Everyone uses the end of the year as an excuse to come up with a list of useless rankings, and I’m no different. Except instead of analyzing things of actual merit, I’m using my time on earth to categorize the (realistically) dozens of Hallmark and Lifetime movies I’ve watched over the year. While Lifetime’s premieres have been over-hyped and annoying, I’ve still found plenty of solid Canadian-made entertainment on the Hallmark Channel (and non-prime-time Lifetime). So let’s ring in 2016 with a look back at 2015’s top movies made for TV… for ladies.

Chef romance

Back in MY day, Lifetime heroines were either marketing directors or PR executives. Well, blame Iron Chef because marketing is OUT and hospitality is the hot new lady fantasy career. Now it’s all tales of passionate pastry chefs and rebellious restaurateurs, complete with lingering shots of souffles and kitchen montages. For some reason these Chef flicks are usually romances, and the arc is almost always the same: the Chef is a workaholic kitchen magician who can make anything… except love. They either feature a single Chef’s adventures in romance, or a pair of star-crossed food artisans (Chef-on-Chef Romance?).

Case Study: The first movie I ever saw in this genre was Recipe for Love, starring Danielle Panabaker (…?) and Shawn Roberts (who eagle-eyed viewers will remember as Paige’s rapist from Degrassi The Next Generation). I should note that Shawn Roberts bears a striking resemblance to Justin Bruening, who played basically the same character (obnoxious/brilliant/but mostly obnoxious celebrated Chef) in a few episodes of Switched at Birth.

Proof.

Here, our heroine is a young upstart working in a test kitchen. Her boss gives her a special assignment: assist Bad Boy Celebrity Chef in writing his latest cookbook, which is delayed because he’s creative and therefore irritatingly irresponsible. Just like in the nearly identical plot in Switched At Birth, Bad Boy Chef initially clashes with Young Upstart, then romance blooms and they learn and grow together. Fun Fact: Bad Boy Chef’s name is “Dexter Durant” which sounds like a character name a sixth grader would come up with. Also, Mr. Max only ever refers to Shawn Roberts as “Canadian Stifler.”

I actually can’t tell them apart.

1st Related Subgenre: Baking Competition.

An offshoot of Chef Romance, this always features a baking competition as a story device. In Just Desserts, two pastry Chefs reluctantly enter a competition together so Dude Baker can save his failing family business. This checks off most of Hallmark’s possible plot points (Saving the Failing Family Business, Chef Romance, and even Conflict Free Love Triangle since Lady Baker politely dumps her boring rich fiancée for free-spirited Dude Baker). There’s lots of shots of careful sifting and chocolate tempering and flour-y, furrowed brows. I slurp these movies up because I go through British Baking Show withdrawal and this is the next best thing– like when you crave a chocolatey dessert but all you have are baking chips so you just eat those straight out of the bag.

2nd Related Subgenre: Vineyard romance.

Basically a cross between Chef Romance and City Girl Comes Home To the Country (see below). The first one that comes to mind is The Chateau Meroux, in which a woman and her best friend move to the California countryside to run her estranged father’s failing winery. There’s also the Julie Benz one – oh, wait, that doesn’t help because Julie Benz is in 6,500 Hallmark movies. To be more specific, it’s called Uncorked and stars Benz as a high-powered executive who loses her job but finds love with a widower on his picturesque winery. I don’t really remember much about that one other than Julie Benz does this annoying Jessica Rabbit voice throughout.

Conflict Free Love Triangle

This genre is pretty much confined to the Hallmark Channel and sappy Lifetime Christmas movies. It’s like a normal love triangle plot – one girl with two guys trying to win her affection – except no one ever gets mad or fights each other. Guy #1 is almost always rich and successful, but kind of bland. Guy #2 is more rustic/lumberjacky. Eventually guy #1 does something that makes us realize he’s wrong for her (In A Wish Come True, it’s that he doesn’t like puppies, booo!) and Heroine realizes she must follow her heart… right over to that guy in the plaid shirt. Guy #1 is kinda sad but then agrees that Guy #2 is the best choice and they split amicably. This happens in many, many movies – check out my review of A Wish Come True for a classic example.

City Girl Comes Home to the Country

In almost all of these, our heroine is living large in the big city with a fancy job and a handsome but indifferent boyfriend. When her family business/farm needs help, she heads back home to find out what’s really important (and usually reconnect with an old boyfriend). When Sparks Fly follows this formula so perfectly that I’m just going to quote right from Hallmark’s summary:

“Young journalist Amy Peterson (Meghan Markle) is not as happy with her big city life as she’d hoped and it’s starting to show in her work. She’s also not thrilled with her current boyfriend, Phil (Lochlyn Munro), a GQ-handsome businessman who doesn’t quite click with her. When circulation at the “Chicago Post” starts to wane, Amy’s editor sends her back to her hometown to write an article about growing up in her parents’ (Keith MacKechnie and Jacqueline Samuda) fireworks business. With the Fourth of July at hand, this human-interest story will be just what the “Chicago Post” needs.”

Most of these segue right into Conflict Free Love Triangle, with the GQ boyfriend quietly stepping aside. Another choice example is Growing the Big One, a Hallmark movie starring Shannen Doherty that would totally win that game where you come up with movie titles that seem like they’re about poop. In this one, Shannen Doherty is a radio DJ who inherits the family farm and must win a pumpkin growing contest to save it from foreclosure.

How could I NOT include this amazing picture of a huge plastic ball that DEFINITELY looks nothing like a real pumpkin.

The best part of this genre is that you can make up new movies just by mad-libbing the basic plot formula:

A high-powered (professional job title) from (United States City) must return home to (Cutesy made up small town name, a la Stars Hollow) to save the family (old timey business). Will her former flame (cowboy-ish guy’s name) give her a reason to kiss city life goodbye? Tune in at 10AM on Sunday to find out. .

Another awesome example is Christmas in the City, a Lifetime movie where the lead lady takes a high-paying job in a department store’s toy department (?) to save her family’s failing candy shop. The store’s new manager is evil and Christmas-hating, and fires the kindly old man who works as the department store Santa. It turns out that Kindly Old Man is actually the REAL Santa Claus (!!!), which leads me to my next genre….

Santa is Real

It’s disturbing how many Lifetime movies contain a subplot in which Santa Claus is real. I guess it’s a handy deus ex machina for when you don’t know how to end something. The family bookstore is about to be sold? It’s okay, that guy on the park bench with the beard is actually Santa and he winked and now sales are up! Christmas on the Bayou sadly features Ed Asner in the role of Real Santa Claus, and the main arc is resolved when he grants a little boy’s wish for it to snow in the deep south (which might be the dumbest use of a wish ever). We watched this one over Christmas and had to turn it off when the kid actor started singing in a really irritating way so I missed the last scene or two.

Suddenly Supernatural

Along the same lines as ‘Santa is Real’, this Lifetime/Hallmark genre is peppered into lots of their “regular” movies. You’re watching some mild chick flick romance when BOOM someone’s birthday wishes start coming true, or the protagonist finds a magic bottle of wine that turns her into a teenager. Actual speculative fiction understands that it has to flesh out a believable fantasy world — as in, you can’t just add unexpected wizards to a regular courtroom drama and have people “get it.” But on Lifetime or Hallmark (or the Disney Channel) they feel free to throw that crap in with no warning whatsoever.

Related Subgenre: Secret Prince/Princess.

I touched on this in my review of A Royal Christmas. You would think this kind of thing was a one-off, but there’s actually an entirely different Hallmark movie that’s ALSO about imaginary Kings and Princes. In A Princess for Christmas, a woman learns about her secretly royal extended family when she becomes the guardian of her orphaned niece and nephew. Production Note: The royal stuff must sound as fake as possible (“Cordinia”, “Duke of Castlebury Hall”, etc.)

Pathetic Exploitation of Nostalgia

The most disappointing of all the new Lifetime genres, these marketing extravaganzas coldly exploit 30-something nostalgia for trash entertainment. I’ve been sitting out the more recent premieres, but you can find our original reviews of the over-hyped Saved By The Bell Movie here:

The Unauthorized Saved By The Bell Story and Why Lifetime Movies Should Not “Premiere”

When the Bell goes Off: Lifetime’s worst yet

Impostor Family

There’s probably some Freudian basis for these, but basically they are what they sound like: someone shows up claiming to be a long-lost daughter/sister/mother and we spend the rest of the movie trying to figure who’s going to be pushing who down the stairs. A Wife’s Nightmare features a long-lost daughter as the fake family member. At the end of these the nuclear family is restored, unless Dad was in on it or mom was insane and the whole thing was a delusional fantasy.

Internet Panic

It’s a classic theme that’s been going strong for over a decade,  but it’s worth another mention here. There are several films in “The (insert noun) S/He (Blank) Online” genre, but The Bride He Bought Online was probably the best of 2015. In it, a group of popular teen girls seduce a computer nerd online in order to extort cash. It was kind of weird that they made him a computer programmer, because Lifetime clearly has no idea what that means:

But in the end, I couldn’t really argue with their theme:

On a recent day trip to the beautiful (and beautifully underpopulated) village of Cherry Valley, I spotted this poster for Mighty Flame, a brand of propane tanks.

Initial Observations
We’ve got two figures gleefully running over the Windows XP field to get to a giant propane tank.

It’s totally the XP field.

So in this weird Alice-in-Wonderland-style alternate universe, people don’t wait in line at a gray cement gas station to fill a propane tank. Instead, they run through a technicolor meadow. And they’re so darned happy that they don’t just run, they skip. This includes not only the pigtailed girl but ALSO the awkward 30-year-old dude in a black tee shirt. Can you imagine the photo shoot for this? I sure like to.

Mighty Flame, Mighty Fears
As a vegetarian who sunburns in 15 minutes, I’m probably the wrong demographic for ads related to backyard grilling. Propane tanks also terrify me because one time a loose arsonist nearly blew up the front yard of our old apartment, tanks included (true story). So, at least for me, “Mighty Flame” is the worst possible brand name. “Mighty” put in front of “flame” evokes exploding propane tanks, house fires, brush fires, kitchen fires, and other nightmare fodder. “Tiny Flame”, “Safe Flame”, “Can’t Blow Up” — all would have been better, less alarming, choices.

Run out and Get One
Marketing loves commanding words like “Get.” “Get out there,” says Ford. “Get Your Own,” says Subway. This always feels a little pushy. “Run out and get one” implores us to do not one but TWO things. Jeez, man. I’ll do what I want, when I feel like it.

Overall Rating
Quaint and awkward. I’ll take that over slick and brainwashy any day.

The best bad television occurs between the hours of 11AM and 4PM. Unfortunately, I’m usually otherwise engaged during this un-prime TV time. Thanks to this week’s holiday, I was able to hit The Hallmark Channel mid-day to catch a true modern classic: A Royal Christmas.*

*No, you’re not stroking out — it’s still July. The Hallmark Channel believes that summer is sorely lacking in the winter holiday department, and they’ve remedied that with their summer movie theme: “Christmas in July.” My theory is that the Hallmark Channel is actually a four-year-old who can’t accept that Christmas is really over.

A Royal Christmas stars Lacey Chabert, which shouldn’t come as a surprise because (no exaggeration) she is in all Hallmark Movies. Seriously. There were previews for two OTHER Lacey Chabert Christmas movies during this one. The only person who is in more Hallmark movies is Charisma Carpenter, and I imagine she lives her entire life on the Hallmark lot nibbling on leftovers from that show about the lady who solves crimes and bakes cakes.

Ahem. Back to the plot. Lacey Chabert plays the plucky daughter of a working class tailor who’s got a sassy female friend, a job at her dad’s shop, and a dashing English boyfriend. But hold up! English Boyfriend reveals he’s actually a secret Prince (!) of a made-up country called Cordinia and they both should go there to meet his mom (AKA the queen) in their family castle. Yes, this exposition makes Hannah Montana seem like gritty realism.

The big reveal, really.

So they go to Cordinia. Queen Mom is played by Jane Seymour, and they don’t even pretend for ONE MINUTE that this isn’t the biggest rip-off of Julie Andrews’ performance in The Princess Diaries.

Queen Mom is bitchy and prim and wants her son to marry another royal, not a lowly commoner. Hallmark doesn’t really know how to depict uppity rich people, so they play string quartet music whenever she’s in a scene. I knew I had to write this review when they showed her listening to a classical music arrangement of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” over breakfast. Because that’s what FANCY people do.

Lacey’s lovable Americanism doesn’t immediately win over Queen Mom, but Cordinian Boyfriend thinks she just needs time. Then there’s a wacky scene where Lacey and Cordinian Boyfriend are fooling around (goofy fooling around, not sex fooling around) in a room with a bunch of antique swords and artwork. Lacey throws a sword into a painting and Cordinian Boyfriend thinks this is adorable because he is just a boyfriend-bot with no emotions or opinions.

Then they start spontaneously dancing in a ballroom that looks exactly like a VFW hall banquet facility.

Queen Mom arranges a dinner party with a bunch of young royals. It should be noted that the score alternates between Time Life library classical music and wacky incidental faux-bo straight out of Keeping up with the Kardashians. At the dinner, Lacey drinks out of the finger bowl and puts her foot in her mouth with one of the royals (who happens to be infertile). Everyone gasps but Queen Mom’s all smiles because she’s sneakily trying to get Cordinian Boyfriend back with his childhood love, Bitchy Natasha, who’s some kind of Duchess.

Cordinian Boyfriend Basics
Cordinian Boyfriend has no personality. He only exists to be a perfect boyfriend.
Sample Dialogue:
Boyfriend busts in while Lacey is wearing a bathrobe/mud mask
Lacey: “I look hideous”
Boyfriend: “I like your hideous look” (no sarcasm, he is supportive of everything)

Lacey is invited to accompany Cordinian Boyfriend to the big fancy ball at the castle. Queen Mom gives her an old ugly dress and says since she’s a seamstress she should be able to alter it to fit. So now gaining in-law approval is a Project Runway challenge? Meanwhile, nice butler Victor (Lacey is tight with all the household help) helps her learn how to dance the waltz and act like a lady, Pygmalion style. This exact montage might have happened in Beauty and the Beast. Or maybe it’s just that Lacey Chabert has the voice of a straight-up Disney Princess.

Lacey turns the ugly dress into a big poofy Strawberry Shortcake dress and everyone oohs and aahs.

The ball is a success until Cordinian Boyfriend has to dance with Bitchy Natasha (because it’s a royal tradition and she’s pushy). Lacey runs away to hang with her servant pals but she finds out Queen Mom fired them for being too friendly with Lacey. It’s all Lacey’s fault so she runs back home to the States and breaks things off with Cordinian Boyfriend.

30 seconds pass and Queen Mom realizes she was being a huge bitch. She decides that Cordinian Boyfriend should follow his true love and tells him to run after Lacey. There’s a gooey proposal scene and then we cut to their wedding which appears to be happening at a Medieval Times.

Our four course meal will satisfy even the hungriest of knights!

Then it starts snowing and it’s already Christmas again because I guess it takes a year to plan a big dumb wedding. The end!

Also Queen Mom ends up with the butler.

Overall Rating: Soft and conflict-free, this movie is like watching a slightly less abstract laser light show. Don’t think too hard, just enjoy relaxing while your eyes glaze upon some pretty visuals. (I mistyped that but I like it and I’m leaving it.)

Mr. Max has always had a special talent for memorizing stupid TV commercials and re-contextualizing the dumb tag lines for unrelated in-jokes. (Example: There was an early 2000s ad for bottled water that featured a woman in an office barking at an underling to “get me a Dasani.” Fifteen years later we still yell “Get me a Dasani” from the living room when the other person is in the kitchen.)

I’ve always been a little worse at this game, partly because I fiddle with my phone or laptop as soon as a commercial break starts. Exceptionally idiotic commercials, however, break right through the wall of disinterest to lodge themselves permanently in my psyche. And GlaxoSmithKline did just that with it’s you-are-dumb themed ads for Flonase.

This ad plays no less than 5 times during the half hour of Good Morning America I watch in the morning, so I’ve had plenty of opportunities to analyze it. It starts with a toddler-level explanation of how “6 key inflammatory substances” are responsible for most allergies, and they show us a bunch of Powerpoint smart chart graphics bursting out of the Flonase bottle. They don’t tell us what those six substances are because it would make our tiny brains explode. Then they explain that most allergy medications only work on ONE of these substances. But FLONASE works on all six, so those other allergy brands can suck it.

Then… then they pat us on the head and remind us that “six is greater than one.” And that becomes the tagline, complete with a snazzy graphic using the greater than symbol.

Yes, this smug nonsense is a real ad. Proof:

http://ispot.tv/a/7J6U

There must have been a bit of disagreement in the marketing strategy meetings, because there are three – count ‘em, three! – different taglines in this ad.

  • The aforementioned “Six is greater than one”
  • Inhale life. Are we supposed to stick our faces in a pile of spores or something?
  • This changes everything. Because we now know how numbers work? Because our nostrils are now filled with ‘life’? WHY?

Not content with pseudonymous blog rants, some people have taken to facebook to confront Flonase directly.

Because they “just thought you should know.”

In honor of tonight’s Mad Men finale, I’m reblogging my original Season 5 premiere post. Will my dream finally prove prophetic?

The Lower Crust

“In dreams begin responsibilities,” or so they say. In my case it’s more like, “My responsibilities begin in dreams.” Despite being a kinda-sorta creative person during my waking hours, my sleeping mind has the personality of an accountant. Or a to do list.

Other people, at least some of the time, get to spend their evening hours riding atop unicorns or evading vampires. I get this:

So imagine my surprise when a few weeks ago I dreamed the season 5 premiere of Mad Men.

Let me clarify — I didn’t dream that the show was on, or that we were watching it. I dreamed the episode itself.

It opened with a slow, steady shot of 1980s (yes — 80s) New York City, closing in on a sign reading “Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.” Inside the building, young ad execs flitted around in snappy Reagan-era suits. The camera slowly moved towards…

View original post 231 more words

This week’s installment of Marketing Mayhem covers all things epicurean (or at least edible).

Exhibit A: Marketing, Minus the Sense

I’m not usually the flavored coffee type, but I was forced into this caramel blend when the coffee place ran out of regular dark roast. To my surprise, it was actually subtle and tasty — a solid four stars. The marketing copy, however…

Huh? First off, “Minus the apple” is a super awkward way to start a sentence. The lack of a comma makes it even more confusing – I think the first time I read it I wondered what they meant by “apple this coffee.” Are commas not cool anymore? Are we in a no comma trend? They’re handy, people. Use them.

The tone is also strange, and almost apologetic… like this was meant to be a country fair themed flavor, but they ran out of weird apple flavor chemical or something. It’s not like caramel is ONLY eaten at fairs, like cotton candy or funnel cakes. Why can’t they just describe the flavor using generic adjectives like “rich” or “smooth” like every other coffee brand?

Exhibit B: You’ve got Spunkmeyer

Simply put, spunk is not a word you want associated with your baked good.

Exhibit C: Napkin Ads: Not a Thing

I was tickled to spy this super odd innovation in restaurant advertising at a local cafe. An ad on the little paper thing that holds your cloth napkin — wonders never cease! And what does this little piece of promotional paper have to tell us?

That our CD rate might suck! Bon Appetit, old man.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 106 other followers