If you tune in to Lifetime or the Hallmark Channel during their annual holiday movie marathons leading up to Christmas, then you’ve probably already figured out the formula (swapping out the variables): Burned out (marketing exec/writer/photographer) is stranded in a (small mountain village/charming inn/family homestead) where she meets a (handsome single father/brooding handyman/prince of obscure European nation) and rediscovers the spirit of Christmas.
They’re all pretty campy, usually filmed in Canada (and when they aren’t, snow is sprayed on the green leafy trees and lawns of Southern California) and feature rotating casts of unknown D-list actors, with the exception former child star Candace Cameron Bure (“Full House”) whose career has since been resurrected.
Only recently, with the entry of Netflix and other network competitors, have Lifetime and Hallmark embraced diversity. Minority and interracial couples gradually were added to the snow-white mix and — finally in 2020 — the wholesome, family-friendly genre will feature LGBT lead characters.
Hallmark Channel is first with “The Christmas House,” premiering on Nov. 22, and featuring “Mean Girls” star Jonathan Bennett, along with Robert Buckley (“One Tree Hill”), Ana Ayora (“In the Dark”), Treat Williams, Sharon Lawrence and Brad Harder.
According to Hallmark’s synopsis: “Working through some difficult decisions, Mitchell family matriarch Phylis (Lawrence) and patriarch Bill (Williams), have summoned their two grown sons — Mike (Buckley) and Brandon (Bennett) — home for the holidays. It is their hope that bringing the family together to recreate the Christmas house will help them find resolution and make a memorable holiday for the entire family and community.
As Brandon and his husband, Jake (Harder), make the trip home, they are anxiously awaiting a call about the adoption of their first child. Meanwhile, Mike reconnects with Andi (Ayora), his high school sweetheart.”
Lifetime’s entry, “The Christmas Setup,” debuting on Dec. 12, features real-life husbands Blake Lee (“Parks and Recreation”) and Ben Lewis (“Arrow,” “The Handmaid’s Tale”) and gay icon Fran Drescher (“The Nanny”).
Hugo (Lewis), a New York City lawyer, goes to Milwaukee with his best friend, Madelyn (Ellen Wong) to spend Christmas with his mom, Kate (Drescher), a meddling matchmaker who also organizes the local holiday festivities. Kate arranges for him to run into his old crush Patrick (Lee), who’s home from his high-powered job in Silicon Valley. As the romance appears to be taking off, a wrench is thrown into the works when Hugo is offered a job in London.
MTV Studios/Paramount TV will simulcast their inaugural gay Christmas rom-com, “Dashing in December,” on Logo, Pop and TV Land on Dec. 13. This one is full of “Brokeback Mountain” vibes (with a happier ending):
“Wyatt (Peter Porte), a New York City financier, connects with his roots and a handsome ranch hand on his mom’s ranch/Winter Wonderland attraction when he returns home for the holidays to try to convince her to sell the place. While visiting his mother, Deb (Andie MacDowell), Wyatt meets Heath (Juan Pablo Di Pace) and the attraction is palpable.”
If the stories still seem familiar, they should, because the studios stuck to the tried-and-true holiday formula that has appealed to gays and straights alike for more than a decade. These movies are just a little more heartwarming as LGBT representation finally gets stuffed in the Christmas stocking.
Check local listings for channels and show times.