For some years, one irate reader always wrote to me in the week before Christmas. Not to wish me the compliments of the season, but to tell me exactly what he thought. Usually I was called "a displaced Irish pansy" in the correspondence. And a "Leftie loser."
The letter hasn't come in recent years and I miss it. It was sterling reminder that, at this time of year, some people are cranky as all get-out.
It is the task of commercial TV to assuage this sort of ill temper. And I'm not talking about the classic rituals of watching A Charlie Brown Christmas or It's a Wonderful Life. I'm talking about the tons of TV movies that are churned out to make viewers feel cozy and optimistic. Mainly it's a matter of female viewers being optimistic that they will hook up with a nice chap.
In TV movies where the holidays are major part of the plot, nobody is seen sitting around watching TV. (Unless, of course, it's a rare scene of some guys watching a sports event, because that's what guys do from American Thanksgiving through New Year's Day.) Mainly there's no TV-viewing featured because all the characters are too busy having breakdowns and then realizing the true value of family. Or realizing they have met their soulmates. And yet a vast amount of our time is spent watching these silly, slight TV movies about the holidays. The viewing numbers for them are staggering.
There's a bunch airing this weekend. And, to be helpful, in the spirit of the season, here's the gist. Notice the strange and constant themes.
Dear Santa (Saturday, Global, 7 p.m.) is directed by Jason Priestley, not that it matters. In some TV listings, the movie is summarized as this: "A young woman who's getting tired of the single life finds a letter to Santa from a little girl whose Christmas wish is a new wife for her daddy." That is not the actual storyline. In fact we meet Crystal (Amy Acker), who is rich and spends her parents' money like there's no tomorrow. Mom and dad get real with her, tell her to stop being a dilettante or else they will cancel her credit cards come Christmas. Yes, she finds a letter to Santa from seven-year-old Olivia (Emma Duke), who asks Santa to find her widowed father Derek (David Haydn-Jones) a new wife. Derek runs a soup kitchen. Crystal volunteers there to get close to him, but his girlfriend (Gina Holden) has no plans to let go of her do-gooding beau. So Crystal has to fight to win him. It's more like a Sex and the City episode than traditional holiday fare.
Trading Christmas (Saturday, Global, 9 p.m.) is nobody's idea of a holiday classic, but it has been one of the most-watched TV movies on the Hallmark Channel for some years. Why? Go figure. Based on a Debbie Macomber novel and made in Canada, it's about a widowed mom (Faith Ford) swapping houses with a professor (Tom Cavanagh) from Boston so she can visit her daughter (Emma Lahana), a college student who says she's spending Christmas on campus. Mom arrives in Boston to discover daughter has vamoosed with her boyfriend. Things go awry at the house and Mom meets a nice chap. Meanwhile, back home, her BFF, nice divorcée Faith (Gabrielle Miller from Corner Gas), goes to visit Mom but finds this writer guy in her friend's house. Things go awry. There's bickering. And then it's all kissing couples.
Christmas Under Wraps (Sunday, W, 9 p.m.) is one of this year's Hallmark Channel movies. It stars Candace Cameron Bure as a doctor who gets relocated to the small town of Garland, Alaska, where, after hating it at first, she falls in love with a handsome local. This is the fifth time that Bure has done a holiday TV movie. She always plays a successful businesswoman or professional who is too busy to appreciate the season until she falls in love with a nice chap. Yes, the fifth time.
Merry Ex-Mas (Sunday, Lifetime Canada, 10 p.m.) is new and stars Dean Cain as a guy whose wife (Kristy Swanson) divorced him when, wrongly, she thought he'd had an affair. It's three years later and they are snowed in together along with his new girlfriend. Stuff happens. Everything turns out right and the necessary hook-ups happen. This is Cain's 15th Christmas-themed TV movie. Yes, 15th.
The point is that this is the new Christmas ritual – dozens of similarly themed TV movies are made and aired featuring romance achieved after setbacks. It's the new holiday reality.
Also airing this weekend
Take note that Homeland (Sunday, Super Channel, 9 p.m.) reaches its season finale. It has been a great reboot. Also, The Affair (Sunday, TMN/Movie Central, 10 p.m.) reaches its conclusion. After a very strong start, the series diminished. Sadly, the affair between Alison (Ruth Wilson) and Noah (Dominic West) never got more profound than Alison's permanent facial pout.