Every December, the Hallmark Channel and Lifetime fill the airwaves with wall-to-wall made-for-TV Christmas movies. Other channels have them, but those are the two who make them their lifeblood. I don't watch them all, or even most of them, but I do tend to check many for at least a few minutes. They're sort of like comforting holiday pudding, but if you eat too much, you get a sugar rush and treacly sick.
After several years of this, however, I have come to the conclusion that most of these dozens upon dozens of TV Christmas movies can be boiled down to four themes.
1. A modern-day remake of A Christmas Carol. Usually it's the mean boss of a department store (department stores are really big in TV Christmas movies). It doesn't have to be a department store, but it's a good bet to make if pressed. And of course, the person learns that life is loving and great, and discover it just in time for Christmas.
2. Someone is knocked unconscious and wakes up leading a different life than the one they had before. Somehow they've got to get back to the life they had before and in struggling to do so, they realize how loving and great their life was, and they make it just in time for Christmas. This is It's a Wonderful Life gambit.
3. A relative of Santa Claus (usually a son or daughter) makes their way into the big city, and want to bring joy to others, or find their own path in life, but along the way they fall in love.
4. Someone unwillingly returns home for Christmas -- usually because they lost their job, but they can be reticent for any reason. And once home, they cross paths with their high school sweetheart and fall in love again by Christmas.
Every once in a while another plot line somehow sneaks its way in past the network censors, but for the most part this is it. I'm not saying it inherently makes for good or bad movies -- no, it's the execution and twists they come up with that most impact that. (Over the weekend, for instance, I saw a passable one on, I think, Hallmark, called, A Snow Globe Christmas that starred Alicia Witt and Donald Faison from Scrubs, who were both terrific. In fairness, I recorded it and fast-forwarded through. But it was well-produced and nicely-acted, and fell into Scenario #2.) Having so few slots for basic stories does, however, make things tough, because after a while so many of the "tricks" have been used, and it's a greater challenge to find new ones. And also, I get the sense that the networks want it to be overly familiar, with as few twists as possible. But at least if you have this scorecard above, you can follow along and try to keep track of how well the movie fits in to its respective nook. Then, as soon as you've got that figured out, you can switch the channel and determine what category the next one is in.
'Tis the season, after all. Fa la la...
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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