There's more than the usual chill in the air at the Byrne Family Tree Farm in Nova Scotia in CBS's "Silver Bells," a wan, weary and achingly obvious drama airing tomorrow night at 9 on Channel 9.
It's a Hallmark Hall of Fame production, but there's more suspense in the typical Hallmark card.
Christy (Tate Donovan), a widower and head of the house, is interested only in harvesting the Christmas crop, and his son, Danny, and daughter, Bridget, have to help him whether they like it or not.
Sixteen-year-old Danny (pouty-mouthed Michael Mitchell) is an aspiring photographer who wants to shoot yearbook pictures, but that's just too bad. "This is a working farm," Christy tells him. "And believe it or not, you're an essential part of how it works."
Then, their labors completed, it's off to New York, where each year the Byrnes stay at a bed-and-breakfast in Chelsea that's run by Mrs. Quinn (Margo Martindale), a kindly schlump who loves them all to bits and who seems to live in her bathrobe. On the sidewalk outside Mrs. Quinn's, they sell their trees.
Sweet little Bridget tries to inject merriment into their days.
"Dad, there's a man that just bought some roasted chestnuts!" she cries wholesomely.
"Well, the day we can't sell a tree to a guy buying chestnuts is the day we're out of business!" he responds heartily.
The only dent in their pleasure, besides the fact that Danny would rather be any place but there, is the enigmatic blond woman (Anne Heche) who strides past them daily, always rebuffing Christy's sales pitch.
Dang it all -- but Christy swears he'll win her over sooner or later!
One day, Danny leaves his post for an aimless walk through the city. He stops in a photography museum, and who do you suppose the curator is? No kidding, it's Heche's character -- a widow named Catherine O'Meara. (We know she's a widow before we're told because she lives alone, has photos of a handsome man in her home and likes to light a fire and stare off moodily into space.) Danny shows her his portfolio, which he just happens to have brought along, and she pronounces it great and encourages him to follow his dream.
So Danny runs away, and Catherine helps him out, and Christy and Bridget return to Nova Scotia, and a year goes by and everybody's in Chelsea again.
Catherine and Christy get friendly this time. He's worried about Danny and she feels guilty because she's in contact with the boy. It's tough, Christy says, not knowing whether his son is alive.
She: "Oh, but he is."
He: "I pray that you're right."
She: "If he weren't, you'd know. When someone you love dies -- "
He: "Part of your heart dies."
This is shameless crud, delivered without apparent embarrassment by the two actors. Then again, maybe there should be a special Emmy Award for simply getting through a scene like that.
But our climax approaches:
Will Christy realize the error of his controlling ways and reconcile with Danny?
Will Danny get to pursue his artistic dream?
Will the attractive widower and the comely widow decide to make a life together?
No surprises will be spilled today. Besides, there's enough artificial sweetener here to curdle your cranberries.
Silver Bells (two hours) airs tomorrow night at 9 on Channel 9.