Sure, all those cable Christmas movies look the same.
They have the same sunny faces, same glittery settings, same songs (public-domain, no problem getting rights) in the background.
But once you get past that, they vary widely. There are some good ones (really); that includes “Must Love Christmas,” shown here. There are also some awful ones (obviously) and a lot in-between.
We sampled a dozen of them, many from around Thanksgiving weekend, when key ones arrive. The dates listed here are when they first air, but don’t worry: Christmas movies, like old Christmas sweaters, never really go away:
— “Must Love Christmas,” Dec. 11, CBS. This starts with a clever notion – a Christmas novelist whose mind is temporarily stuck in cliches. We see her vision of the closing scene she’s working on … and a guy who looks a lot like her long-ago boyfriend. Then, of course, she sort of visits her past. Besides a sharp concept, this has a likable star (Liza Lapira of “The Equalizer”), a late plot twist (albeit somewhat forced) and a surprise second romance.
— “Steppin’ Into the Holiday,” Nov. 25, Lifetime. Unlike “Must Love Christmas,” this doesn’t have an ounce of originality. The plot – returning from a big-city career to find warmth and romance back home – has been done approximately 3.2 zillion times. BUT this time it’s done well. Mario Lopez and Jana Kramer are terrific in the leads, the film looks great and there are some dandy dance moves.
— “A Country Christmas Harmony,” Nov. 18, Lifetime. Here’s the same plot as “Steppin’” and other films – a star returning home for Christmas. What it lacks in originality it makes up for in … well, nothing else. The big moment – a TV Christmas special – seems to be a shabbily produced performance of one OK song.
— “A Christmas … Present,” Nov. 27, Great American Family. We had high hopes for this one. It has a likable star (Candace Cameron Bure) and a lush look; and unlike most holiday films, it does remember that Christmas is rooted in Christianity. Alas, the story soon becomes a drab monotone. Our heroine keeps overplanning the lives of people who just want simple fun. It was a good point the first time, a dull one the 47th time.
— “A Holiday Spectacular,” Nov. 27, Hallmark. A former Rockette (played by Ann-Margret, no less) recalls when she stepped away from her society life to try out for the Radio City Music Hall show in 1958. We could quibble that this whitewashes past biases, claiming there were Black dancers in the show back then; in truth, that didn’t happen until 1986, Still, we’ll accept the notion that this is a feel-good look at how life should have been. And, of course, there’s glitter and spectacle.
— “12 Days of Christmas Eve,” Nov. 26, Lifetime. A businessman keeps trying to salvage his relationship with his daughter (a surgeon), failing, and getting another chance. It’s sometimes goofy, sometimes repetitious, but often saved by the skill of Kelsey Grammer and his daughter, Spencer.
— “I’m Glad It’s Christmas,” Nov. 26, Great American Family. For most of the movie, it’s easy to root for a likable Broadway wannabe (Jessica Lowndes) and her new mentor (Gladys Knight). Then … well, the final few plot twists are lame. Until then, it’s fun.
— “When Christmas Was Young,” Dec. 18, CBS. A cold-hearted music executive (is that redundant?) tries to convince someone to give him a Christmas song she wrote. She lives in a small town so he, of course, discovers warmth. The song (written by Sheryl Crow) is good, but the guy is hard to root for.
— “Santa Bootcamp,” Nov. 19, Lifetime. Rita Moreno – at 90, still near the top of her game – runs a school for would-be Santas. The central plot and romance are so-so, but there’s fun along the way.
AND SOME MORE
— “A New Orleans Noel,” Dec. 3, Lifetime. It’s great to see a New Orleans story, especially one that includes Keshia Knight Pulliam, her real-life mate Brad James and Patti LaBelle, But the story itself is lame. We’re still trying to figure out a bell-seeking scavenger hunt in which the winner is “the first team that returns with the most bells.”
— “A Christmas Spark,” Nov. 27. Facing a lonely holiday, a woman accepts an invitation to visit her daughter’s family. Soon, she’s directing a Christmas pageant … and meeting a guy. The rest is salvaged only by the likability of Jane Seymour and her old “Dr. Quinn” colleague, Joe Lando.
— “Fit For Christmas,” Dec. 4, CBS. As a co-host of “The Talk,” Amanda Kloots may be fine; as a dancer, she’s impressively flexible. But her idea of acting is to smile perpetually, through any dialog. She’s saddled here with a standard story – yes, she’s returning from the city to the warmth of her home town – and a guy that we don’t particularly want her to meet.