Judging from the offerings on most major networks this week, you’d think they stopped making Christmas specials decades ago. We still rely heavily on “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Miracle on 34th Street,” “A Christmas Story” and of course everyone’s favorite pint-sized depressive, Charlie Brown, to get our holiday spirit fix.
But it need not be so! Just flip over to the Hallmark Channel, which is having a banner ratings season with its nonstop cavalcade of original movies starring actors whose careers you’ve been vaguely wondering about. The “whatever happened to” game has never been so much fun.
Take “Finding Christmas,” (8 p.m. Tuesday, 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday) where you’ll find Tricia Helfer, last seen as a sultry cyborg in “Battlestar Galactica.” Or a double feature with ’80s icon Steve Guttenberg and Crystal “Wings” Bernard, “Single Santa Seeks Mrs. Claus” and its sequel, “Meet the Santas” (4 and 6 p.m. Tuesday).
“The Santa Switch” (7:30 a.m. on Wednesday) sees Sean Astin, late of “Lord of the Rings,” as Santa’s suit and specs-wearing elf, bringing the spirit of the season to a recalcitrant department store Claus.
Haylie Duff in “Hats Off To Christmas!”Photo: Hallmark
Former tween star Haylie Duff is the star of “Hats Off to Christmas,” (10 p.m. Tuesday, 9 a.m. Wednesday) playing — what else? — a busy single mom who falls for her boss’ son, eventually learning that love trumps business.
This is one of the major themes of the Hallmark Channel, where every story — including the non-Christmas ones — seems to revolve around finding (or reuniting with) a husband or a wife. But mostly a husband. Gender-wise, this stuff plays like Nicholas Sparks fare — only with even less subtlety. It is indisputably lady-oriented.
It is Lifetime minus the edge.
My friends and I like to watch in the same way the geeks of “Mystery Science Theater 3000” showcased science fiction B-movies. Scrappy production values are an especially rich vein of humor, as is the sheer caliber of acting. You can’t beat a Hallmark movie for bland, white-bread good looks combined with a total inability to convey emotion (hat tip, Botox). If you didn’t know better, you might think you were in the first few minutes of an adult film, the part people fast-forward through.
But this is how life goes in Hallmark land, where conversation is conducted exclusively in cliches and there’s no such thing as an unhappy ending. (Rather creepily, there’s also no such thing as Jews. Or gays. Or atheists. Or, with incredibly rare exceptions, minorities. But I digress.)
Ultimately, it’s the go-to for watching people you used to like in something else acting in the television equivalent of small-town Christian community theater. It feels weirdly intimate, as if you have discovered a dirty little secret. My theory is that actors take these gigs after being assured by their agents that nobody watches the Hallmark channel.
But surprise! Ratings are through the roof. (Hallmark boasted the #1 movie of the week for seven weeks in a row this season, averaging nearly 4 million viewers.)
The jig is up, Edward Hermann and Olympia Dukakis and probable 2013 Oscar nominee Bruce Dern. We see you and your terrible Christmas sweaters. And we’re eating it up like Whos digging into a roast beast.