For as long as I’ve had this job, I’ve had a nemesis: Hallmark must be stopped at all costs.
It is quite the sledgehammer to the ego to spend all this effort—blood, sweat, tears… eyeballs scorched from the glare of thousands of hours spent in front of screens—writing about and recommending the best and most thrilling entertainment options, and then learn that people will watch not one of those things because they have instead chosen to spend six weeks bingeing nothing but shitty Christmas movies.
For so long, it was maddening. This is prime time for great films. It’s finally the time of year when you can actually watch all those fantastic projects that critics have been teasing for months after previewing them at fall festivals. These are the movies that are going to win Oscars. That might change history. That star Lady Gaga in a Russian-Italian accent plotting murder.
But no, Brooke Shields is playing a bestselling author who retreats to Scotland to escape a scandal and falls in love with a castle and the cantankerous duke who owns it. Sorry to Guillermo del Toro. Better luck next time, Jane Campion. The people have made their priorities clear.
I am self-aware enough to acknowledge my snootiness when it comes to all of this. Sure, there is ostensibly nothing wrong with wanting to see Candace Cameron Bure combatively flirt with, like, an architect or something, or Mario Lopez and Melissa Joan Hart band together to save a failing small-town bakery—and, of course, Christmas, too—all in a constant marathon of cozy monotony. The near-identical structure to them is soothing; a comfort blanket of inanity and bad writing.
Plus, it’s the holidays! For all the talk about joy and love and all that fa-la-la, this season, generally speaking, can really suck. Who am I to fault those who want some escapism? What I can’t get over, though, is the pure ferocity of the chokehold these movies have on us during this time of year.
According to Entertainment Weekly, 146 new Christmas movies were set to air this year. As in new. Not yet seen. One hundred and forty-six movies were made for ephemeral holiday release, to be viewed while you drink eggnog and fart under your living room quilt, drifting in and out of sleep on a Sunday afternoon. That is preposterous to me—and yet, finally, unignorable.
With a grimace on my face and my finest Scrooge top hat on, I swan-dived into the avalanche of content. When pop culture like this is such a behemoth, it does become an intriguing test case for where we are as a society and how we’re changing. (That I am assigning that significance to a Lifetime movie starring Haylie Duff should bring none of us joy.)
It was barely a few years ago when this assault of Christmas movies from Hallmark and Lifetime featured such a lack of diversity that watching them came with the risk of snow blindness affliction.
In some ways, it is remarkable to see the larger conversation we’ve had about inclusivity in storytelling in Hollywood make tangible, observable progress in this genre of entertainment. A scan of this year’s lineup—if you have the hours in your day to read through it all—reveals impressive diversity, whether it’s race, disability, sexuality, or even religion. This year, there are Hanukkah love stories, too. And what is progress, truly, if not seeing yourself reflected in horrendous holiday movies on Hallmark?
I don’t want that snark to minimize the significance of this, though. This is such an influential and important cottage industry of entertainment—though so large now it might be more apt to call it a mansion industry—that there’s been backlash to that inclusivity and that progress.
This fall, the channel GAC Family was launched as a haven for those who think—get this—Hallmark has gotten too edgy and lost its wholesomeness. Hallmark! It was started by the former chief executive of Crown Media, Hallmark’s parent company, who was in charge in 2019 when, under pressure from conservative groups, the network pulled ads from Zola that featured a same-sex couple.
It is truly a testament to how ridiculous and extreme the culture wars have become that GAC Family even exists. (Would you believe that Lori Loughlin is one of the network’s inaugural stars?) But that anyone can take this genre so seriously definitely begs some critical exploration.
It would be a lie to say that I even made a dent in those 146 new movies. But I did watch a bunch. They are still not good! Not good at all!
Still… maybe it’s the suffocating shawl of bleakness that has snuffed all the joy out of being alive. Maybe the pummeling volume of these things has finally just worn me down. Or maybe I just don’t want to feel left out of the conversation when everyone in the world is talking about Vanessa Hudgens and all her wigs and accents. Somehow, against my best judgment and everything I thought I knew about myself, I have come to like these films.
The Princess Switch 3? What a plot! Held my interest the whole time. Single All the Way? I am here for a When Harry Met Sally about attractive gay friends with Kathy Najimy and Jennifer Coolidge along for the ride. And I do not care to share how hard I laughed at the utterly ridiculous VH1 movie featuring RuPaul and a bunch of Drag Race stars.
I can’t imagine how the scale of these movies every year could possibly sustain itself. All I need is for a childhood friend played by Lacey Chabert to force me to make gingerbread houses while she drains me of my cynicism.