It’s officially holiday season and from now until New Year’s Eve life is officially a Christmas cookie cutter Hallmark TV movie and we’re all its willing and unwilling viewers.
Just try to scroll or flip or surf in the next five weeks and NOT land on one of them. For the Hallmark brand is no longer solely on the Hallmark channel. It’s now an official genre – more of a template, really – that’s migrated to Lifetime and Hulu and Netflix and pretty much EVERY other network, cable and streaming platform out there.
You know what this is even as you DENY you would EVER watch one or HAVE EVER seen one because you are just THAT cool:
– A type A career person returns to their hometown around the holidays and meets the more rugged or relaxed person of their dreams
– A big city person reluctantly finds themselves trapped in the country for a few days and Cupid’s arrow strikes as they help resurrect a dying business, usually involving decorations, party planning, hospitality, a needy relative or a tree
– A recent widow or widower, or happily divorced or unhappily engaged person, is forced to re-engage in a job with someone they initially loathe as sparks fly. Then, as a result, they wind up getting over the bad partner or the hurt, though not without a few serious yet not too deep, i.e. truly humanly unrecognizable, complications.
Of course, these are only a mere sampling. There are also the ones where:
– An ordinary guy or gal meet cute with someone who turns out to be a Royal or a celebrity or a mega-gazillionaire they have somehow never heard of or at least fail to recognize.
Or the others that feature —
– A non-threatening but engaging person with an” issue” who travels to be with their family around Christmas and somehow and in some way, find their worst childhood trauma getting resolved in less than two hours by staying in a house that would make Martha Stewart go crazy with jealousy and run out to get stoned with Snoop Dog were she not already doing so.
Of course, more than one of these plots can or might be contained in a single episode. In fact, as a viewer, one only hopes that as many of these tropes as possible be shoved into the narrative. It’s part of the lure for not only hate-watchers but genre appreciators alike.
And I know this because:
I AM THE CHAIR and I LOVE A GREAT/BAD OR ANYTHING IN BETWEEN HALLMARK MOVIE.
It would seem as if a Jewish gay guy like me would be loath to confess his fascination with a large swath of films in which he or his ilk seldom, if ever, appears. I mean, there’s as much chance of someone like me showing up for the holidays at one of these places as there is of, well – me showing up for the holidays at one of these places.
Yet ever since my folks brought the young me to my first Broadway musical in the late 1960s and I heard Angela Lansbury sing We Need A Little Christmas in Mame, none of that mattered. The sparkle from the tinsel and the colors of the tree lights (Note: Yeah and the spotlights) onstage were exciting and fun and EVERYTHING my family and me NEVER experienced in December but that I so, so, SOOO wanted to that I was hooked.
Thus I, and I suspect many non-Christian Hallmark fans, don’t ever associate anything about these movies or shows with the birthday of a historical or even vaguely religious figure.
Instead, they are candy cane fantasies delivering us from our humdrum holiday realities with dazzle and glamour and impossibly delicious deserts. And they do this with characters and food and fashion so ridiculously out-of-our world that we can actually safely LOVE laughing AT their ridiculous simplicity as much as we will DENY ever shedding a tear when somehow their one huge fake life problem finally manages to work itself out.
Which begs the question of how quickly and completely every single one of these characters is even able to find true love in the end. I mean, you could do an entire network or web channel series of sequels to each of these films where you revisit the couple several years later and unleash all the dirty little secrets of just how happy or, likely, unhappy their films’ endings truly wound up being.
This is why as a writer I could never, ever EVER get hired to write one of these, as much as it would certainly be fun. I’d keep insisting things like:
-But um, who acts like that?
-What town is this?
-Who are these people and why don’t they tell their f’n families off instead of allowing them to pressure them that way?
Leave N.Y. or L.A. to run a bed and breakfast or family bookstore with the most boring person in the world? Are they KIDDING? I don’t care how good-looking they are!
Of course, when I voiced one or all of these to my husband as we watched Hulu’s Happiest Season, the first genre movie of this kind to center on a gay couple, one of whom was played by our own openly gay star Kristen Stewart, he rolled his eyes and replied to me:
Settle down, Rossellini. This isn’t Italy in the 1940s. They don’t live in your world.
Well, I’ll say. In my world, Kristen Stewart would NEVER have put up with the crap her closeted girlfriend was putting her through with her quasi-TV conservative parents played by Mary Steenburgen and Victor Garber (Note: The latter of whom is openly gay in real life), forcing her into pretending she was nothing more than her orphaned roommate from the big city desperate for a place in WASP nirvana.
Instead, she would’ve left her for her closeted girlfriend’s ex-girlfriend from high school that also happened to be visiting their hometown for that weekend. That gal, now a doctor who lives and works in New York City, is actually a much better match and is played by the wonderfully snide and sassy Aubrey Plaza.
Forget that Kristen already had sassy and snide covered with her on-screen best friend, played by our current male gay du jour Dan Levy. A life with those two A-list queers could cover enough snide AND sassy to get me through each Christmas as well as EVERY OTHER holiday season for the rest of the twelve lifetimes I plan to live over the next 958 years.
But alas, life is NOT a Hallmark film, real or reimagined. I suppose this is why I will now and probably forever keep watching them. The only way to get through life, real or imagined, is to willfully and completely soldier on, especially through the chafe, ever hopeful that one day we will stumble on to the imperfectly perfect mix of our own concoction.