‘Tis the season of overeating, returning to small hometowns, endless present shopping, and—perhaps most importantly—curling up at night to watch heartwarming (and cheesy) holiday movies.
Netflix has the latter covered, slowly rolling out a steady stream of Christmas-y flicks since November, including the third installment of The Princess Switch, starring Vanessa Hudgens, and Father Christmas Is Back with Kelsey Grammer and Elizabeth Hurley. Next year, they’ll give us the ultimate gift: bringing back Lindsay Lohan to our screens for an untitled project with Glee star Chord Overstreet.
But on Dec. 2, the streaming giant is also introducing its first gay holiday romcom, the punny Single All the Way, starring Michael Urie, Luke Macfarlane, and newcomer Philemon Chambers.
It’s a refreshing take on the classic step-and-repeat storyline that plagues most “coming home” holiday movies: a dejected singleton returns to their sleepy hometown and, at the prodding of their family members, is encouraged to seek out love. But along the way, they come to their senses and realize the one they are meant to be with has been by their side all along.
Urie plays Peter, a busy L.A. executive who dreams of opening a plant store and whose well-intentioned relationships always seem to turn disastrous, whether they be men who faked having cancer or discovering his current boyfriend is married with children.
Peter lives with his longtime best friend Nick (Chambers), whom he persuades to come back home with him to New Hampshire for Christmas and fake a relationship in order to avoid his family’s persistent questions about his love life.
The plan quickly unravels when Peter’s mother (Veep’s Kathy Najimy) has already scoped out the town’s only other resident gay man: the impossibly buff and handsome personal trainer/ski instructor, James (Macfarlane), resulting in a Parent Trap-esque operation from Peter’s other scheming family members who meddle in the blooming romance, convinced that Peter and Nick belong together.
Single All the Way almost reaches the Hallmark-level of silly/overly sweet, but who’s to say that’s a bad thing? It still manages to capture the magic of spending time with loved ones over the holidays, recounting embarrassing stories and even rehearsing made-up dance routines to Britney Spears’ “Santa, Can You Hear Me?” with younger nieces and nephews.
It also boasts another scene-stealing performance from Jennifer Coolidge, who plays Peter’s glamorous Aunt Sandy—a woman still living in her Broadway heyday who whips the town’s children into shape for her Christmas play.
Coolidge plays to her audience with her ditzy, deadpan one-liners. “For some reason, [gay men] are always obsessed with me,” she purrs. “I don’t know why, but I like it.”
But the best part of Single All the Way is its running theme of love and acceptance, presenting a gay man whose entire family is supportive and actively cheers on his journey to find love. It avoids the common cliches that most stories about same-sex relationships fall into, which was a conscious decision by Tony Award-winning director Michael Mayer (Spring Awakening), who wanted to tell a queer love story where no one had any trepidation about addressing their sexuality, nor stereotyping its queer characters.
“Neither of them was coming out, nobody dislikes them because they are gay, and they go home for Christmas without [having] to tiptoe around anything,” Urie previously explained to Entertainment Weekly. “We’re going to be sending a family who loves their gay son unconditionally into that many places, and that’s a very special and daunting and exciting, nerve-racking task.”
It’s a long-overdue step for Netflix in championing queer stories, given the PR disaster it created for itself in October with Dave Chappelle’s comedy special The Closer. The comedian sprinkled his set with transphobic and homophobic comments, leading to widespread outcry over the company continuing to give Chappelle a platform to spout his offensive opinions.
Some employees even staged a walkout in protest of Netflix’s co-CEO Ted Sarandos defending the special, saying that while Netflix’s policy is never to produce content that is “designed to incite hate or violence,” the company works “hard to support [artists’] creative freedom—even though this means there will always be content on Netflix some people believe is harmful.”
There’s a long way to go for Netflix when it comes to stories of queer love, but projects like Single All the Way represent a step in the right direction.
“We live in a world and a time now where a lot more of us are accepting, but a lot more of us still need to be accepting," Chambers told Entertainment Weekly. “I’m very glad that Netflix is letting us be part of their first gay holiday rom-com that speaks to nothing but unconditional love.”