It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, and the Hallmark Channel won’t let you forget it. Hallmark, much like a Christmas tree, is decorated each year with new ornaments that can blend in with the old ones because they’re all basically the same. In late October, Hallmark kicked off its annual “Countdown to Christmas,” churning out the kind of cornball made-for-TV movies that are perfect to turn on while your brain powers off. Here are some of the best of the bunch:
This movie is Hallmark gold: Warm holiday cheer plants the seed for a tale of budding true love in the adorable, sweet film “One Royal Holiday.” The movie follows Anna, a compassionate nurse played by a cheery and endearing Laura Osnes. As she returns to her family’s inn for the holidays, Anna stumbles upon a stranded mother (Victoria Clark) and son (Aaron Tveit) who can’t fly home for Christmas due to New England’s biting snowy weather.
She offers them shelter at the inn, only to discover that these strangers are actually the royal family of Galwick. Tveit plays Prince James, a stuffy, straight-laced royal who falls under the spell of small-town Christmas spirit — and he just might fall in love along the way.
“One Royal Holiday” shows off one of Hallmark’s most accomplished casts with five celebrated Broadway stars: Osnes, Tveit and Clark are joined by Tom McGowan as Anna’s dad and Krystal Joy Brown as Sara, Anna’s best friend and the town mayor. The performances are all-around charming and consistent. Osnes and Tveit manage to find touching moments of emotional understanding between their characters that imbues “One Royal Holiday” with joy and heart.
Lifting its title from the traditional British Christmas carol, “Holly & Ivy” transports viewers to Chippewa Falls, a humble town in Wisconsin. Melody (Janel Parrish) is a young aspiring librarian who’s just moved into a rickety, but quaint fixer-upper. She befriends her neighbor Nina (Marisol Nichols), a charming single mother with two daughters, Holly (Sadie Coleman) and Ivy (Piper Rubio).
Soon after meeting, however, Nina and Melody are forced to grapple with the return of Nina’s terminal illness. Melody promises to keep her friend’s daughters together, but her aspirations for adoption are halted because her house is in shambles. To help make her house a home, Melody enlists the hot local contractor Adam, played by Tony Award nominee Jeremy Jordan.
Though Melody and Adam are the romantic pulse of “Holly & Ivy,” the heartwarming friendship between Melody and Nina is a much more compelling emotional core. The ending feels a bit rushed, even for Hallmark, but Nina’s storyline brings impressive maturity to a movie decked out in holiday trimmings.
In what feels like a Christmas miracle, Hallmark takes a belated baby step toward inclusivity in the new movie, “The Christmas House.” Written by Robert Buckley, the movie features the network’s first gay couple to have leading roles. Despite its vague, useless title, “The Christmas House” is actually about a house and the close-knit family that grew up there. When the children were young, the Mitchell family had a holiday tradition of transforming their house into a floor-to-ceiling Christmas wonderland — think “Extreme Home Makeover.”
The movie follows six adults and pairs them up to showcase three equally important storylines. The Mitchell family reunites for one last hurrah at the house, and one of the storylines focuses on the son Brandon (Jonathan Bennett), who brings his husband Jake (Brad Harder) to join in the festivities.
As usual, Hallmark illustrates romance through chaste, modest gestures. But it’s oddly comforting to see the same treatment that’s so blithely applied to straight couples then be applied to a healthy, married queer couple as well. What makes the season even happier is that the gay couple’s struggle does not involve coming out. Overall, “The Christmas House” manages to overcome its bizarre premise and relay a surprisingly self-aware, sweet story about family and hope.
What was “You’ve Got Mail” missing? Christmas spirit, of course! Revise the title, reverse the central characters and poof — you’ve received “Deliver by Christmas,” a bundle of feel-good fun. “Deliver by Christmas” finds its leading lady in the stunning Alvina August, who plays Molly, a busy bakery owner. At a local Christmas tree farm, Molly meets Josh, played by a guarded Eion Bailey. Josh is a widower who’s just moved to town with his young son (Kesler Talbot).
Sparks fly between Molly and Josh, but Molly also finds herself drawn to a nameless client she met online. Christmas embellishments festoon every scene, and while the movie’s loud influences leave little doubt as to how this conflict will play out, it’s still cute and worth the watch.
Dishonorable mentions: “Christmas Tree Lane,” “USS Christmas,” “If I Only Had Christmas” and “Never Kiss a Man in a Christmas Sweater”