Category Archives: television

Forumulaic Cornball

HALLMARK BINGO is in the works and what a great distraction it is! Coup schmoo! How about a cup of hot cocoa?

Let’s start with the ubiquitous Main Street opener. Picture a quaint Small Town decorated to the max with Christmas lights, wreaths, and signage. A light snow falls. Often, it’s an aerial view followed by shots on the street, where merry shoppers mill about. Generic Western town, usually.

That is, of course, unless we’re starting at Corporate Gal’s office in the Giant, Cold City where it is revealed that she’s lost her Christmas spirit. Arrangements to return to Small Town are required because her Mother/Aunt has died or perhaps she ‘s been assigned to cover a Small Town event for her job.

Big City Boyfriend, if there is one, is delayed or reluctant, giving her time to reconnect with New Love Interest who is sometimes her former beau. New Love Interest understands the values of family, small towns, and Christmas. He manages to fall just short of handsome, but don’t dwell on it otherwise you could spend an entire movie trying to determine why, exactly (is it the jaw? the eyes being a little too small? that awful beard?)

If Big City Boyfriend arrives in Small Town, he will be made to seem shallow, materialistic, and utterly lacking in Christmas Spirit. He will offer no real contest to new Love Interest who wears plaid flannel shirts, drives a pick up, and runs his father’s Christmas tree farm which is — oh no! — in financial peril!

Heroine always has shoulder length hair that she wears down, in soft curls. Usually blonde. Sister/Best Friend often has the exact same hair cut and styling. Heroine will be classically pretty, but may be sporting a too-big-for-prime-time ass and hips. Her or her soon-to-be-beau’s mother will be played by an actress 15-20 years too young for the role.

Look for a Small Town seized with a crisis — oh no! the Holiday Pageant is in trouble! The coordinator of the Christmas Baking Contest has fallen ill! The Outdoor Christmas Music Fest is short of funds! The tradition must go on! Heroine gets roped in to helping and meets up with Love Interest. Overcoming various trials and tribulations (and by December 25th no less!), Heroine proves that she has Small Town values and implausible skill sets.

Sometimes accepting the help of a magical object is the key to learning the Magic of Christmas. Look for magic ornaments, magic stockings, magic letters, magic music boxes.

There’s the obligatory Christmas tree shopping scene, often with smarmy child making the selection. Insert snowball fight, followed by hot cocoa scene. Baking Christmas cookie scene is an absolute must (although Gingerbread house variation is acceptable). Christmas lights might feature prominently — they’re tangled, they’re blowing a fuse, they’re lighting up the angelic face of the smarmy 10-year old child who more than anything in the whole world wants Hero and Heroine to get married.

Ugly Christmas sweaters abound — often upwards of a dozen. Extra points for reindeer socks or ties. Look for a Black character or two strolling about the Holiday Music Store in their Ugly Christmas Sweater. Since Hallmark sprinkles their movies with Black characters, we needn’t call them ‘token,’ but don’t be fooled — they’re all white people walking around in black skin.* A recent movie featured an Asian-American heroine, who was — guess what? A violin virtuoso!

Reindeer or angels will be talked about at least once.

The smarmy child shows up often and generally plays the role of Cupid to Mother/Father. Mother/Father tend to be single or have dead spouses (soldiers, if the latter). There are almost no divorces in the Hallmark universe.

Estates feature prominently. Big City Gal returns to clean out her Mother/Aunt’s mother’s house. The massive chore turns into a series of epiphanies about Small Town Life and Family Love and precipitates a Crisis: will she or won’t she move back? Moving back equals opting for True Love and living out an exemplary (Christian) life of Small Town values.

Look for a reluctant Heroine being convinced to decorate her space with the help of the Love Interest. He may show up at door with a Christmas tree, unbidden. There may be a box of the deceased parent or aunt’s ornaments. Angels! Reindeer! Messages from the Dead! Et Voila! The life-affirming desire to remain in Small Town asserts itself.

If settled, expect 20-somethings to live in palatial homes that run in the 1.8MM to 2.5MM range, with perfectly furnished rooms — places that in real life said characters couldn’t even afford to rent a room in. All interiors will be decorated to within an inch of their lives, unless our Heroine has lost her Christmas spirit, in which case decorating will be a pivotal and redemptive scene (see above).

Prior to 2020: almost no kissing! There’s the chaste scene in a sleigh (extra points for falling snow), where our characters cuddle side by side and MAYBE hold hands. Or, picture a finale when finally all the right decisions have been made and there’s — wait for it — a HUG. Both characters might be wearing Holiday Aprons and perhaps there’s a smarmy 10-year old grinning nearby.

If Hero or Heroine has parents, they are almost as unbearably corny and predictable as the smarmy child Cupid. Married forever. They decorate their houses with an excess of lights, garlands, bows, figurines. They bake cookies in their impossibly spacious kitchens, serve hot cocoa, build roaring fires — often exchanging knowing glances about their Son or Daughter’s yet-to-be admitted love interest.

Look for characters named Melody, Noelle, Ivy, Holly, Kris, or Nick. Listen for the phrase: the magic of Christmas. Count poinsettias. Be sure to note Christmas caroling, generally including at least one smarmy child. Be on the lookout for: Christmas Brooch, Salvation Army bell-ringer, red bows, outfits of red and green. A bitchy business competitor might appear. A failing toy store in need of salvation. Lots of perfect teeth.

Sometimes characters are forced together because snow closes a road, a vehicle malfunctions, or a plane connection is missed. They are invariably stranded in a Small Town where Christmas festivities are well underway and it’s snowing.

Acceptable jobs for Heroine include: decorator, PR person, paralegal, florist, baker. Acceptable jobs for Hero: physical therapist (oh no! the violin virtuoso has injured her hand), car repairman, heir-apparent to his father’s business (doesn’t matter what), which he doesn’t want and must believe in himself to reject (by means of, what else? — the magic of Christmas). Acceptable jobs for Current-about-to-be-former Beau: lawyer, corporate consultant, heir-apparent to father’s business (which he desperately wants and is prepared to be ruthless to obtain).

There’s a whole sub-genre of Hallmark Christmas movies featuring royalty. For some reason, I don’t watch those.

Predictable, cloying, poorly scripted, filled with nostalgic Christmas objects and over-the-top Christian lessons on generosity, family, the power of believing, and true love, these shows are the perfect balm during this season (years) of excruciating politics.

If you can make it through an entire Hallmark movie without groaning, spitting, pausing to go for a run, or throwing things at the TV, let me know.

*  *  *

*See Tressie MacMillan Cottom’s recent Medium article, The Feminist Hallmark Movie, which begins:

“Hallmark movies are not feminist, except in that vague nonsensical way in which anything with a woman in it is somehow feminist. The scripts trade in every trope of unexamined whiteness, class warfare, gender conformity and patriarchal family norms. I watch them because there is no subtext and no surprises. There are only three things that turn off my critical survival lens and Hallmark movies are one of the three. I suspect that is because I do not need a single new skill to anticipate them. That’s because: The monster in Hallmark movies is exactly the same monster in my actual life — whiteness. They are comforting in that way.”

Reading her article confirmed my view that the Black characters are really white characters. Also, from MacMillan Cottom I learned that Hallmark movies feature an usually high number of women writers, producers, and directors and additionally, that the sets are very family friendly, making them popular among working mom actresses.

Through the woods to the mall

We walked through Houghton Place which used to be called The Hamlet to get to Webster Woods. At the trail head, I asked, “Which way do you want to go?”

K responded, “Where do you want to go?”

I pointed decisively to the left.

That’s how it goes sometimes.

We threaded through the trees and came upon a man sitting by the pond making the most wonderful melodies.

Climbing up a berm, the empty mall came into view, giving off a spooky vibe. We think the tent and storage units go with Covid19 testing.

It appears that this poor creature was killed mid-meal.

Then we saw a tree offering up an example of extraordinary adaptability.

It’s been a quiet day. I didn’t have enough energy to apply to any of my projects but did make five more masks. That makes 78. So far, the number of masks-made is staying ahead of the number of days At Home (68).

We’re watching Longmire. Again. This is the equivalent of my mother-in-law watching old Gunsmoke episodes. There’s drama but I’ve seen it before and can rest in it somehow. I really like the characters, too.

What shows do you watch for rest?

I could really use a new season of The Great British Baking Show.

Let’s count

One backpack full of 12 books delivered to empty neighborhood kiosk.

Three ten hour days spent fixing TV computer. One call to Comcast. Endless searches on internet. Number of consecutive good night’s sleep in absence of TV news? FIVE. Number of heroes in this story? One. My husband.

Six hundred words deleted over three hours, the equivalent of roughly 1 1/2 pages. Number of words still to delete? Don’t ask. Number of times I’ll wring my hands before the second draft’s done? Also — don’t ask.

Number of metal utensils laid out to deter dog-thieving: six. Batches of cookies baked: seven, two of them doubles. One ball of dough left.

Articles of impeachment written: two. Number of articles that COULD HAVE been written (spitballing, here): 25. Still to come: full House vote and one major shit storm in the Senate. Number of years poised at the edge of the abyss: 243.

Number of times I felt dismayed reading black twitter’s critiques of Warren: too many to count.

Seasons of The Kominksy Method watched: 1 1/2 (highly recommend).

Total library fines owed: eek! I don’t know.

Number of times I paused to notice the absence of my sister: at least a dozen. Some moments marked by relief, others by grief.

Number of rallies in support of impeachment planned for tomorrow (the eve of the House vote): more than 600.

Number of times I’ve tipped my head back to admire trees since reading “The Overstory” — too many to count. Number of people to whom I gave copies: three.

Two trips to the PO in the last five days qualifies me as a fucking saint. Three mice mailed, three mini-cloth houses.

Number of meds I forgot to take yesterday: four. Number I did take: two.

Number of days I just let go by without opening my laptop: two.

Eight days till Christmas, five ’til the shortest day of the year.

Here’s wishing all of you lots of love and joy in the days to come.

Cornball meets irony?

OMG. The Hallmark movie producer must’ve said to scriptwriter: Get racy! Because instead of the usual egg nog or ubiquitous cocoa, the obvious couple-to-be drank wine! And instead of our heroine being a Gold Star Widow or a widow whose husband died on Christmas Eve or the single sister of a veteran serving overseas or the big city career gal in relationship with a chump who narrowly but conspicuously misses being handsome and who fails to appreciate either the spirit of Christmas or small town values (said spirit and values being interchangeable in the Hallmark universe), she was — gasp— divorced.

But we had many of the usuals: big toothed child fervently wishing for her parent’s happiness, the small town with over the top decorations, small town and better beau lining up so that to choose one is to choose the other, the town festival in jeopardy.

(Yes, I created Hallmark Christmas Movie Bingo — don’t judge!)

And don’t ask how it all came out. As much as I keep recording these narrowly disguised Christian homilies and watching them the way one might a road side accident (curiosity, horror, but also irony), I also take inordinate satisfaction in hitting “delete” halfway through.

My excuse? The same one I use for not sleeping well and to explain a rather pernicious inclination toward gloom: the news. What else?

But wasn’t yesterday an exciting one? It was one of those days where I broke down and watched CNN (I’m more of an MSNBC gal).

We now have Trump, his family, and his campaign gathering dirt on HRC from Russia while actively pursuing a business deal in Moscow and lying about it. “Where I come from, that’s collusion.”

Eric Swallwell

The edges, the sustenance

The windowsill lined with beloved rocks. I take comfort in their solidity as I listen to recorded news. At the moment, more references to the oft-repeated lie about voting fraud and a call for an investigation by DJT. This trips (yet another) sickening thought: will we actually fund the study of delusions — with my tax dollars, your tax dollars? We are so far past the NPR story that I woke to earlier about their journalistic choice (fortunately not shared universally) to avoid the word “lie” (I could write about that for days). “This is where we are,” is a thing I say to myself now — like how to name falsehoods uttered by our president. The speed of destruction in the last four days ALONE makes my head spin. Can it be the same day? Did we pass through some portal and no one thought to tell me?

Carnage, indeed.

It’s darkening out the windows and past time to rouse myself to make dinner, but let me first share some gifts and stories. Not because I am succumbing to the thrumming call to “get on with it” or “be positive”. Oh no, you know me better than that! Just to keep track and who knows, perhaps turn you onto one of them. Kevin Young is a poet whom I heard read this past summer at Sam Durant’s “Meetinghouse” at The Old Manse in Concord.

Young’s poems in this volume are structured on musical forms. Interesting. Uplifting. And it was a gift within a gift because I mentioned it in passing, but K took note and ordered it!

Also for Christmas, I gave myself one of Grace’s quilts (at last!). It may not stay on this wall, but for now I love the hand reaching for the face of time. There’s something at once mysterious and aspirational about it. Plus, we all know the pleasure of having handiwork on our walls, especially when made by someone whose life means something to you. I love it!


This movie about the Nat Turner uprising played in Boston for about ten minutes. I felt funny buying a DVD (and by ‘funny’, I mean ‘old’), but the more I thought about it, the more sane the purchase seemed. For one thing, it would have cost more to park in Cambridge and buy two tickets. For another, by not streaming the film my dollars support the director, Nate Parker, who also starred in the movie and received some harsh criticism (I could write about that for days, too). It was important to see for my research and also I very much wanted to be able to measure the criticisms for myself (I ended up thinking that the personal criticisms were raised at a shitty and suspect time having more to do with challenging a strong black man (director and slave rebel, both) than with the decades old charges. The plot/character criticisms were just off.)

This documentary by Ava DuVernay is heartbreaking and for that reason I haven’t finished watching it yet. When a friend and I recently debated what educational intervention we believed would most correct our miserable course, she said, “studying the Constitution.” I said, “studying slavery.” Later, I realized that we were in agreement, for you cannot study the Constitution without studying slavery. And it’s not just the 13th Amendment. It’s the 14th and the 15th and the Preamble and the debates and case law associated with them.

What K and I did watch in its entirety was DuVernay’s acclaimed film “Selma”. We watched it on MLK Day. It was very fine to see the outstanding moral courage of John Lewis come to life at the very moment that DJT was tweeting his outrageous criticisms.

Carnage, indeed.

Now it’s REALLY time to throw some dinner together.

But first, anyone else watching “This is Us”? It’s on Tuesdays nights on NBC, I think. I’m kinda loving it. Definitely hooked.

Also? Don’t bother with “Victoria” if you enjoyed “The Crown”. I don’t know how I would have tolerated the weak script writing and acting in the former had I not just watched the latter (a very good mini-series about Queen Elizabeth), but I do know that to watch “Victoria” after “The Crown” is a thing I cannot do.