New guide to Hallmark’s holiday movies makes your yuletide gay and bright

Holiday traditions today are as varied as the families creating them. Some bake treats and build gingerbread houses, others gather for meals or parties. There’s a unique type of folk who find cheer gathered around the TV enjoying Christmas specials and films. One network in particular, the Hallmark Channel, has carved such a niche in the holiday movie market to reach that particular zeitgeist in pop culture.

There’s even a podcast devoted to reviewing Hallmark Channel holiday movies, and it’s been ranked in Apple Podcast’s Top 15 overall and Top 5 Comedy.

The trio behind that “Deck The Hallmark” podcast – Brandon Gray, Daniel “Panda” Pandolph and Daniel Thompson – have just published “I’ll Be Home For Christmas Movies,” the unofficial fan guide to Hallmark holiday movies. For the book they’ve brought along frequent podcast guest and fellow holiday film aficionado Alonso Duralde, author of “Have Yourself a Movie Little Christmas,” who also serves as film reviews editor at The Wrap.

We chatted with Duralde about how one half of a Hollywood writing couple joined forces with three South Carolina dads to discuss holiday movies.

WATERMARK: In a (chest)nut shell, how did you become involved with the book?

Alonso Duralde: From the time the show launched in 2018, I’ve always kidded them about usurping the work of women and gay men by talking about Hallmark movies, but their perspective is genuine and always funny. As they say at the top of every episode, Bran loves these movies, Panda likes them and Dan despises them, which means whatever your own feelings about them, someone on the show has your back.

Hallmark has 41 new Christmas movies alone this year; any that you recommend?

This year’s Hallmark crop has had some fun entries, including “Crashing Through the Snow,” “An Unexpected Christmas” and the two-part, interlocking “Sister Swap” movies.

Aren’t all Hallmark Christmas movies the same: white lady overly-stressed at the oncoming holidays has her problems melt away with the snow when she meets a dashing heartthrob – also white – who quickly becomes the love of her life; The End?

That’s certainly been the network’s paradigm for a long time, but with new CEO Wonya Lucas, a Black woman with extensive TV experience, we’re seeing a lot more diversity in the movies – more leads of color, more LGBTQ supporting characters and more nontraditional families. Does Hallmark have a long way to go to reach the 21st century? No question. But they’ve made a lot of strides, even if those strides are long overdue, in the last few years.

Is LGBTQ representation getting better or do we have to turn to the premium streamers for lesbian (Hulu, “Happiest Season”) and gay (Netflix, “Single All The Way”) content?

Hallmark is definitely getting better, in that they started at zero. This year, we got “Every Time a Bell Rings,” a story about three sisters, and one of them is a lesbian (played by lesbian actress Ali Liebert), as well as “The Christmas House 2,” a sequel to last year’s film, and both movies feature Jonathan Bennett and Brad Harder as a pair of married dads.

What makes a Hallmark Channel brand Christmas movie stand out from other channels?

There’s a level of production that stands out in the ever-more-crowded field of holiday cable/streaming movies. I always say that the best Lifetime movies are better than the best Hallmark movies – and the worst Lifetime movies are far worse than the worst Hallmark movies – but Hallmark has managed a fairly reliable level of consistency over the years.

Your husband Dave White can be a bit of a curmudgeon. How, if at all, do you get someone to cross over from the dark side and try a Hallmark Christmas movie? Are there “better” entry level movies than others?

I generally watch these after he goes to bed just to keep the peace. As for newcomers looking to check out these movies — well, that’s actually where the new book comes in. You can peruse the plot synopses of 116 movies and hear what the “Deck the Hallmark” guys have to say about them and figure out which one sounds like your brand of cocoa.

What is it about TV Christmas movies and the plethora of gone-but-not-forgotten soap actors?

Because there’s so much of a nostalgia factor, generally speaking, when it comes to Christmas. It makes sense that Hallmark likes to feature familiar faces, whether you know them from soaps or from the sitcoms you loved growing up. Soap actors are also trained to work fast, a talent that comes in handy when you’re shooting an entire Christmas movie in 15 days.

You’ve seen a lot of holiday movies in your line of work. What’s the greatest story never told? What holiday movie has Hollywood yet to make but should?

There were LGBTQ Christmas movies before “Happiest Season” and Lifetime’s “The Christmas Setup,” but it’s still a fairly new sub-genre, and I’d love to see more movies tackling queer character and love stories in a Christmas context.

“I’ll Be Home For Christmas Movies” is available now wherever books are sold.

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