TV Reviews: 'November Christmas,' 'Call Me Mrs. Miracle,' 'Farewell Mr. Kringle'

The family TV movie follows Emily Merkle, played by Doris Roberts, who's known by some as Mrs. Miracle. When she appears as a seasonal employee in the toy department of a financially strapped department store, the store's owners nor the customers have any idea of the events that are about to unfold. The movie airs Nov. 27 at 8 p.m. ET.
By Hank Stuever
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 27, 2010; 10:57 AM

There's a reason I should be banned from watching anything with "Hallmark" in the title or production notes this time of year, and here it is: I am the person who cannot help but notice the obvious seam on the bald cap worn by the teary little actress in the hospital bed. And once I see it, there's no going back.

Oh, are you that awful person, too? Well, come on over! To borrow a phrase from Noel Coward (who borrowed it from P.G. Wodehouse), the Christmas movies are at our throats again. Together we'll carb up, cuddle, and shriek with laughter at the very scenes Hallmark has specially programmed to make us weep. The Devil will deal with us soon enough.

That bald-cap distraction comes near the end of "November Christmas," a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie airing Sunday night on CBS. Nothing could be more gentle on the mind than one of these dramas. Though Lifetime and ABC Family put up a noble battle all December, that five-point Hallmark crown logo is the surest stamp of the real morphine, the best drip. And, from an economic standpoint, thanks to the little-known Daphne Zuniga Employment Act of 1999, holiday movies offer a yuletide helping hand to the neediest cases in actorly unemployment, insuring another year on their union health plan dues, while gladdening the hearts of child actors looking for their big, saucer-eyed break in show biz.

As such, "November Christmas" is a study in highly calibrated heart-tugging, as if it has been cooked up in a lab by the research division at Kleenex. John Corbett - thicker now, crinklier, a handsome old Labrador of a man - is trying to put together earlier and earlier holiday celebrations for his Daughter Who Might Not Make It. His wife (Sarah Paulson) senses dread in decking the halls: Won't the girl see Christmas lights in November and intuit that all hope is lost?

Coming to the family's aid is the king of wizened Marlboro Man crag: Sam Elliott and his marvelously silver handlebar mustache. He plays the town's organic farmer who gamely hunts down Halloween pumpkins in August. He allows Corbett and his brood to saw down a Christmas tree several weeks ahead of schedule. "He's moving time," Elliott's character tells his wife (Karen Allen). The older couple lost a child, too, you see, way back when. It hurts too much to talk about.

Until they do talk about it, and soon enough, the entire village is working to make Christmas happen for a special little girl. Spoiler alert: Everything is going to be fine.

Listen, some of us get to Sappytown by a circuitous route, after a long layover in the Walter F. Sarcasm International Airport. The point is that we do eventually get there.

One has to wonder how many of the millions of viewers drawn to Hallmark's made-for-TV holiday movies watch them in the earnest and simple way the producers and writers (and advertisers) intend.

Isn't it at least possible that a lot of us watch them for the added, intangible value of scorn? In my house it's even better (or worse!) because I get advance, unfinished copies of the movies that come with frantic disclaimers about rough cuts and temporary sound mixes, which provide ample comic relief. There was one copy a few years ago, when, in the penultimate scene, a freshly returned soldier tearfully whispers his love to the pert, small-town blonde - but you can't hear what they're saying because a couple of fake snow machines, just out of the frame, are roaring away like jet engines.

Which is to say that not everyone watches them the way Nana does, while crocheting. There is a much broader gift these movies bestow - the gift of Tourette-ing inappropriate remarks the instant they spring from the fetid cesspool of the subconscious! The joy of making crude jokes of sexual innuendo and pedophilic Santas! The duty to sound an alarm the moment one detects lethal levels of treacle! The calling-out of Hallmark's faux-diverse, anti-reality output!

Only to find - what's this? A slight sniffle, a single tear? A hot-cocoa sigh of comfort?

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