I remember it clearly. It was a Sunday in early December 2016. I was flipping through channels and stumbled upon a Hallmark Christmas movie. I’d never watched one before. Within three minutes of allowing myself to be transfixed by a redhead grappling with her department store career, I was trapped.
I watched until the last 20 seconds when the couple climbed into a sleigh and shared their long-awaited first kiss while – weirdly – their family and colleagues watched in approval. It was terrible. The plot was predictable. The Christmas spirit felt pushy. The fact they could persevere through all those romantic situations and wait until the last minute to kiss proves 1) they have extraordinary willpower or 2) I’m way more of a make-out slut than that redhead.
How could anyone think this was actually good? These people were too Christmassy! I was annoyed. Even so, I was on the couch in tears. I wanted to feel this mix of warmth, annoyance and Christmas spirit again as soon as possible. Plus, I was genuinely curious what other preposterous story lines could unfold in these films (I call them films now.)
Driven by measurable goals, I gave myself the task to watch 20 Hallmark films that holiday season. I started DVRing as many as I could, avoiding ones that seemed too “down-homey” or too “royal palacey.” I wanted meet-cute, girl-meets-boy movies (preferably featuring Alicia Witt). I filled the DVR with weeks of future recordings – several of which had a version of the words “jingle,” “sleigh” and/or “merry” in the title.
When I told my mom I was spending my free time watching Hallmark movies, her reaction was, “You know those are hours of life you can never get back, right?” Fair enough, Mom. Enter…the spreadsheet!
If I was spending the equivalent of a work week watching these movies, I felt compelled to do something productive with it. I approached my project like an anthropologist dropped into a mysterious Christmas civilization, and captured observations in a spreadsheet.
I had a column documenting the overall premise, often free-flow writing as the movie was unfolding. I had columns for the lead female and lead male types (ex: career-driven TV journalist, artsy divorced single dad, resort owner who fishes, Christmas-hating CEO). I tracked the conflict and resolution, as well as the “magic person” working behind the scenes to get the two lovebirds together. There’s always some kind of angel, meddling aunt or Santa in disguise.
In case you wondered, I exceeded expectations. I watched and tracked 22 films in my spreadsheet that season. The anthropologist in me quickly discovered they’re essentially the same movie with the same Christmas-saves-the-day finale. Sure there’s a lot to criticize about these movies – lack of diversity, reliance on men to feel fulfilled in life, marginal acting – but as I peek at my spreadsheet, there are a couple I’d watch again.
Upon further review, there’s SO much more I want to share with you about Hallmark films. In fact, I’m making this topic into a three-part series of entries…