If you think it’s hard to watch all these Christmas movies, imagine what it’s like to write them.
Consider Mark Amato. He used to be your standard TV writer, doing multiple episodes of “Mutant X,” “Baby Daddy,” etc. But in recent years, he’s had 13 TV movies produced; 10 were Christmas ones and two were she-meets-a-prince ones.
He’s used a lot of plots and groped for more. “You sit at a computer and the words aren’t coming,” he said. “Or, worse, they’re coming, just not any good.”
So he turned that struggle into his latest movie (shown here). ““Must Love Christmas” (9 p.m. Dec. 11) is the second of three new holiday films CBS airs on consecutive Sundays. The first (“Fit For Christmas”) was disappointing, the third (“When Christmas Was Young,” Dec. 18) has its moments … but it’s this middle one that stands out.
“There are so many tropes that you have to kind of find a way to recycle,” Amato said. “And I don’t want to recycle.”
So he created a character with that problem: Natalie (Liza Lapira of “Equalizer”) writes Christmas novels – so many that she’s hit a wall. Lapira said Amato told her: “Basically, you’re playing me.”
Well, not exactly. Amato says he’s an extrovert. He made Natalie an introvert, hesitant to leave her apartment. With her book sinking into Christmas cliches (which we see onscreen), she needs a change.
She “takes a tiny step out of her comfort zone,” Amato said, “for a quick trip to Buffalo, the town that inspired her very first Christmas novel. But when a freak snowstorm leaves her stranded, (her) world is about to turn upside-down.”
(Well, no snowstorm there can be considered a freak. This year, Buffalo has already had a 36.6-inch snowfall; a nearby town measured 81.2 inches. And one calendar year, Buffalo totaled 176 inches.)
Now Natalie is stuck there. Problems persist … which isn’t always the case in these films.
“Often, in the Christmas-film landscape, the problems of the people are eroded away to absolutely nothing,” said Neal Bledsoe, who plays a reporter. “They don’t have any obstacle to overcome.”
There are other quirks with many films, said Nathan Witte, who plays a guy from Natalie’s past. “Every scene, it’s like: ‘We got to let everybody know that we’re doing Christmas in this movie.’ Every scene (has) bells, mistletoe, shirts and sweaters and everything.”
This one manages to avoid that. It keeps viewers uncertain about Natalie’s romance … adds a second romance … and has a fresh approach to casting.
“When growing up, I didn’t see many protagonists who look like me,” Lapira said.
In Christmas films, especially, the central characters were white. Minorities were there to be the buddy or the co-worker or such. But now Lapira – who is Filipino, Spanish and Chinese – is at the center of it all. She’s Natalie, who – like Amato – is trying to push aside Christmas cliches.