS, people! Bow down, bow down.

Countdown to Christmas scorecard:
*female lead’s name is a Christmas reference: 4/10 films
*female lead gets fired: 3/10
*male lead has sad childhood Christmas memories: 3/10
*romantic ice skating scene: 3/10
*romantic tree decorating scene: 7/10
*character comes to senses after heart-to-heart talk with father figure: 4/10
*dead parents: 5/10

A low bar for the definition of “miracle.”

The plots of many wonderful films essentially serve as answers to a what-if question. What if a misanthropic weatherman was forced to live a single day over and over again? What if dinosaurs could be brought back from extinction and observed by humans? What if our toys had lives of their own?

A question no one should have ever asked themselves is this: what if the love child of Jerry Lewis and Forrest Gump had to fake being a professor in order to stalk a student into fixing everything wrong with her life? BY CHRISTMAS?!?!?!

Such is the world created in Debbie Macomber’s Mr. Miracle, in which Rob Morrow plays “Harry Mills,” the alter ego of an angel on his first assignment, looking to get his wings. Yes, this is the second Hallmark film of the season using the angel’s-big-assignment premise, although I will not be so forgiving of this one as I was of the oddly sweet Angels & Ornaments. Though I haven’t been mentioning the directors of these productions, I now see that this was a grave mistake. Carl Bessai, if that is your real name: did you really look at what Rob Morrow was doing and sign off on that? Are you daft, sir? Or maybe despondent about the state of your career, such that you simply shrugged and said “Okay, what does it matter anyway, let’s break early for lunch”? There has to be an explanation other than thinking that was good. There has to be.

Alright. Okay. So. Harry the dim-witted but big-gesturing angel sets out to believably walk around in the world as if he’s ever seen a cup or a chair before, teach an English class at a local community college, and help Addie, a dyslexic young woman dealing with her father’s death, who has already dropped out of college once, learn to love herself enough in order to start putting her life back together and follow her dream of working in medicine like her father did. He has an older, wiser angel named Celeste to help him; she has very pretty red hair and I wonder why the movie can’t be about her. There is also an angel who is a dog, named Tommy. Tommy’s owner never seems to wonder where Tommy is when he’s off meeting with Harry and Celeste.

The angels’ plan has several elements:

*have Harry’s class read A Christmas Carol, so that Addie can start thinking about how someone’s past needn’t dictate their future;
*remind Addie how much she loves helping people by manipulating her into caring for her hated neighbor after said neighbor is in a ski accident (whether the angels actually cause that accident remains unclear);
*have Harry move into a house on Addie’s block and hang around a lot like a jolly creeper until Christmas magic happens.

Let me get to the one thing that makes this movie watchable, and that is the hated neighbor, Erich. Erich was Addie’s classmate all through childhood and high school, and he embodies every hot boy-next-door from every TV show in the ’90s. His hair flows in blond waves that would make Zack Morris’s toes curl with envy. He calls her “Adelaide,” which she hates, but we know that means he likes her. He has a witchy girlfriend who went to high school with them, but he’s so ready to grow up and move on. If only a girl like Addie could see him as the adult he’s grown into instead of the shallow popular kid he used to be…

Just take a look at Erich's waves.

Just take a look at Erich’s waves.

I’m gonna have to jump ahead here and just say that it all works out. Addie comes to terms with her father’s death, finishes her class, and decides to keep going with school, and she and Erich share a single, painfully chaste kiss. I cannot go into more detail than this because it all involves Rob Morrow mugging it up as if in an attempt to prove that he totally could have handled the lead role in I Am Sam back in the day. I love you, dear readers, but not enough to relive that.

Perhaps it is also the “Debbie Macomber” label that made this movie such a disappointment for me, as usually it can be relied upon. For example, 2009’s Debbie Macomber’s Mrs. Miracle, featuring Doris Roberts as a nanny who helps young widower James Van Der Beek deal with his six-year-old twins and his healing, maybe-ready-for-love-again heart. Now there’s a movie worth your time. Sadly, I must be more wary in the future. Thanks a lot for that lesson, Harry.

Countdown to Christmas scorecard:
*female lead’s name is a Christmas reference: 3/9 films
*female lead gets fired: 2/9
*male lead has sad childhood Christmas memories: 3/9
*romantic ice skating scene: 3/9
*romantic tree decorating scene: 7/9
*character comes to senses after heart-to-heart talk with father figure: 4/9
*dead parents: 5/9

Secrets & Lies

There are 5.8 million people in this country who ended their Thanksgiving weekend by watching Candace Cameron Bure in Christmas Under Wraps. This is the fifth made-for-TV Christmas film she’s starred in, and the record-setting ratings were so significant it even prompted mention on Deadline.com.

In my opinion, there have been many women much more charming and skilled than Cameron Bure to headline Hallmark films in recent years. Perhaps I am a bit biased against her, as the less said about her brand of “deferring to your husband IS equality, in the eyes of the Lord” commentary, the better. I believe she is quite popular in evangelical circles that overlap heavily with Hallmark viewership, but I stand firmly in the sliver of that Venn diagram that just sincerely likes cheesy stuff.

With that, let’s get to everything else wrong with this movie. Cameron Bure is Lauren, a San Francisco surgeon (yes, we do open the film with a requisite shot of the Golden Gate Bridge) who’s just performed her first appendectomy and is ridiculously pleased about it. We also learn that she is applying to the best general surgery fellowship in the country and expecting to get in. Now, I know that most of my medical knowledge comes from being a devoted fan of Grey’s Anatomy, but I am just semi-educated-guessing that you don’t get the most prestigious general surgery fellowship in the country if you just performed your first basic surgery. Ah, then the truth comes out: “My father was a fellow there.” Nepotism. Elevating mediocre white people in America for centuries.

Anyway, Lauren is convinced she’ll get the fellowship, her boyfriend will propose, they’ll move to Boston, and it’ll be her perfect life, just like she’s planned.

Raise your hand if you think the boyfriend’s actually gonna break up with her in embarrassing fashion.

After the dumping, Lauren heads home (she still lives with her rich parents; I will just mention, unrelatedly, that Candace Cameron Bure is 38 years old). Daddy breaks the news that she didn’t get the fellowship, but he’ll make some calls. We also find out that this is THE ONLY PROGRAM SHE APPLIED TO. Christ, what an idiot.

Luckily for Lauren, there’s one open fellowship slot in Garland, Alaska. (Garland.) She decides to take it not with the attitude that this is the consequence for her spoiled, naive actions, but as a resume booster, because the dude who beat her for her chosen fellowship was in Doctors Without Borders and this, to her, sounds similarly “outside the box.”

With apparently only the vaguest idea of what Alaska is, Lauren arrives in Anchorage and is promptly shocked to find that the town of Garland (Garland.) is 300 miles north of Anchorage and she’ll have to be flown there in a smaller plane. Plus, her fancy city coat and boots are no match for the 7-degree weather. Thank the Lord that the pilot, Andy, is cute. Not that Lauren seems to appreciate it. (Yet.)

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Andy seems to have many functions in the small town, as he helps Lauren get settled in her adorable log cabin (she resigns herself with a sigh) and introduces her around, including to his father Frank Holliday, a jolly man with a beard who loves cookies and runs a local shipping company.

And this is moment I start to realize I’m being tricked into watching another fucking “Santa is real” movie.

The Santa threat creeps along in the background as Lauren adjusts to a town without
her preferred coffee order (do writers know that nowadays small towns do have lattes?) and a tiny hospital in a converted house, where it’s just her, plus two nurses and two orderlies. Though we’ve already established that this movie is unconcerned with the realities of the medical profession, it does seem to me that a one-doctor town should have hired, say, someone in family practice rather than a surgeon where there is no surgical facility. Still, everyone in town seems to have an ailment they’ve been neglecting since the last doctor left them, and everyone starts to love Lauren because of her prescription-giving skills.

Andy’s also hanging around a lot, and his dad invites Lauren to dinner at their place. As she arrives, she’s sees something strange out of the corner of her eye near the barn. Could it have been an elf? You’re crazy, Lauren! says Andy. That’s just Garland, weird things happen in Garland, ha ha ha. Why don’t you come inside and listen to my dad and me talk in a vague manner about my reluctance to take over the family business? Which is definitely really a shipping company inexplicably centered in an isolated town accessible only by prop plane. For sure.

Lauren and Andy are clearly attracted to each other, but she can’t shake her disappointment as she sees pictures of her old friends in their new, big-city hospital assignments. She’s about to pack her bags and leave when she’s summoned to help with an emergency — which turns out to be a fucking INJURED REINDEER. A reindeer named RUDY.

Now, Lauren may be an idiot in many ways, but this reindeer bullshit is enough to raise even her suspicions. She keeps asking questions, and everyone in town keeps gaslighting her by insisting that all North-Pole-like coincidences can be explained away by preparations for the annual town festival on December 24th.

Where we might flee from a town full of lunatics, Lauren instead decides to stay a little longer, and soon finds herself really falling for Andy. He takes her on a midnight “picnic”: stargazing from the plane, then kissing under the Northern Lights (bad CGI, very romantic). The movie throws me a bone with a lengthy tree decorating montage. But through it all, Andy still won’t give her any straight talk about what goes on at Holliday Shipping.

The situation comes to a head when Lauren’s dad calls with news that the other guy dropped out of the Boston fellowship, and she has 24 hours to get there and take over. She’s conflicted about what to do, and when she talks to Andy about it, he gets pissy, of course, because a woman having professional goals is always a problem for a relationship. He wants her to choose to stay, even though he obviously hasn’t even told her the truth about the town. She decides to leave.

Moody Andy has to give Lauren her ride out of town, but for the second time, an emergency strikes and thwarts her escape. They’re headed for the airfield when they get a call that Frank has collapsed. Lauren rushes to treat him, and everyone’s relieved that he just seems exhausted. Andy feels bad that Frank’s been working so hard, and finally agrees to take on more of that blasted family business.

Somehow this annoyance convinces Lauren that taking the fellowship is the wrong move. So even though it means giving up her dreams of prestige (and, um, giving up surgery altogether…) she happily settles back into her cabin and gets ready to celebrate Christmas in Garland. At the town festival, Andy and Lauren reunite, kiss, etc., and he finally hints that she was right about her suspicions that he’s the fucking son of Santa. We close the movie with, God help me, a shot of a single reindeer and a sleigh going past the moon. (Sidenote: it’s the night of December 24th in Alaska and Santa’s only just taking off? You’ve got some time zone issues, kids.)

This movie is ridiculous, and NOT in the good way. Jesus frowns, Candace Cameron Bure.

Countdown to Christmas scorecard:
*female lead’s name is a Christmas reference: 3/8 films
*female lead gets fired: 2/8 (I’ll count this one, as it’s in that realm of rom-com professional humiliation)
*male lead has sad childhood Christmas memories: 2/8
*romantic ice skating scene: 3/8
*romantic tree decorating scene: 6/8
*character comes to senses after heart-to-heart talk with father figure: 3/8
*dead parents: 4/8

You see, “shepherd” is a word that has two meanings…

Here is a comment I made during one of my occasional late-night Twitter commentary sessions about cable TV, as I speculated on helming my own Hallmark movie:

Teri Polo

I was, of course, wrong; Teri Polo has not nearly had her day. Though she’s aged out of She’s About to Marry the Wrong Guy But the Right One Just Came Along roles, she’s beautifully aging into the companion subgenre, She Married The Right Guy But Then He Tragically Died and She’s Not Sure She Can Love Again.

In The Christmas Shepherd, Polo is Sally, an author of children’s books who’s just sold a new idea based on her own dog, a German shepherd named Buddy. The dog truly belonged to her late husband, a Marine who survived three tours only to come home and die of a heart attack. Buddy has since become her main companion, her only company in a big country house while her son, also a military man, is away at war.

Next, we meet single dad Mark, who’s trying to start a new life after moving to be close to his sister following his wife’s death after a long illness. He runs a coffee shop while his 13-year-old-ish daughter, Emma, rolls her eyes at him.

What could be better than a set-up for a classic small town Widow meets Widower and They Find Love Again story? Well, I spent a good chunk of this movie in a state of flushed, manic irritation, and you’ll soon see why.

Sally’s not home when a thunderstorm strikes, and a freaked-out Buddy runs through a hole in the yard’s damaged fence and gets lost. Sally is beside herself. (We’ll ignore the fact that Buddy is smart enough to drag her to her husband’s grave every time they walk through town, but apparently not smart enough to know where his own house is.)

On the road, Buddy gets picked up by a random but nice dude. There’s no number on his collar, just a name. (Not brilliant, Sally.) The dude can’t keep Buddy, but he drops him at a shelter. Now, Mark’s sister happens to work for a mobile animal rescue service that picks up dogs that shelters might otherwise put to sleep. She takes a liking to Buddy and convinces Mark to foster the dog, although he’s skeptical that Emma is ready for anymore change in her life. Of course, they immediately fall for Buddy. There house is a home again, yada yada yada.

Meanwhile, Sally’s able to track down the rescue service after a selfie the first dude took with Buddy shows up on a lost pet finder website. She contacts Mark and Emma. At this point, they’ve had Buddy for two weeks. And….. they don’t want to give him back.

Excuse me???????

They’ve already filed adoption paperwork! Emma’s had such a hard time in the two years since her mom died! Mark is trying so hard to be a good dad, and losing the dog will be very sad for her!

TOO FUCKING BAD. IT’S NOT YOUR DOG. GIVE HIM BACK AND GET A FUCKING PUPPY.

Sally has a more generous spirit than I do, and sympathizes with Mark’s so-called dilemma rather than threatening to sue his ass like I would. (Plus, she thinks he’s cute. Fucking cute men getting away with bullshit since the dawn of consciousness.) She shares her sad story about the dead husband and how he brought Buddy back from overseas, but also agrees to let Mark think it over and check back in a few days.

Girl, you need to fucking go over to his house in the dead of night and steal your fucking dog back. IT’S YOUR DOG.

Aaaaaanway. Buddy, through his peculiar powers, continues making Mark and Emma’s lives better. The cool boy at school who Emma has a crush on talks to her because of the dog, and he starts to attract customers to the struggling coffee shop by sitting in the window looking cute. (These customers include a pack of Santas, in case we’ve forgotten our Christmas spirit amidst all the dog stealing.)

Finally, just as my blood pressure can barely take it anymore, the kid starts to come around to the idea that she stole a woman’s dog and is inflicting ongoing misery on an innocent person just to avoid a few sad fee-fees. Emma and Mark head to Sally’s to give Buddy back.

When they show up, Sally’s baking Christmas cookies for care packages for her son and the troops, sort of like how Emma’s mom used to bake cookies for their whole neighborhood. They stay to help out, and with the issue of the dog finally settled, Mark and Sally find themselves noticing a brewing attraction. And they are suuuuuuper awkward about it. Bumping into each other in the kitchen like idiots awkward. It’s cute.

The next day, Sally finds Emma’s left-behind iPad at her house. She and Mark meet at a “Christmas Market” to make the exchange. (I want to make a comment about how Christmas Markets cannot possibly be a thing, yet if I dig into my memory I am sure my junior high choir used to sing at one. Bizarre.) This turns into a bit of a coffee date, chatting about their old lives before their spouses kicked their respective buckets, etc. And then, AN ICE SKATING SCENE!! We’ve had a slight shortage of those so far in this year’s Hallmark crop. The rule is that one person has to be really good at it and the other has to be reluctant because they’ve never done it and then they fall a lot. This time Mark is the one who falls a lot.

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Courtship rituals continue with things like tree shopping, but Sally remains wary of the whole situation. You might think it’s because, remember, these people almost stole her dog from her, but really it’s because she hasn’t dated anyone since her husband died and didn’t think she ever would again.

Luckily, Buddy is still on the case. He’s baaaaaasically a magic dog, you guys. Like, he planned this whole thing to bring the two of them together. So every time Sally wants to leave he’s all laying down on the porch resisting and such, going WE ARE MEANT TO BE ONE BIG HAPPY FAMILY. After a lovely evening of Sally helping Emma get ready for her first dance (yes, with the cool boy from school — Buddy strikes again), Mark presses Sally about her feelings, and she admits them, but still insists she’s not ready. As she heads home into a snowstorm, of coooooourse her truck breaks down. I am not sure how Buddy could have been responsible for this, but if a German shepherd can look satisfied with himself, he does. Sally calls Mark, he comes to help, they kiss in the snow, Buddy barks his approval, and Christmas happiness sprinkles down upon everyone.

It’s meant to be, lady. Deal with it.

Countdown to Christmas scorecard:
*female lead’s name is a Christmas reference: 3/7 films
*female lead gets fired: 1/7
*male lead has sad childhood Christmas memories: 2/7
*romantic ice skating scene: 3/7
*romantic tree decorating scene: 5/7
*character comes to senses after heart-to-heart talk with father figure: 2/7
*dead parents: 4/7

Gretchen Wieners is Soooo Princess Material

It’s hard to believe, but even though it’s just Thanksgiving today, on Hallmark time we’re halfway through our Countdown to Christmas. Amazing!

Before we get into today’s movie, an anecdote. I was at a party this past weekend happily drinking champagne out of a plastic picnic cup when the topic of this little project came up. Since this was a crowd of screenwriters, the first question I got was: “What pervasive themes have you seen over the movies so far?” I answered with brutal honesty. Heteronormativity. White people. And a weird idea that if you aren’t super into Christmas, you must have serious damage.

Those first two issues are especially pronounced when the basis of your story involves European royal lineage. But how can I be mad at A Royal Christmas when we’re talking about GRETCHEN WIENERS HERSELF as the scummy American trying to get in on that royal line? And when MOTHERFUCKING JANE SEYMOUR is the snippy queen trying to scare her off??

Lacey Chabert (who I’m sure is tired of always being called Gretchen Wieners, but I’m sorry, Lacey, you were part of something timeless, get over it) is Emily Taylor, the daughter of a TAILOR and aspiring fashion designer in Philadelphia. Her boyfriend is charming generic-Britty-accented Leo (Stephen Hagen, who should’ve tapped in to play Matthew Crawley when Dan Stevens wanted out of Downton Abbey — seriously, doppelganger). And though Emily’s dad scoffs a bit at the fact that Leo doesn’t have a job, little does he know it’s because this supposed normal student is living off that never-ending credit line from the kingdom of Cordinia. (“A small sovereign state in the south of France.” DON’T LOOK IT UP IT’S TOTALLY REAL.) Once the news is out, Emily (who’s just recovered from her relief that Leo’s secret life isn’t a secret wife) agrees to head home with him for Christmas to meet Mother.

Meanwhile in Cordinia, Queen Isadora is very dissatisfied with the staff. It’s so hard to find good help when you don’t have a Carson-the-butler to help, although her right-hand man Victor is doing a good impression. Still, she’s been brought mandarin marmalade when she prefers quince, and the tea is tepid. Unforgivable. When Leopold and Emily arrive, she insults his casual-American-university clothes and refers to Emily as his “acquaintance.” Oy vey.

As Emily does her best to stay smiling while explaining to Isadora about her goals for a fashion line (“Hoodies! Well, the world awaits.”) and trying to pass the test of eating various horrid local delicacies, we learn of a looming nemesis: Natasha. The girl everyone under the Cordinian sun, but ESPECIALLY the queen, wants Leo to marry. She’s a duchess. She’s suitable. She doesn’t want to make hoodies for a living.

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Despite seeing how truly adorable Leo and Emily are as they do things like dance around the ballroom, harass the statuesque guards, and stage sword fights with what are surely priceless historical objects (the castle location is fantastic; Hallmark definitely used the money they saved on the shitty locations for A Cookie Cutter Christmas), the queen keeps bringing up ol’ Duchess Natasha. And didn’t Emily know? She’ll have to be prepared to meet not just Natasha, but all kinds of royals at the upcoming ball. Not that Leo told her to pack for a goddamn ball or anything. MEN.

Leo takes Emily out for a stroll in town, where they buy a small, scraggly Christmas tree like Emily always did with her dad as a kid, and befriend a nun and a moppet-orphan named Poppy, like you do. It’s a very pleasant day, until Leo gets recognized and mobbed, giving Emily a taste of life with a famous person. Between this, the queen, and Natasha, doubts are creeping in.

Things keep getting worse as even with the help of the maid she’s befriended, Emily makes a fool of herself at an important dinner, going from not knowing what fork to use to sipping from the finger-rinsing bowl to asking an infertile couple about their children. (Seriously, Leo has given her NO help navigating this shit. Like so many cute and charming boys, he’s also fucking useless.)

But while Emily’s feeling hopeless, she’s secretly winning hearts. The queen accuses her man Victor of liking her, which meets little protestation. And here’s where we start to understand the queen a little more. Though she misses her late husband, she didn’t love him at first, either. But, of course, her parents knew what was best. Just like Leo, she wanted to run away from responsibility when she was young and marry someone who wasn’t suitable, but now she knows the throne is more important than one person’s wishes. Hmmmm. We’ll get back to that.

The next day, Emily’s relieved to find out that the Baroness, whom she offended the night before by asking about children, is actually a nice gal who confesses she also made many faux pas when she married the Baron. At last, an ally besides her lunk of a boyfriend! They go shopping in town together, where they run into adorable orphan Poppy again, and if you don’t suspect we’re gonna see a damn heartwarming adoption before the end of this adventure, I don’t wanna know ya.

Fun with orphans aside, the royal ball approaches. Left alone again while Leo does his royal duties, Emily turns to Victor to help her get prepared for the ball. But no amount of waltzing, proper greetings, and hors d’oeuvres etiquette can prepare her for…. the gown the queen presents her to wear. Guys, it’s BAD. But if you’ll recall, she’s an aspiring designer. Time to bust out those skillz, and I don’t mean to make a hoodie. I mean some damn Disney Cinderella shit.

Leo’s plan to ask Emily to marry him is still just a plan as the night of the ball finally arrives. She wows in a gorgeous gown whipped up from that ghastly garment (no helpful mice needed), impresses on the dance floor, and charms with her manners. But Leo keeps letting himself get snatched away for the royal rounds (led by that minx Natasha), and an exhausted Emily soon ends up in the kitchen teaching the servants how to make a good old-fashioned Philly hoagie. Bad timing, though, since they’re supposed to be, you know, working the ball. The queen busts in, starts firing people, and tells Emily off. She’s a commoner and has no idea what it takes to be royal. Ouch. Emily is ready to hit the road.

Leo finally clues in that maybe this trip hasn’t been a bed of roses for his girlfriend, and hastily proposes while she’s trying to pack her bags. But she can’t say yes, because she doesn’t want to pretend to be someone she’s not — she’s proud of who she is. YEAH GIRL. And because this is a TV movie… the bitter queen overhears the whole thing. Could her heart be cracking?

The next morning, the queen summons Leo and tells him the story of that commoner she was once in love with. Finally, she’ll give her blessing to his union — except, Emily’s already gone! Time to hop a royal jet to Philly!!! (By the way, that commoner love of hers? IT’S TOTALLY VICTOR. And she’s all “Call me Izzy” and he’s all *tiny hopeful smile* and we’re all Be happy and bone down, aging but still totally attractive people!

One proposal in the Philly snow later, we’re back in sunny Cordinia for the wedding. As Emily’s and Leo’s kiss gets a tearful reaction from those previously stoic guards, it starts to snow there, too! Just as you’re thinking “It’s a Christmas miracle!”, Leo literally says “It’s a Cordinian Christmas miracle!” And that’s the last line of the movie.

Okay, if you don’t want to see Lacey Chabert running around a castle and finding orphans their perfect families before she has a fairy tale wedding, I don’t even know why you’re here. Other Hallmark films, step up and take note. Also, this movie has DECENT BANTER. I’m not saying it’s His Girl Friday, but in the world of surface-level TV-romance relationships, it’s nice to see the lead couple actually throw some flirty zingers at each other. (I don’t know if Jane Seymour’s lines were also really good or if I just love the way she sniffs haughtily with each one, but her efforts were also noticed and appreciated.)

This movie gets ten heteronormative white people stars.

Countdown to Christmas scorecard:
*female lead’s name is a Christmas reference: 3/6 films (But come on, her family, the Taylors, are tailors? What is this, an ancient village? Are the Smiths around the corner literally smithing things or whatever?)
*female lead gets fired: 1/6
*male lead has sad childhood Christmas memories: 2/6
*romantic ice skating scene: 2/6
*romantic tree decorating scene: 4/6
*character comes to senses after heart-to-heart talk with father figure: 2/6
*dead parents: 3/6

Hark the “Harold” Angels

Sometimes one wonders whether certain Hallmark films are conceived by pulling a couple of Christmas-related words from a bag and shaping a movie around whatever comes out. With a title like Angels and Ornaments, that could be the case. Luckily, I have a higher tolerance for angel-meddling stories than I do for Santa-meddling ones, probably because the plots are less likely to involve wide-eyed moppets who don’t even know how good their privileged little lives are.

Here we follow the story of New Yorkers Dave (Graham Abbey) and Corrine (Jessalyn Gilsig, usually seen playing mildly psychotic women on Ryan Murphy shows), two longtime friends who work together at Dave’s Music Shop and laughingly protest the idea of being anything more than friends, although they are both single and wanting more. Corrine in particular is having a rough holiday season, as she’s just broken up with her latest bad-boy-by-Hallmark-standards-beau, she’s feeling guilty about not wanting to go to Florida to spend Christmas with her mom, and she’s lost out on the solo in the upcoming Christmas concert for what sounds like not the first time.

One night, Corrine is drinking wine with an unnamed sassy lady pal when carolers show up on her doorstep, their Dickensian outfits bearing a striking resemblance to a special ornament her grandfather made many decades ago. One of the carolers in particular catches her eye — and she’ll be seeing him again soon.

The caroler is Harold, and it turns out he’s a rather cranky angel trying to carry out a mission to get Corrine and Dave to finally see that they’re meant for each other. He complains about everything to his liaison on the ground, a no-nonsense guy who runs a hot dog stand. Their conversation gives us the first sense that this movie is just a tiny bit self-aware, as Harold’s complaints about his assignment are met with Hot Dog Guys words of wisdom: “Clichés are important when forming a narrative; they tap into the universality of mankind.” He also has deep thoughts about relish.

Harold gets a seasonal job at the music shop and proceeds to inappropriately interrogate Dave and Corrine about their love lives. Pleasingly, we’re only at the thirty-minute mark when Dave admits to Harold that he DOES have feelings for Corrine. Suddenly I’m not quite sure where the twists of the story will take us, and I’m very happy to report that it does involve a Male Makeover Montage in which Harold, who is quite dapper, forces be-sweatered Dave to buy a decent suit.

Angels and Ornaments Final Photo Assets

Also to the film’s credit, Corrine is not an idiot, and she, too, quickly figures out the goal behind Harold’s meddling (which really is quite weird for a guy who’s know them for like two days). She tries to find out a bit more about this mysterious man, but all research based on what he’s told them leads to dead ends.

Eventually Harold’s maneuvering (Compliment her more! Notice the book he’s reading!) leads to Corrine and Dave having a lovely evening together out on the town, and we at home get to giggle whenever the movie shows the New York City skyline and then cuts to a scene that was clearly filmed in suburban Vancouver. (This is the most egregious setting-related nonsense I’ve seen in a Hallmark film in a while. At least most of them have the sense to pretend to be set in New Jersey or outside Seattle.) Just as everything seems to be set on the path for love… Corrine’s ex Tim shows up with a truly ridiculous amount of roses, saying he’s changed. Torn, she decides to give him another chance for one date to try to prove himself. Dave does himself no favors in this situation by letting Corrine believe that an ornament depicting a little girl caroler that he bought for her is from Tim. WHY DO PEOPLE DO THIS IN MOVIES? If there is anything I’ve learned from romances, it’s to include a damn card when you send someone a gift.

Meanwhile, a frustrated Harold talks to Hot Dog Guy about the human life he lived before becoming an angel… which sounds an awful lot like Corrine’s story about her grandfather, who wrote songs for her grandmother and mailed the sheet music home every week, but never made it home from The War. Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat! And the next time Harold stops by Corrine’s place, he finally starts to put this together — but he’s so freaked out that all he does is yell at Corrine for going out with Tim instead of Dave. It’s really not a good look.

On her date, Corrine’s having a good time until she realizes Tim didn’t give her the ornament (girl, this neckbeard didn’t go into any store that sells cute glass ornaments, come on), and he insults Dave. Upset, she leaves the restaurant and finds Harold playing the piano at the music shop — a song she recognizes, because her grandfather wrote it. Now she’s freaked out, and he hastily claims his grandfather and hers were best friends in the war, and he was afraid to tell her that that’s why he’s here, because she might think he’s crazy. Though she (smartly) thinks he’s lying, he basically convinces her by showing her the scarf he’s wearing — with her grandmother’s embroidery. She invites him to drink tea and hear the story of her family, but he declines, secretly too sad to listen to the tale of his own cut-short life and the love that he lost. Awwwww.

Meanwhile, Dave has a plan to show his love for Corrine. With the promise of donated instruments and the puppy dog eyes of a desperate man, he finagles a spot in the Christmas concert for her to sing a song of her grandfather’s that he’s written lyrics for. The song is quite pretty, and catchy enough that it’s still sort of stuck in my head. Harold is touched to hear his music sung on stage, Dave and Corrine kiss, everyone claps, yay! (Also apparently they’re all on public access TV at this point.)

Now it’s time for Harold to say goodbye. Corrine asks if he is who she thinks he is, but he won’t give a straight answer, and says he’ll see her again in good time. Then, as his reward for succeeding in his mission, he’s off to finally be reunited with his wife, a beautiful silhouette wearing an old-timey hat.

In case we’re still not clear on the situation, later Corrine finds a photo she’s never seen before hidden in her scrapbook, and it’s not weathered and faded like the others — it’s Harold’s face for sure. So just at the moment your most aged and addled family member might be asking “So it WAS the same guy all along?” a character is going “WE WERE RIGHT, IT WAS HIM ALL ALONG.” Handy.

Angels and Ornaments is schmaltzy, but it’s such a genuinely nice movie that it’s hard to make fun of too much. It’s a bit serious, not half-farce like so many of Hallmark’s movies, and the undercurrent of Harold dealing with the loss of his human life pulls the second half of the film together and makes the end of the story, though very predictable, something more than just success in a matchmaking scheme. The actor Sergio Di Zio is also so likeable that you just kind of want to reach through the screen and hug him the whole time.

Y’all know I’m a softie underneath all the snark, but don’t worry: next up, we’ll find Lacey Chabert discovering she’s secretly engaged to a prince. Her Highness Gretchen Wieners, aw yeah!

Countdown to Christmas scorecard:
*female lead’s name is a Christmas reference: 3/5 films (Rare instance of a male character getting that treatment here.)
*female lead gets fired: 1/5 (We’re doing well on this trope this year!)
*male lead has sad childhood Christmas memories: 2/5
*romantic ice skating scene: 2/5
*romantic tree decorating scene: 3/5
*character comes to senses after heart-to-heart talk with father figure: 2/5
*dead parents: 2/5


Other projects:


Downton Gabby: podcasting about Downton Abbey from a funny, foul-mouthed, feminist perspective

Quick Lit: reading one short story a day in 2015

Grand Dames: collecting sundry achievements of admirable women

The MacGuffin: archive of my days as a film critic

I love Twitter.

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