Jesse Tells Frank What Happened In All Cable Christmas Movies

Dear Frank,

Normally, I guard the honor of telling of you stuff as sacred. But after John Ross recommended a most bloodthirsty selection of “Christmas” movies yesterday, I figured we could all use an antidote. So here’s our good friend Jesse Vigil — with a different approach!


Dear Frank,

ABC Family's 25 Days of Christmas 2013I grew up Catholic and was educated by Catholics for 13 years, so naturally I am really good at swearing and having not the best relationship with faith. I am also a little Grinchy about Christmas, especially when it comes to starting the “season” prior to December 1st.

You might know me as a person who does not always have great taste in film. I do, for example, believe Michael Bay is an important artist whose dadaist celebration of the meaninglessness of “plot” has yet to be properly recognized. But I have a dark secret, Frank. Because I have seen over two dozen cable Christmas movies.

And no, we’re not talking about the classics. No White Christmas. No It’s a Wonderful Life. Not even Die Hard or Batman Returns. I’m talking about the factory-churned slew of contemporary Christmas movies that rose to prominence on Lifetime and then spread like cancer to ABC Family and even a thing I didn’t know existed: The Hallmark Channel.

I have relatives, Frank, and they watch a lot of these movies. I also stay up late, Frank, so I’ve seen more of them than my wife, whom the Sandman loves more than me. Last holiday I started live-tweeting the most outrageous discoveries I made about this whole genre of films and was asked by our mutual friend Liz to share my discoveries with you. So here are the Five Things You Need To Know About Cable Christmas Movies:

  1. Magic exists. Not in a “the magic of Christmas oh-this-might-be-a-coincidence” sort of magic. We are talking full-on abracadabra magic. Lifetime/Hallmark magic is unique, however, in that it needs to obey no actual rules or be explained in any key way other than “oh, he’s the bastard son of Santa Claus” or “we’re Christmas witches.”

    If you are raising your eyebrows at this, Frank, relax. We’ll talk about some of the troubling things I’ve just revealed in a little bit. But let’s let some of that Christmas Magic levitate us or make us fall in love every time we hear sleighbells or maybe just help us get through the rest of this. We’ll talk about some more human-scale things you probably didn’t know were Christmas movie themes first. Such as:

  2. In a Cable Christmas Movie, infidelity is totally allowed. Especially if you’re engaged to be married. More or less if you find yourself the protagonist of a cable Christmas movie, you’re going to be engaged in the first ten minutes in a pretty wonderfully romantic fashion. You will soon be separated from that guy, though and you’re going to meet an even HOTTER NICER guy that you’ll want to break your vows with. Don’t worry. You can go ahead and do that because according to the rules of these Christmas movies, the man you’re engaged to is going to turn out to be an ASSHOLE.

    You don’t understand, Frank. We’re not talking an asshole like in, say, some forgettable Katherine Heigl crapfest where the guy is inconsiderate or maybe mildly misogynistic. If you’re engaged to someone in one of these movies, this guy is at MINIMUM a Snidely Whiplash mustache-twirling sunuvvabitch. He’s probably only marrying you to close some huge business deal that will make all the puppies of the world go blind or because he needs to appease his family so he can stay in the will or, you know, because he’s a man who is tired of doing the cooking and cleaning and can’t wait for you to give up your dreams and shoes to have dinner on the table and get knocked up with male heirs tout d’suite.

    All of this is to say, Frank, that your ideas about fidelity are horribly old-fashioned. You’re released from any obligation to shun the romantic advances of this newer hotter nicer man-who-crochets even if you do not yet KNOW your fiance is plotting to sell your family’s land to a frakking company.

    If you find yourself in one of these movies (and you will know because it will be almost Christmas-time and everyone will either love or hate this fact) then call this man on the phone to talk for hours about love. Cuddle up with him in front of the fire and share hot cocoa. Get trapped in a snowdrift and use your bodies to keep warm. Have an “accidental” kiss. Rest assured, you don’t even KNOW how evil your finace is and so it’s all totally justified. Sin for a sin = Christmas, right?

    This is the most potent form of Lifetime/Hallmark Christmas magic, Frank. Just as our savior Jesus Christ came to this world to wash away the sins of humanity, the highly pagan non-religious palatable-to-all commercial concept of “Christmas” in these films will ERADICATE YOUR SINS so long as the man you cheated with LOVES CHRISTMAS. So get yourself an ugly sweater, Frank, and get to cheating! It’s Christmas, after all.

  3. It’s not a felony if it’s Christmas! Okay, Frank, we discussed moral crimes being permitted within the context of Christmas, but did you know that you can also break the laws of man and society in the name of Christmas? Guess what? You totally can!

    Let’s say, for example, that you’re on your way to visit family and you just know they’re going to be mean to you because in your big-city quest for a life and a career you’ve somehow gotten past the age of 24 without landing a husband. Problems, amirite? But lo, there’s this handsome man at the baggage claim. He’s a little rough-around-the-edges but he tells a joke and helps you get your bag because of course you’re a woman and can’t lift your own bag. Who can blame you, silly girl! You’re just so scatterbrained and hysterical over the stress of family. Oh, but he’s of course engaged to someone who’s not traveling with him.

    You might be thinking that this is a dead end, Frank. But you would be wrong. Because as long as it’s Christmas, you are allowed to KIDNAP this man.

    Let’s be crystal clear. When I say that you can kidnap him, I don’t mean that you can offer him a ride and then just drive him to your house instead. I mean you can HANDCUFF this man or shove him in the back of your TRUNK and take him AGAINST HIS WILL where he will, by the time you arrive, agree to pretend to be engaged to you and not to the actual woman he’s engaged to. Why? You’re gonna have an adventure of some kind, Frank. And it’s going to make you fall in love because of Christmas.

    There’s a different kind of Christmas magic working here, Frank. It’s the magic of Christmas screenwriting. “Because Christmas” is a magic phrase that you can tape above the typewriter the monkeys are using to accomplish all kinds of amazing things. Evil land speculators can do a 180 at the sound of carolers so fast it’ll make that snobby food critic in Ratatouille feel like he really took a long time to decide that ginger klutz could cook. Men will realize they’ve been in love with the wrong woman THIS WHOLE TIME. And yes, aggravated assault, grand theft auto, conspiracy to commit kidnapping and many more sanguine crimes will be not only forgiven, but celebrated for years to come in a strange framing mechanism many of these movies use to tell a story about a long time ago that looks just like today.

    Are you amazed, yet, Frank? Because we’re on to #4. And that’s gonna astonish.

  4. Actors you liked but haven’t thought of for 10 years are in these movies. Frank, I’m pleased to announce that I’ve discovered the Bermuda Triangle of former television stars. It’s these movies.

    Have you caught yourself watching a lot of Cheers late at night and thinking to yourself, “good old George Wendt. Wonder what he’s up to?” Answer: Playing Santa Claus in cable Christmas movies. Not once, Frank, but FOUR times by my count and only one of those is a sequel. Mario Lopez? When not dancing with the stars, the former Bayside jock was in a Christmas kidnapping movie (deep breath) AND, FRANK, he was kidnapped by Melissa Joan Hart, who did NOT have to explain it all because, as mentioned, Christmas. Dave Coulier, no longer Uncle Joey or even being referenced in Alanis Morisette songs, can be found in these films. So can his TV niece Candice Cameron (Bure) who has done almost as many as Wendt.

    Frank, have you ever eaten a King-Sized Butterfinger all at once? Because that’s what seeing one of these old faces in one of these movies is kind of like. At first you’re saying, “wow, it’s been ages! I have a fond memory somewhere of eating a Butterfinger, or at least of liking Bart Simpson shilling for the candy bar.” And then, a few bites in, you realize that the memory is being tainted with every mouthful. The reality of how tooth-killingly sugary and how much of it there’s still to get through before you can be done with it is too much. You feel sick. You wish you could keep the old happy memory of Butterfinger alive in your heart. But you’re in a room full of relatives who expect you to finish the whole thing while they watch. So you do.

    Frank, that’s how I felt realizing that Slater is the voice of a talking dog who saves Christmas for a family who totally doesn’t deserve to have their Christmas saved. And how you might feel when I tell you that IMDB just informed me an adventure where he saves EASTER is now in post-production. Which kind of brings us to the last bit.

  5. Nothing is sacred. Just as I now fear that, having strip-mined the birth of Christ, the cable networks are now working on an endless deluge of movies themed around the time of year commemorating the end of Jesus’ time on Earth, you should know that there are no protected topics or memories in cable Christmas movies. Sure, we’ve covered the breaking of lots of commandments and also laws and even some sacrosanct memories of TV fondly remembered. But I mean this on a pretty meta level, Frank. In cable Christmas movies, not even Christmas is sacred.

    Example: This is a summary of a real film I sat and watched with relatives last holiday season. Santa (not Wendt Santa, booo) is getting old and doddery. He has two daughters. One is eeeeeevil and wears corsets and hates Christmas. She even has an eeeeevil elf henchman and they try to get Santa to will the North Pole to Corset Daughter so she can AUCTION IT OFF TO THE HIGHEST BIDDER AND BUILD A CASINO.

    Frank, that was not the summary of a Rainbow Brite Christmas half-hour special designed to sell toys in the 80s. That was the summary of a contemporary feature-length film made for adults. And it has a sequel. Or that is the sequel. I tried to do some fact-checking but then my head exploded. Google “santa daughter movies” and you’ll see that this is also kind of a genre, but of horror.

So I said at the beginning I can be kind of Grinchy. The amazing thing about these movies, though, is that they more or less have forced me to be very pro-Christmas, and I mean that in the fairly churchy goodwill-to-all god-bless-us-every-one kind of way. Because I’ve seen the void, Frank. I’ve seen Christmas slapped on stories that aren’t Christmasy in the slightest. I’ve seen that one network makes 12 of these A YEAR and now has a catalogue so long that they’ve been airing them since before Thanksgiving. And thanks to the DVRs I wish we’d not given as a gift to some of these relatives, I’ve seen a lot of these movies.

Try it, Frank. Watch a few dozen of these. You’re gonna be humming tunes and buying the homeless a hot cup of coffee and donating old coats to orphans in no time. Nothing makes you realize what’s important about the holidays like seeing networks swing, miss, and swing 11 more times at all the things Christmas is not about. And, it’s going to make you appreciate family, Frank. Lord knows I love mine. A hot cup of cider, a dog trying to drink that cider, and discovering the Christmas-ness of handcuffs will be one of my favorite yuletide memories for all the years of my life.

I hope you have a great holiday, Frank. And remember: if Liz isn’t telling you about enough things, you have until the 25th to kidnap and torture her with NO REPERCUSSIONS.


Jesse Vigil is a writer, game designer, and general mischief-maker. He is a principal creative at Psychic Bunny and the creator of the audio adventure game FREEQ (on iOS and Android devices), which released earlier this year to critical acclaim and the kind of sales that usually accompany a game with no guns or sex in it that is beloved by journalists. He is currently at work on the third draft of an announced feature in preproduction at Psychic Bunny, a new game that has guns in it this time, and in (probably) January will be self-publishing TEXTBOOK OF THE TECHNOMANCER, his first novel for middle readers.

About A "Liz Tells Frank" Guest Writer

I'm a guest writer for Liz Tells Frank What Happened In..., which makes me a very special breed of person, and someone Liz admires deeply! Want to become a guest writer yourself? Just reach out to Liz and ask!

Posted on December 24, 2013, in Movies, No Spoilers, TV and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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