Pop Culture

Hallmark's 2018 Holiday Films Reviewed Using Only the Descriptions

Michael Rady (left) and Jessica Lowndess reboot Pride and Prejudice for the sugar plumb set this Christmas.
Michael Rady (left) and Jessica Lowndess reboot Pride and Prejudice for the sugar plumb set this Christmas. YouTube Screengrab
Once again we are presented with a feast of holiday schmaltz from our good friends at Hallmark. Much like the greeting cards they produce, these flicks are superficially sweet (and totes adorbs) but have a depth that is about the thickness of the flap on the back of a Christmas card envelope.

But since they put them out, who are we to ignore them? We aren't going to watch them, but we will give our reviews based on the descriptions and trailers provided by Hallmark themselves, God bless them (every one). There are a few things you should know if you've never been to this enchanted land of blissful faux holiday cheer.

All good things happen in small towns and big cities are not to be trusted — neither are big businesses or technology for the most part — because the old ways are always the best ways. Everything is quaint. Every man, woman and child look like they stepped out of the pages of a magazine. Someone always needs to learn the meaning of Christmas and it always snows at exactly the right time.

Oh, and every little book store or bakery or community theater can be turned into a resounding success with a little love. And even if one of the people in the story isn't a billionaire (or a prince), the protagonists have enough money to refurbish an old bed and breakfast, pay for high medical bills for a sick family member or leave a high-paying job that makes them cynical to discover the wonders of a forgotten career in art or singing all without having to work as a waitress to make ends meet. Also, virtually every movie has an architect or a developer or a hunky first responder or a party planer or a marketing expert or a CEO. You think we're kidding.

OK, that should have you up to speed, now let's drink a mug of egg nog and do this thing. (A side note: only the first batch of trailers are available, but you can see all the goodness on Hallmark's website.)

Christmas at Pemberley Manor
Notable Actor: Jessica Lowndes
Notable Why? Was in the 90210 re-boot, for what that's worth.

When you are a "filmmaker" and you really want to up the estrogen factor of your movie, do whatever you can to tie it, however tenuously, to Jane Austen. This is one of two movies on this list with references to not just Austen, but her novel Pride and Prejudice, which seems to have been remade in one form or another over the years for the big and small screen approximately 20 billion times. This one even has an Elizabeth Bennett and a William Darcy — the former a big city party planner, the latter a billionaire with a bad attitude about the holidays. If only someone could teach him the true meaning of Christmas. Yeah, it's like that and this is only the first movie of the season.

Christmas Joy
Notable Actor: Danielle Panabaker
Notable Why? Currently on the best superhero show on TV, Flash.

All we kept thinking when reading this description was, "Please let Killer Frost show up and freeze the entire town of Crystal Falls!" Anyhoo, the plot here is something like marketing executive has to rush to her tiny home town to be with her sick aunt only to find herself running a village cookie contest and reconnecting with a lost love, now a muckety-muck down at the hospital (how fortunate for Aunt Ruby?). He thinks she's crazy to take on the town cookie contest. She thinks she doesn't need his help. And one magical macaron will save the day. Kidding. There's no magic cookie...or is there?

Road to Christmas
Notable Actor: Jessy Schram (also, Chad Michael Murray, aka Lucas from One Tree Hill)
Notable Why? B-list TV actor with A-list credits including Veronica Mars, Mad Men and Once Upon a Time.

When reading the description, one might begin to think, "Hey, it's about a TV producer and 'lifestyle expert' so maybe this is set somewhere other than a farm town." That's where they get you. The TV part is all whiz bang big city, but their live broadcast, where most of this disaster is undoubtedly set, is in — guess where? — Vermont. This goddamn live shot is quaint AF! When Schram, the new producer of the lifestyle program, tries to re-unite the show's star with her sons, including the former producer who now is in a thing with Schram, all hell breaks loose. But, never fear. Instead of a terrible family berating live on camera, it's a Christmas miracle...live on camera.

It's Christmas(comma) Eve
Notable Actor: LeAnn Rimes
Notable Why? Former country music superstar.
Cheeky Title Level: Expert

Remember when Rimes was just a kid singing her country ass off to Patsy Cline songs? It happened. Now, she has set her sights on this wackadoo premise where she plays Eve, a penny pinching school superintendent hell bent on slashing the budget, including that of the music program run by her hot neighbor. Thank God Eve's friend has an IT guy husband who can build a website that will save the day. Because that's what websites do, right? They save the day when little kids aren't allowed to sing Christmas songs any more. Just hook up some Facebooks and a couple of dot-com thingys and everything is gonna be alright. Smiley face emoji, heart emoji.

Christmas in Love
Notable Actor: Brooke D’Orsay,
Notable Why? Kate from Two and a Half Men and Paige from Royal Pains.

According to the description of this one, D'Orsay plays a woman with a small town bakery, but a "big-city CEO" shows up "filled with modernization ideas destined to lay off many employees." First, what village hamlet bakery has an out-of-town citified bigwig that has never met the baker who makes the famous "Christmas Kringles" his company sells? Second, how many employees does this shop have that would allow him to lay off "many" of them? It's man versus mixer, country wholesomeness versus metropolitan depravity. It's a tale filled with mythic themes...and cute sweaters!

Christmas at Graceland
Notable Actor: Kellie Pickler
Notable Why? Former American Idol contestant and country music singer.

Country singer number two shows up on our list, but this time it is the slightly less successful Pickler. And by slightly less successful, we mean we only really recognized her from that time we saw her autographed photo hanging on the wall behind the cash register at the Which Wich on I-10 and Bunker Hill and had to look her up on Wikipedia (true story). Imagine Pickler as a Chicago executive (we couldn't either, but give it a shot) who is in Memphis trying to buy an old bank, but gets derailed when a former love (and music promoter, natch) reminds her of their days as singing partners. You might think that given their obvious lack of success the first time around, never mind her new powerful career, she would take a brief dip into her memories, remember being a broke-ass country singer and say, "Um, hard pass, dork. See ya!" But you'd be wrong.

Christmas in Evergreen: Letters to Santa
Notable Actor: Holly Robinson-Peete
Notable Why? Long time "resident" of Evergreen and former cast member of 21 Jump Street.

Last year in Evergreen (part of a long-running Hallmark series), there was a magical snow globe that granted wishes if they were sincere enough (look it up). This one has the almost equally unbelievable story of a woman who wants to return the shuttered general store to its "former glory" while the town is rapt by the discovery of an old letter to Santa that apparently never made it to the big guy a quarter century ago. Will they make a wish of  that fancy, magic snow globe, or use some good old-fashioned, heartland American elbow grease and Christmas spirit the way God and Santa intended? We're on pins and needles.

Reunited at Christmas
Notable Actor: OMG, like nobody, you guys.

It says something that not only does this not have any notable actors, but the promo shot looks like a bad holiday family photo taken with an iPhone 3. Add to that the fact that the description is literally two sentences long — something about an author with writer's block and a granny's words of wisdom, blah, blah — and you have to wonder if the folks at Hallmark have much faith in this offering. From what we can tell from the trailer, it's more about a final Christmas at "Nana's" and a discovered wish list or something. It's either that or just a bunch of spliced-together B-roll footage from a Folger's Christmas TV ad.

Christmas at the Palace
Notable Actor: Literally, even fewer names than Reunited at Christmas unless you count someone who was in 11 episodes of The Royals.

Finally, we get a damn castle! A story with a prince in it (not the Prince because that would be weird given his passing, but you can bet your ass it would be funky) is like the backbone of all cheesy, unrealistic rom-coms dating back to before a rom-com was even a thing. In this case, it's the king of San Senova (who knows, but we're pretty sure it has snow and a complicated love story) who needs an ice skating instructor for his daughter who is skating in a Christmas pageant or some such nonsense. Enter Katie, a former ice skater. But she is a foreigner and the country is building a wall to keep immigrants and tear gassing them at the border...oh, sorry, that's a different holiday story.

Pride, Prejudice and Mistletoe
Notable Actor: Lacey Chabert
Notable Why? She was a mean girl and currently a veteran Hallmark Christmas actor.

Welcome back to Jane Austenland, where there's always a mixup, a chase scene, a scoundrel and a plucky fair maiden. The little twist on this Austen classic is Chabert plays Darcy (first name instead of last, get it?). She's a driven, career woman with a successful father and a chip on her shoulder. She has to go to her hometown for Christmas and plan a party with old rival, Luke. Maybe Luke can cure her daddy issues. Maybe Darcy will find true love. Look, guys, this damn movie has it all: small towns, family struggles, someone the heroine hates but ultimately loves, big city corporate greed and, of course, a party planning scene...at the holidays. It couldn't be more Christmas-y if it pooped that mistletoe.

Christmas Everlasting
Notable Actor: Tatyana Ali, Patti LaBelle
Notable Why? One was on Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, the other is one of the great R&B singers of all time. You figure out which is which.

Hallmark has been criticized over the years for having casts that were roughly the shade of the side of a snow-covered mountain. But, this year, they have three Christmas flicks with casts mostly made up of people of color. You might think that Hallmark would eschew a country vibe for something more urban as a result. Not a chance. Instead, in this rather complicated premise, Lucy, a high-powered attorney in NYC about to make partner, goes home after her sister dies and she inherits the family estate. Plot twist: She has to stay there for 30 days near, which is past her big meeting, but near her high school sweetheart. But, but, but what about her promotion? Will she trade in fame and fortune for a kitschy sweater? Will Patti LaBelle be forced to make a joke that includes a reference to Lady Marmalade? Will anyone else be creeped out by the death of this woman's special needs sister?

A Shoe Addict's Christmas
Notable Actor: Jean Smart
Notable Why? Um, Designing Women? Hello.

Candace Cameron of Full House fame (there are a lot of them in these movies) stars as a frustrated woman who gets trapped in the department store where she works overnight. She is confronted by her guardian angel (Smart) who essentially plays the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future all wrapped into one. Somehow, she is also forced to plan an annual gala with a sexy fireman too? We dunno. What is perhaps most priceless about this is the promotional photo Hallmark used on their website in which Cameron looks like a reindeer caught in the headlights. Perhaps she just read the script.

Mingle All the Way
Notable Actor: Lindsay Wagner
Notable Why? Oh, Bionic Woman, what has happened to you?
Cheeky Title Level: Advanced

Holy meet cute, Batman, love is in the air when the designer of a holiday-themed networking app gets paired with some dude she knew from two previous hot mess dates. They agree to hold it together for the holidays for the app's sake. You know, for business. Will she swipe right and find happiness or sell her customer's data to Russia? And what the hell is the Bionic Woman doing in this thing? We assume she is going to put her hair behind her bionic ear so she can eavesdrop on the two love birds. Isn't it weird how a few strands of hair blocked her bionic hearing? Anyway, we digress. Although, fingers crossed Oscar Goldman makes a cameo.

A Majestic Christmas
Notable Actor: Jerrika Hinton
Notable Why? Grey's Anatomy.

An old playhouse. A big-city architect. A greedy movie theater magnate. And a Christmas pageant hanging in the balance. This one is more suspenseful than Mission Impossible: Santa Goes Nuclear. While our young hottie architect really doesn't want to blow her first big project, can she save the old playhouse and melt the cold, cold heart of the wealthy industrialist at the same time? We're not going to give you any hints, but spoiler alert, yes on both counts. What did you think he'd tear it down and build condos? This is Hallmark, not Disney.

Homegrown Christmas
Notable Actor:
 Lori Loughlin
Notable Why? Not only a veteran of the Hallmark circuit, but an '80s teen movie staple and former Full House cast member.

We swear, you could take virtually the same plot from every one of these movies and cram it into the other without anyone noticing. In this one, Loughlin comes back to her tiny home town after leaving her job as a powerful CEO. Can you guess what happens next? High school sweetheart? Check. Initial dislike of the former flame? Check. Forced to plan a big event together (in this case, a high school dance, of course)? Checkity check. Do they find the meaning of Christmas together? What they hell do you think? Wouldn't it be a cool twist if they mashed this up with Carrie and an enraged telepath burned the lovers to a crisp after they dumped pig's blood on her as a joke? Now that would be a plot twist.

Welcome to Christmas
Notable Actor: Eric Mabius
Notable Why? Daniel from Ugly Betty, guys. D-A-N-I-E-L!

In what has got to be the most confusing premise in all of these choice offerings, Mabius plays a small town cop in Christmas, Colorado (yes). Madison Lane (yes), a resort developer from the big city, has an accident on her way to check the town for a possible resort spot. We assumed the town would convince her that they needed to stay quaint, she would ultimately agree and open a small quilt shop, leaving her six-figure salary behind. We were wrong. In this case, when the town finds out she is scouting locations, they go ape shit and decide to show her just how amazing their town is and how much richer and happier they would be overrun by wealthy folks. Still, the description implies she ultimately decides they might be too effing cute for a resort, no doubt leaving them in abject poverty like she found them. We're so confused right now.

Entertaining Christmas
Notable Actor: Jodie Sweetin
Notable Why? Another Full House alum - we are sensing a pattern.

Whatever happens in this reindeer dung pile of a movie about a Martha Stewart type and her bumbling daughter set to take over the franchise, Hallmark might want to consider a new description writer for 2019 (resume available upon request!) because throughout the description, it kept referring to Sweetin's character as Candace. Candace does this. Candace does that. Candace finds love. Candace falls on her face. Candace is a moron. Only problem: Who the fuck is Candace? Sweetin's character is named Kara. And if that isn't enough of a bad sign co-star (and hunky Roswell alum) Brenden Fehr isn't in the IMDB cast listing. My guess is he decided to bail after reading the description or after he suddenly remembered his brilliant turn as Ryan McKee in Hallmark's Wrapped Up in Christmas last year and immediately called his agent.

A Gingerbread Romance
Notable Actor: Tia Mowry-Hardrict
Notable Why? Identical twin from Sister, Sister and a Cooking Channel regular.

Brace yourselves, holiday fans. This is the big one. This never-settle-down-architect-meets-single-struggling-bakery-owning-dad tale is set in, wait for it, Philadelphia. That's right, we have our first honest to God urban Christmas story. We imagine they lovingly share cheesesteaks, take joy in learning about the history of our democracy, and tear down every light pole within a 10-block radius after the Eagles win the Super Bowl. We can only pray to the baby Jesus they also end up naked, running through frozen Philly streets singing Fly Eagles Fly right before they finish their award-winning gingerbread house that just so happens to be shaped like Veterans Stadium with icing in the shape of Allen Iverson's cornrows.

Jingle Around the Clock
Notable Actor: Michael Cassidy
Notable Why? Zach from The O.C. and Jimmie Olsen in the recent Superman/Batman reboot.
Cheeky Title Level: Rookie

Without a trailer anywhere online, it's a little tough to figure out just exactly how a Christmas campaign and a holiday reunion blend in this Yuletide disaster. Cassidy plays an ad campaign "fixer," which by the quotes means when an ad campaign accidentally kills a prostitute on a cocaine bender, Cassidy's character cleans up the hotel room, buries the body and gets the ad back home to clean up before its big Hollywood premier...we assume. Anyway, he has to help some woman who wants to further her career in advertising while she simultaneously trying to plan a big college reunion. Imagine if American Express remade The Big Chill and you get the general idea.

Christmas Made to Order
Notable Actor: Jonathan Bennett
Notable Why? Host of Cake Wars.

This one combines an architect (and Christmas noob) and a party planner. The only way this could be more Hallmark is if the co-stars were made of vellum, covered in cursive-written motivational messages like "grateful, thankful and blessed," and passed out to their neighbors along with a tin of cookies, also covered in affirmations like "live, love and laugh." They would of course be created using recycled paper and returned to the recycling bin almost as quickly as they were animated. Admit it. If that was the plot instead of whatever inane premise you find when watching this atrocity, you'd start writing the Television Academy demanding Emmy consideration the second the credits rolled.

When Calls the Heart Christmas
Notable Actor: Jack Wagner
Notable Why? Freaking Melrose Place!

It's a Hope Valley mystery this Christmas as Wagner and Lori Laughlin (again!) try to figure out where a group of orphans came from in the holiday special for this period-drama series. Turns out, the "sisters" (we're guessing — hoping? — nuns rather than siblings) who run the orphanage are in financial trouble and the whole town rallies (naturally) to save the day. If there is a God, they will have squandered their money on whiskey and whores, but we fear the universe will remain cold, unforgiving and deaf to our pleas. Instead, there is no doubt selfless gift giving, hope, joy and love for everyone. But, still, these kids are orphans. When all is said and done, the town isn't just going to adopt them all. Point to the cold, unforgiving universe.

A Midnight Kiss
Notable Actor: Carlos PenaVega
Notable Why? His wife is in Christmas Made to Order and they co-starred in Enchanted Christmas last year on Hallmark.

To round out the December festivities, it's a New Year's tableaux. In this, a woman has to work with her brother's college roommate when planning a party because her brother is out of town. Did we mention they come from an entire goddamn family of party planners. How insufferable must they be?

Mom: Dammit, Todd, if I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times, put the greenery and red bows on the mantle, and the silver candlesticks on the side table.
Todd: Screw you and your traditionalist bullshit, mom.
Dad: Todd, you listen here, mister...
Lisa: Mommy, Daddy, stop screaming at brother. He's got dyslexia. He doesn't know any better!
Mom: Todd, is this true?
Dad: Son?
Todd: It is, all right! I never learned how to read and I'll never be a party planner!
Lisa: It's OK, Todd. We'll get through this...together...as a FAMILY!

Choir begins singing Joy to the World in the background.

Annnnd scene. Merry Christmas, you guys!
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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke