Western TV reviews

Merry & Bright (2019)

The kindest way I can put this is that Jodie Sweetin and Andrew Walker are incompatible. This couple simply does not work, and their chemistry fails harder than I did in college. Watching them try to generate romance is to be drawn into an increasingly embarrassing situation, one you hope everyone can get out of. If I’m really honest though, Sweetin is the weakest link, again. She’s had at least three goes at this Hallmark romance thing and manages to ruin even the blandest stock character. Sweetin always acts the way I would if I had to bullshit through a work do and come across more confident and competent than I am. Her characters have a bizarre happy-go-lucky attitude even as her romantic or professional life crumbles around her. So much of acting is showing vulnerability, yet the actor never brings herself to open up onscreen.

Merry and Bright, as a result, ends up being an almost unwatchable movie. You can’t blame the story, which has the same plot as at least half the Hallmark movies out there. Sweetin plays Cate Merriwether, the CEO of a family-run candy cane company in Britewell, Ohio – not the actual candy cane capital of the world, as it turns out. She’s inherited the business from her grandmother and, fearing she may be on the hook for running the company into the ground, agrees to meet with a consulting firm to figure out how to get things back on track. In flies Gabe (Walker), who’s an old hand at corporate recovery. He’s used to working with bigger companies and is none too pleased when he’s saddled with this inconsequential account. But Mom’s the boss, and he doesn’t have a choice in the matter.

By now, Walker can play the corporate takeover/recovery guy in his sleep. Credit to him for not phoning it in though. He dutifully takes on the part of someone who parachutes in with a plan of action and then finds it upended by a woman’s commitment to Christmas and tradition. Walker is limited by his costar, however, making his half of the romance feel fake and forced. Nothing the actor can do is going to convince me that Gabe is falling for Cate, and saying the words does not make it so. The couple do have a handful of funny exchanges, like when they first meet and Cate mistakes him for a blind date from Akron, but those moments seem to come down to the writing.

Several subplots distract from the main romance. Unfortunately, they’re not that much more engaging. Cate’s assistant, Sophie (Stephanie Moroz), awaits a Christmas proposal from her boyfriend, Pete (Darren Martens), who cannot take a hint and is opting for that fourth anniversary bike gift instead. Meanwhile, Cate’s mom (Sharon Lawrence), is trying not to drop any hint that she’s adopted the shelter dog her daughter’s been wanting. When it comes down to it, Lawrence and the dog are probably my favorite couple in this movie. They have everything I’d hoped Cate and Gabe would share, that is an abundance of warmth and tenderness.

Released: 2019
Dir: Gary Yates
Writer: Karen Wyscarver, Sanford Golden, Erinne Dobson
Cast: Jodie Sweetin, Andrew Walker, Sharon Lawrence, Stephanie Moroz, Darren Martens, Nancy Sorel, Paul Essiembre
Time: 84 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Channel
Reviewed: 2019

Entertaining Christmas (2018)

Entertaining Christmas is one of the least entertaining Christmas movies I’ve seen, and I’m sorry to say, but the reason is lead Jodie Sweetin. I loved her as Stephanie Tanner and I don’t want to dwell on that like it was her career highlight, but it was her career highlight. Sweetin never seems able to inhabit this or any character. It’s as if her expressions are managed by some internal dial – click once for the sad face, another for the anxious face, another for excited one. There’s no emotion in her acting, and it drives me nuts.

It bothered me more so here because this movie had potential. Sweetin plays Candace Livingstone, daughter of the famous lifestyle guru Liz Livingstone (Jane Moffat), a Martha Stewart type but gentler and not a felon. Liz can do it all – baking, crafting, decorating, sewing – and she has a national audience thanks to her magazine and TV appearances. With her retirement though, Candace has the chance to step up and become the new face of the Livingstone brand.

However, it’s a role she’s not sure she wants and definitely isn’t prepared for. Unlike her well-rounded mom, Candace is hopeless when it comes to anything in the homemaking realm. She excels at behind the scenes work with the magazine, but she can’t bake a cookie if her life depended on it. And it does, sort of, when she comes across a viral video. Harper (Ana Araujo) wants to surprise her father, who is stationed abroad and is coming back for the holidays. She and her family are big fans of the Livingstone brand, so Candace decides to help Harper throw a Liz-ified homecoming, one that consists of a few extra decorations and a giant goody basket.

When Harper’s dad gets delayed, Candace finds herself hanging around the tiny Vermont town for a few extra days. She’s not just chilling at the B&B and watching the snow fall though. The women take advantage of her presence and invite her to all sorts of festive, craft-heavy activities. Suddenly, her life is a giant Pinterest board. She’s making snowflake pancakes for Harper, hosting gingerbread competitions, knitting whole ass scarves. It’s hell, and someone is on to her. John (Brendan Fehr), a local journalist, isn’t out to ruin Candace, but he happens to be Harper’s uncle and his investigative instincts tell him something’s off.

I’ve never seen Fehr so lively before, and at least in these Christmas romances, he always seems bored or sleepy. A reporter is the opposite of that, constantly alert and on the lookout, and this role suits him better. Still, it does little to help the chemistry between him and Sweetin. The two banter like new acquaintances who click at a two-day work conference but who, since they won’t see each other again, avoid opening up to each other and engaging in meaningful conversation.

Released: 2018
Dir: Robin Dunne
Writer: Marcy Holland
Cast: Jodie Sweetin, Brendan Fehr, Jane Moffat, Ana Araujo, Tamara Almeida, Marcia Bennett, Elizabeth Whitmere, Elva Mai Hoover
Time: 90 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Channel
Reviewed: 2019

Pride, Prejudice, and Mistletoe (2018)

Hallmark should lay off the Jane Austen, specifically Pride and Prejudice, if they’re going to continue mangling it like this (though I could go for a Persuasion adaptation, tbh). Are two P&P Christmas retellings in one year really necessary? A hard no, even if Michael Rady is starring in one of them. Pride, Prejudice, and Mistletoe barely has any Pride and Prejudice in it, however, and the inspiration it draws from the novel is so laughable that I can’t pretend to care.

The story trades on the title and some superficial changes, the main characters being the wealthy Darcy Fitzwilliam (Lacey Chabert) and the humble caterer Luke Bennett (Brendan Penny), both of whom come from the town of Pemberley – and that is all. That is the extent of our P&P references. There’s no dastardly suitor or sour aunt to ruin things or to provide some over-the-top dramatics, which is a shame because the movie could use their histrionics.

Instead, it’s just boring Darcy and Luke, two sensible people who share none of the qualities of their namesakes. Darcy is a New York-based investor back home to help her parents out with a major charity auction. They’ve enlisted the services of Luke, the new owner of a local tavern and Darcy’s high school debate partner. The sparks that once animated their rivalry are gone though. They engage in some verbal sparring as warm-up but are quick to work together because, you know, adults.

Except the movie could use a lot more of their old competitiveness. Really any element from the original work would help this project along. Instead, the story goes in circles. If the characters aren’t worrying about whether they’ll be able to pull off the auction, then it’s Darcy fretting over a coup at her firm. Her vision of the company differs from that of her partners, and as she tries to deal with the problem remotely, she just ends up on the phone a lot of the time.

If there was an actual Lizzy and Darcy dynamic, then all the mundane planning would be more of an adventure. The film lacks a sense of urgency without it, and Darcy and Luke’s cozy relationship only dials down the tension. Her relationship with her ex (Carl Downs) might deliver some fireworks, but he’s an agreeable chap and friendly with the family. I don’t know why the writers couldn’t throw in a misguided but impassioned proposal or, better yet, Lydia Bennett howling about another slimeball lover. Instead, we have to rely the minor drama of whether or not the couple should kiss under the mistletoe.

Released: 2019
Dir: Don McBrearty
Writer: Nina Weinman
Cast: Lacey Chabert, Brendan Penny, Sherry Miller, Art Hindle, Anna Hardwick, Morgan David Jones, Steve Belford
Time: 82 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Network: Hallmark Channel
Reviewed: 2019