It’s December. A woman — always pretty, in her thirties and played by an actress you almost recognize — is going through a rough patch. She just got fired from her job in advertising or television, but she didn’t like it anyway. Or her mother keeps reminding her that it’s time to find a man and settle down. Or she’s dating a square-jawed workaholic who still uses Bluetooth.
But everything will be all right. These first-world problems will be right as rain after four or five commercial breaks. Our heroine will meet the man of her dreams. You’ll know him as soon as he walks onscreen because he has a megawatt smile, wears sweaters instead of suits and volunteers at puppy shelters. And, for some reason, an angel or even Santa Claus will show up to help out.
What is this saccharine, sentimental alternate dimension? It’s the Hallmark Channel’s “Countdown to Christmas,” an annual slate of new, 90-minute festivities.
C-list celebrities always populate these yuletide Hallmark flicks: Willie Aames and Melissa Joan Hart haven’t signed an autograph since the 1990s, and Candace Cameron Bure and Lori Loughlin of “Full House” fame are always a staple of the films, with Loughlin set to appear in two different movies this season.
When it comes to sweet, cookie-cutter, holiday specials, no one is more pervasive or prolific than Hallmark. Twenty-two original movies are slated to premiere this season. The Hallmark Channel is a well-oiled machine, pumping out movies with all the plot development and character complexity of the greeting cards the brand is most associated with.
This is an assembly line of hastily-written scripts, multicolored lights and happy endings. It’s an industry calculated to yield a specific product for a specific someone who believes in true love and Christmas cheer and wants a flick that affirms both in a quick, clean package.
In an age of “Game of Thrones,” “Scandal” and “Criminal Minds,” where television tries to push the envelope and prod the darkness, watching a Hallmark Christmas movie is like sipping hot chocolate while wrapped up in a blanket. When the icy winds of the day’s depressing news get you down, you can close the window, resurrect the fireplace and feel warm and toasty watching something like “When Calls the Heart: Christmas.”
Anyone can watch one of these cinematic desserts. It’s hard to imagine someone being offended by the content of a Hallmark holiday feature. The grandkids can watch because the relationships are sappy and G-rated, and Grandma can join in for similar reasons. “The Blacklist” and “Gotham” may have riveting characters and plots, but they aren’t likely to gather the family around the television.
In each and every one of these movies, holiday magic and true love are basically synonymous. The protagonists always end up together, laughing in the snowfall as an endless parade of clichés make their dreams come true.
And that’s the key. This whole affair is pure, unadulterated and unabashed wish fulfillment. Even I can admit that once I stop nitpicking, the Hallmark movies are oddly engaging. Sure, finding flaws in “Meet the Santas” is like searching for sand on a beach… But if you’re on the beach anyway, you might as well enjoy it.
These Hallmark Christmas movies offer a narrative in which kindness always triumphs and fate is looking out for us. Sure, they aren’t “Citizen Kane,” but they aren’t smelly garbage either.
Sweet, cavity-inducing garbage, maybe. But sweet nonetheless.