In the six-hour PBS documentary “The Power of Myth,” Joseph Campbell explains that myths offer clues to our spiritual nature, and guide us to a sacred place where we can unlock a deeper unconscious self.
Campbell probably said a bunch of other stuff, too, but I only had time to watch the first five minutes.
I was on deadline, you see, and needed to watch something called “The Magical Christmas Shoes.”
Yours Truly made a mistake: I promised my boss I could watch 10 Lifetime Christmas movies and share the lessons I learned.
Don’t judge. I’ve never claimed to be good at life.
The origins of this mistake began last year, when my story on “Love Actually” touched on the staggering volume of new holiday movies. The Hallmark Channel cranked out 22 last year and is premiering 24 this year. There are even 16 more on a sibling channel.
Similarly, the Lifetime channel has been rolling out what will total 29 new holiday films this season.
Not a typo, people: 29.
While we can all appreciate job creation — especially for actors, writers and other showbiz pros — one can’t help but react with disbelief and judgment.
Yet with dozens upon dozens of new holiday romantic dramedies premiering each year, a guy’s gotta wonder whether it’s because they offer some deeper meaning. There have to be lessons yielding new clues into humanity’s spiritual nature. All those apparent viewers can’t be wrong, right?
Before we proceed, here’s a recap of the 10 I sat through.
Look, it’s not my intention to litigate the quality of Lifetime Christmas movies. It would be like Tom Sietsema deconstructing boxed mac and cheese.
Made-for-TV Christmas movies are pure comfort food. They taste good and have little nutrition. Plotwise, they’re a notch above “Teletubbies.” Not much happens, other than a reunion with an ex and bland conversations about family and the holidays.
Deus ex machina, a business is saved and a town is revived. Warm fuzzies and they kiss at the end.
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la la la.
Submitted for your review: A sampling of dialogue from my 10-film survey.
- “The magic is inside us” (from “The Magical Christmas shoes”).
- “Everything is possible at Christmas” (“Radio Christmas”).
- “Kids have a way of showing us how to hope” (“Magical Christmas Shoes” again).
- “Community is important” (again, from “Radio Christmas”).
- “What’s the point of success if you don’t have someone to share it with?” (“Staging Christmas”).
Were there other lessons? Yeah — and none helped me unlock a deeper unconscious self. But because I just sat through 15 hours of this stuff, please honor my sacrifice and follow along. Maybe you will find it helpful.
Lesson 1: Good things happen after winter storms. Let’s begin with Lifetime’s way of unifying several of these movies into a single cinematic universe, as if they’re Marvel comic properties. Meet “Winter Storm Meghan.”
I was about halfway through these when The Mrs. noticed consistent references to this named winter storm. (Yes, my better half joined me for much of this ordeal. She had the option to tap out as necessary … and did. Our dog didn’t seem to care.)
I had no appetite to go back and search for references in the ones I’d just watched, but I confirmed references in five: “Radio Christmas,” “Christmas Reservations,” “Random Acts of Christmas,” “Christmas Unleashed” and “You Light Up My Christmas.”
Not only does Meghan bring a bunch of snow, but she also serves as a catalyst for whatever happy endings the scriptwriters dreamed up.
How could this apply to real life, you ask? Two words: school closings.
Lesson 2: You’ll hook up with your ex at Christmas. If 1) you’re a single professional, and 2) you’re returning to your hometown, and 3) your ex is newly single, get psyched.
That goes double if the ex is widowed.
It goes triple if they have a werido kid who gets way too excited about, say, a candy cane.
Lesson 3: NAFTA has been great for Canada’s film industry. Each film might have been set in the U.S., but casual research consistently showed hockey country to be The Hollywood of Christmas:
- “Magical Christmas Shoes”: Set in New York, filmed in Ontario.
- “Sweet Mountain Christmas”: Set in Tennessee, filmed in British Columbia.
- “Radio Christmas”: Set in Pennsylvania, filmed in Manitoba.
- “Christmas 9 to 5”: Set in Chicago, filmed in Ontario.
- “Random Acts of Christmas”: Set in Chicago, filmed in British Columbia.
- “Christmas Unleashed”: Set in North Carolina, filmed in British Columbia.
- “You Light Up My Christmas”: Set in Colorado/Arizona, filmed in British Columbia.
Kudos to the three productions that apparently stayed stateside:
- “Staging Christmas”: Set in Colorado, filmed in Utah.
- “Christmas Reservations”: Set in upstate New York, filmed in Nevada.
- “Christmas a la Mode”: Set in Massachusetts and filmed in … wait for it … Massachusetts.
Lesson 4: Steve Urkel is boring now. Yes, the actor who immortalized America’s greatest nerd, Jaleel White, plays it room temperature as Soleil Moon Frye’s boss in “Staging Christmas.” He just hangs out in an office and talks about some important promotion.
I kept hoping he’d play the accordion or build a robot. Anything to break the crippling monotony.
Did he do thaaaaaat?
Lesson 5: Hoarding is good. Don’t be fooled by psychologists who claim it’s a symptom of mental illness. Hoarding years’ worth of discarded Christmas decorations, for example, can be a shot in the arm for a struggling department store, as George Wendt taught me in “Christmas 9 to 5.”
You never know when you’ll need that stack of newspapers from 2013!
Lesson 6: Family-owned businesses are not successful.
- Exhibit A: The struggling family-owned department store in “Christmas 9 to 5.”
- Exhibit B: The struggling family-owned dairy farm in “Christmas a la Mode.”
- Exhibit C: The struggling family-owned candy store in “Magical Christmas Shoes.”
- Exhibit D: The struggling family-owned ski lodge in “Christmas Reservations.”
- Exhibit E: The struggling family-owned Christmas light factory in “You Light Up My Christmas.”
Lesson 7: The iPad has revolutionized TV journalism. This lesson comes courtesy of “Random Acts of Christmas,” whose protagonist does live TV reports with a gadget better suited for something like this.
HD cameras? Handheld mics? Microwave links? Bah, humbug!
Thing is, this is perhaps the least objectionable thing about “Random Acts of Christmas.” The premise was clever (Bruce Wayne archetype as Secret Santa), but the execution was so across-the-board unwatchable that I needed a day off before I could finish the remaining two-thirds.
I was seriously on the brink of tears when they kissed at the end, because it was finally over.
Lesson 8: It’s amazing how the word “amazing” can be abused. “Radio Christmas,” I gotta bust your chops on this. Crack open a thesaurus, please.
The English language is rich with words. Find other ones. That would just be … oh, I don’t know … astounding … incredible … even wondrous.
Lesson 9: No one needed to see a shirtless Ted McGinley eating chicken in a hot tub. You remember Ted McGinley, don’t you? In “Christmas Reservations,” the reputed sitcom angel of death shows up as a down-on-his-luck former Olympian. He has a crush on a pretty lady. There are obstacles to an agreeable resolution, however, and in one scene he drowns his sorrows in a hot tub with some hot wings.
Not body shaming. Just saying.
That image was forced onto my brain and will sadly be the enduring memory of my 10-film odyssey.
This brings us to our final lesson …
Lesson 10: Don’t watch so many Lifetime Christmas movies. Another common thread I noticed in the 10 films: The characters are never shown watching a Christmas movie on Lifetime. No, they’re making precious memories of their own.
So follow their example: Bake a pie with your sister. Shovel a neighbor’s sidewalk. Go caroling. Teach someone how to make a candy cane. Decorate a tree. Volunteer. Wrap presents. Support your local family-owned light bulb factory.
Or heck, just drink a bottle of vodka and take a nap. I don’t care.
Anything is a better idea than wasting 15 hours like this, because there’s no real magic to be found in these myths.
The magic, in fact, is inside us.