It’s been 20 long, arduous years since Hallmark released its first original Christmas movie: “The Christmas Secret,” starring Beau Bridges and Richard Thomas. That forgotten piece of tinsel was about a professor who sets out to prove that reindeer can fly, and then meets Santa. Ugh.
Some readers will think of that fateful day as the Big Bang of holiday cheer; a tiny spark unleashing two decades of Yuletide merriment.
Bah humbug, I say! Dec. 17, 2000 was the K-T Extinction Event for enjoyable Christmas movies, and that little film starring John-Boy from “The Waltons” ushered in an era in which, as the weather gets colder, the American public gets dumber. Because they gorge themselves on Hallmark’s asinine Christ-mush.
A whole month before shopping malls put Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” on repeat, Hallmark Channel is already showing its wintry movies around the clock — in freakin’ October.
Even worse, the tasteless tradition has started spreading to streaming services such as Netflix and Disney+, and has now grown out of control. Schlock has replaced decent Christmas movies as the main event.
It’s the holidays, so allow me to wax nostalgic for a better, classier time.
Recall when this cherished genre was packed with well-made films, including many enduring American classics: “It’s A Wonderful Life,” “Miracle on 34th Street” and “White Christmas.” More recent movies from the 1980s and ’90s, such as “Home Alone,” “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and “Gremlins,” are also worthy of praise and repeat viewings.
And then came hungry, hungry Hallmark.
The basic cable network, which is available in more than 80 million American homes, gained popularity in the aughts thanks to appalled audiences who decided TV was kicking good ol’ fashioned family values to the curb. With HBO having aired shows about super relatable mobsters and New York nymphomaniacs, I don’t know what they could possibly mean.
The network found its niche with schmaltzy Christmas content. Since 2009, they’ve dubbed the monthslong event “Countdown to Christmas” (I picture Richard Dean Anderson diffusing a time bomb) and have gradually upped the ante. This year they are airing 40 originals, including “Sense, Sensibility & Snowmen” and “A Blue Ridge Mountain Christmas,” which are all roughly the same film.
The newbies join the well over 100 formulaic, cheap movies Hallmark has churned out using a rotating roster of popular-on-Hallmark stars such as Candace Cameron Bure, who has been dubbed the Queen of Christmas, Lacey Chabert and Lori Loughlin, who is currently serving two months in the clink for another crime.
Back when these atrocities were consigned to the gated community of Hallmark, I couldn’t care less. But their competitors took notice, and the style is everywhere. Lifetime turned into another Christmas machine in the 2010s, and is releasing 30 films this year, while behemoth Netflix has hopped on the naughty list, too.
This year the streaming service dropped seven originals including “Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square” and “The Princess Switch: Switched Again.” Frank Capra is LOL’ing in his grave.
Even for theatrically released seasonal movies, a sharp downturn in quality began shortly after Hallmark originals came on the scene. That’s when we got “Christmas With The Kranks” (2004), “Surviving Christmas” (2004) with Ben Affleck, “Deck The Halls” (2006), starring Danny DeVito and Matthew Broderick, and “Fred Claus” with Vince Vaughn and Paul Giamatti (2007). Christmas films, which used to get the occasional Oscar nomination, have become synonymous with badness.
This year, they’re gaining particular praise for adding some diversity to the mix. “Are Hallmark movies turning the corner on diversity?,” asked Forbes. “TV’s gay Christmas movies are as benign, charming and cliche as we always hoped they’d be,” cooed the Washington Post. Isn’t it wonderful that multiple groups can share in sub-par entertainment?
There has always been an understandable appetite for crummy, campy movies. The Razzies is an awards show dedicated to them. What’s new here is the cynical corporatization of lousiness; how Hallmark, Lifetime and Netflix set out to make rubbish knowing full-well that millennials will cackle at it. And if you think they are legitimately good, well, you can now do therapy sessions conveniently on Zoom.
I hope you’ve enjoyed Christmas with a crank.