Thursday, December 22, 2016


Vera (Melissa Gilbert) is a successful but temperamental Broadway director who has just been fired from her latest gig when her agent tells her that a small town nearby is willing to pay her big bucks to stage their annual Christmas pageant, hoping to put their town on the cultural map. Reluctantly, she agrees, and the usual culture clash of urban vs. rural, noisy vs. quiet, big vs. little, old vs. new plays out between Gilbert and the pageant participants. When Eddie the mail carrier proves incapable of carrying a tune, Vera's first reaction is to dump him, but instead she makes him her assistant. When cranky Beverly keeps complaining about every little change Vera wants to make to the traditional pageant, Vera ignores her, but then does some digging and discovers that Beverly is keeping a sad secret. See, Vera is becoming more human already. But she is genuinely startled to find Jack (Robert Mailhouse), an old flame, living and working in this small town, to which he retreated after the death of his wife (wait—a dead spouse in a Christmas movie??). Just when the locals start to like Vera, and when she starts warming up to Jack, she gets an offer to go back to the Big Apple to direct a big play. It would mean leaving before the pageant performance and, of course, she's torn. What will Vera do?

This comes in on the low end of the Christmas TV-movie continuum. The plot is filled with timeworn devices—though to be fair, some of them still work well, as with Beverly's plotline—and moves in completely predictable directions with little payoff for the viewer who might like something a little fresh thrown into the mix. Gilbert fails completely at being a hot-shot director, though she seems more in her element as she makes friends in the small town. Mailhouse is sturdy but otherwise unmemorable. Edward Herrmann and Candice Azzara fare much better as the owner of the bed & breakfast where Vera stays, Kate Flannery (Meredith on The Office) is fine as Beverly, and it was nice to see Steve Lawrence still looking good as Vera's agent. I enjoyed seeing Gary Hershberger, whom I remember as a handsome high school jock on Twin Peaks, in a small pageant role. Despite my criticisms, this wasn't exactly painful to watch, and I did get a little teary at the end, just like I'm supposed to. Pictured from left to right: Flannery, Gilbert and Mailhouse. [Hallmark]

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