What Makes Good TV? A Look at the Holiday Premieres

Young couple on couch watching holiday television specials.

The holiday season brings with it a perennial watchlist of family favorites—from Home Alone to the stop-motion animations of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. And while we’d only forego these seasonal classics at the risk of receiving coal in our stockings, variety is the holiday spice of life. Thankfully, 2019 is offering a lot of new stories to choose from, some of which might become the classics of Christmas future.

And, admittedly, some that won’t. Because while they are technically new, there is something very familiar about them. Not that there’s anything wrong with familiarity. Indeed, Lifetime and Hallmark Christmas movies have a reputation for being guilty pleasures for this very reason—and even SNL has poked Hallmark for being very prolific. But the truth is that their seasonal onslaught is popular for a reason. Both networks have put in their 10,000 hours; they’ve done this enough to get good at it—and we love them for it. Like eggnog and sugar cookies, these holiday movies are comfort food.

Period pieces, for the win

Take, for example, the derivative pop-culture wink given by Hallmark’s Sense, Sensibility & Snowmen. In the spirit of conjuring yesteryear, the title of this modern-day pastiche of the Jane Austin novel gives a nod to the decade-old trend of mashing Regency period literature with other genres. A decade ago, that genre was horror, including zombie and sea monster mash-ups. Considering that, Hallmark’s take on the Dashwood sisters teaching a humbuggish Edward the meaning of holiday party planning sounds downright soothing.

There’s no place like home for the holidays

Maybe you can’t go home again, but you’d never know it from November to December. We see, over and over, the theme of going home for the holidays—even, or especially, if it’s unplanned. Lifetime’s Grounded for Christmas is a prime example.

The film features a male/female pair of airline pilots—with serious will-they/won’t-they energy—who are stuck at the home of the female pilot’s parents when a winter storm grounds their flight. Enter an ex-boyfriend and a desperate plea to the male pilot to pretend to be her new boyfriend, and the stage is set for warming hearts, al-titude adjustments, and love to spread its wings.

It’s kind of the perfect, “Yes, I’m home again, but now I’m the real me, the one who has outgrown that old boyfriend—but not the lessons learned here.”

But are they all love stories?

In a word, yes.

And some, like Hallmark’s A Christmas Love Story may be a little on-the-nose about that. But what this particular movie lacks in subtlety, it makes up for in star power. Scott Wolf and Tony Award-Winning Kristin Chenowith? We can’t possibly not watch this one.

It’s predictable, sure, but plays to its stars’ strengths. Chenowith can do no vocal wrong, even as she, a youth choir director, wrestles with writer’s block, trying to compose a show-stopping holiday song. Can Wolf’s cheery widower help put the Kristin back in Chenowith?

Of course, he can.

And the day is saved

We’ve lost count of how many times the “saving Christmas” trope has made it to film, but this year the flavor’s a little different. In the case of Lifetime’s Christmas A La Mode, the salvation plotline is all about bringing a family back together and saving the family farm.

In a nutshell, Santa can’t live on cookies alone—but running a profitable dairy, it turns out, is hard. When Emily has a tough time milking a living out of the family business, she’s faced with selling the farm (at the urging of her sister, armed with a handsome business partner). As the sell-by date on the dairy approaches, Emily desperately launches an ice-cream flavor contest online. Will it go viral and save the day? Spoiler: It might, with the help of the handsome business partner’s special apple pie recipe.

The gift that keeps on giving

Maybe it’s true that all the great stories have been told. But that’s okay. At this time of year, especially, we won’t stop making and watching new versions of these stories, because they never get old. These are the holidays after all, the perfect time for a feast of comfort—and tidings of great joy.