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One of the best things about being over 30 is that I give approximately zero shits about sticking with things. Mr. Max and I share this ‘leaving when things get lame’ approach to life, which as everyone knows is one of the keys to a happy marriage. Accordingly, we feel free to reject streaming entertainment at any point. Which we do, a lot.

I stand behind our snap judgments, so i present to you, my latest blog feature: Shows I Stopped Watching.

Today’s Reject: Love

We didn’t watch the preview, but you can:

Why did we start watching: We had just finished the second season of The Man in the High Castle, resulting in a pretty bad show hole. I requested a lighter series, along the lines of Freaks and Geeks. So when Judd Apatow’s new comedy came up in our Netflix feed, it seemed like the obvious choice.

What did we think it would be like: Master of None crossed with Freaks and Geeks.

When did we stop watching: Right around the 5 minute mark.

Why did we stop watching: Annoying main character guy, unfunny jokes, every character talking too loud, and 3 scenes in a row of unhappy couples bickering with each other. We hit the back button during the jack rabbit style sex scene with the Paul Giamatti looking guy.

How secure am I in our choice? Very. Season 2 trailer looks to be 99% “nebbish guy plus manic pixie dream girl.” I already rejected that idea in the form of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (which I described as “a movie about a terrible boyfriend, but from the perspective of said terrible boyfriend.)

Also someone falling down is played for laughs, which is my personal dealbreaker for TV/movie trailers.

What to watch instead: We skedaddled over to Amazon to watch Red Oaks, a retro style sex comedy series set in the 80s. It has its uneven moments but it was very fun and likable, with a minimum of bickering couples. I described it to a friend as “Funny, easy watching with an occasional booby.”

I’m a 30-something year old woman who watches too much TV…

…but I used to be 13 year old girl who watched too much TV. And back in the early 90s, I watched ALL the Snick shows. And like any flannel-wearing, wanna-be weirdo, I loved The Adventures of Pete and Pete. (Mandatory nostalgia-inducing YouTube of the opening theme):

 

And — true confession time — I may have loved Big Pete. I thought he was deep, complex, and sensitive — and I wasn’t the only one. All of my female friends (bespectacled, played a classical instrument outside of school, familiar with Watership Down — you know the type) – ADORED Big Pete. So much so that we (may have) developed crushes on several undeserving real-life red-haired nerds. But boy were we wrong.

Me and Mr. Max are currently rewatching The Adventures of Pete and Pete for the first time since childhood, and the truth is undeniable: Big Pete would make a terrible boyfriend. TERRIBLE. Ladies – steel yourself against those piercing blue eyes and take a second look at…. Little Pete. Yes, Little Pete. Sure, he’s young. But give him ten years and he’d be the perfect boyfriend. Here’s why:

5 REASONS YOU SHOULD WAIT FOR LITTLE PETE

1) Little Pete is full of Joie De Vivre, Big Pete = Big Wet Blanket
Big Pete mopes through so many episodes it’s impossible to list them all – he drags himself around the Hoover Dam, he stares winsomely across the football field… he even mopes in the opening credits.

In contrast, Little Pete exudes pure energy.

Sure, he’s loud and hyperactive. But he also has a rich and varied life, including meaningful friendships, a loving pet (Gary), and his very own radio show (ambitious!). He was the only one with the guts to answer the mysterious ringing payphone. Does Big Pete even have interests? Or friends (besides his ‘it’s complicated’ status with Ellen)? No. Big Pete does not know how to embrace life. He only knows how to complain. When you’re a 14 year old guy with good cheekbones, this might make you ‘cool.’ When you’re nearing 30, it makes you insufferable.

Sorry but it’s true.

2) Little Pete Knows How To DEAL
In the episode Don’t Tread on Pete, Big Pete finds out about a history test the lunch period before class. Okay, we’ve all been there. But Pete takes it a step further – he envisions life as the school janitor, another person who “failed to live up to his promise.” Because… he might get a B. (He says ‘fail’, but he’s an A student so we’re talking about a B overall). As Liz Lemon would say, this is a dealbreaker. An ideal mate needs to have some ability to deal with minor disappointment. Otherwise you end up with one of those House Hunters husbands who throws a shit fit about the size of the backyard pool.

You know who DOESN’T freak out about a B?

That’s right, Little Pete. He doesn’t whine, he just GETS IT DONE. He doesn’t panic about getting into “the college of his choice.” He fights back against injustice. He turns the tables in dodgeball. He mounts an organized rebellion against an oppressive bus driver. He resists the system. And he wins.

Do you want to date some establishment stooge or the leader of the rebellion? I know what choice I’d make.

3) Little Pete Doesn’t Whine About Hard Work

In Rangeboy, Big Pete’s dad gives him a job driving the ball picker upper thing at the family driving range. Big Pete is OMG SOooooooooo EMBARRASSED to do be doing this dead-end job that he wears a bear suit every day just to hide his identity.

 

Man up, dude. It’s a job that doesn’t involve a nametag OR a hairnet. AND you get to drive a vehicle. AND it’s temporary.

Ladies, this is not the kind of guy who will support your dreams. He will not make dinner two nights a week so you can work late. He will not chop wood for a fire. He will not do his own laundry. He will get a man cold and stay home from work and complain for 2 weeks.

Meanwhile, Little Pete stayed awake for 11 whole days using sheer will. The choice is clear.

4) Little Pete knows how to express his emotions.

In Day of the Dot, Pete brushes off Ellen’s advances because he’s “not sure how he feels about her.” Then some letter jacketed sports douche sidles up to her and suddenly BP MUST HAVE HER. Weak. At the end of the episode, Pete comes through with a big romantic gesture in the middle of Ellen’s star performance in the marching band competition (which totally ruins it — way to support your girl’s dreams).

Little Pete doesn’t toy with people’s emotions. He loves Artie. He loves his family. When he doesn’t like someone, they know it. Honest. Uncomplicated. This is what you want. Not some game-playing bro who can’t decide if he actually likes you.

5) Little Pete Loves Music, Big Pete Plays Sports
Last but not least, a good boyfriend must appreciate music. Does BP like music? Maybe as much as any teenager does. But Little Pete LOVES music. He formed a band purely to protect the memory of his favorite song. Meanwhile, Big Pete….

Plays baseball. Just imagine years of married life with a baseball fan.

Basically, they did.

We saw this movie a few weeks ago, but good luck trying to see it now. It’s a movie about a morally gray accountant whose special genius abilities (including some cold blooded killin’) are tied to his… autism. So basically this is a movie everyone will want to forget that they made. Ben Affleck is probably editing this off of his IMDB right now. An air plant will last longer than this movie will stay in theaters.

Please forget about this movie.

The movie opens with a scene where Ben Affleck (the titular ‘accountant’) is meeting with an elderly couple in his sad little tax prep office. It’s been a bad year and the couple might lose the house. Ben says a bunch of rude stuff and seems like he’s not paying attention, but then he gets a glimmer in his eye (an idea!) and starts walking his clients through some good old-fashioned tax fraud. I can tell by the strings in the score that this scene is supposed to show us that Ben is super genius or something. Except that the brilliant tax scheme he comes up with is…. “writing off a home office.”

Um, first of all everybody knows about that. It’s in an H&R Block Commercial. So it doesn’t really count as a super smart idea that only an accounting savant could come up with. Second of all, anyone who knows a teeny tiny bit about taxes knows that a home office is a major audit flag. Most accountants will tell you NOT to do. But okay, Ben saved the day with his super smarts. Let’s go with that.

So it turns out that the little tax prep business is a front for Ben’s real business, which is high level accountant work for big baddies like the mafia. He’s evaded capture for years by using fake identities provided by his secret partner in crime (a woman who we only hear over the phone).

So there’s Ben, and then there are the two detectives trailing him.

Actually they’re some sort of specialized investigators of tax stuff, but really who cares. This movie has a lot of complicated nonsensical stuff in it already. Let’s keep this basic: this is a cop movie plot, the characters are Nearing Retirement Cop (played by the guy from the the Farmers commercials) and Rookie Cop (played by an actress who’s been in a lot of Law and Orders). Oh, and there’s a weird blackmail plot between the two of them that’s too dumb to remember/recount.

Production note: This screenplay was written on a computer without a functioning delete key.

Ben’s plot is that he has a new job working for a Google-esque tech company. A young accountant (Anna Kendrick) has found a discrepancy in their books and they need a brilliant accounting consultant to untangle the fraud. Is it the CEO (John Lithgow, apparently taking a break from chicken commercials)? The CFO? Why is a Ben doing this job if he only works for criminals? How would he even get a reference if he’s always changing identities? Who knows? Who cares?

So Ben starts analyzing years of financial records of Not Google. We get lots of hilarious scenes that attempt to make accountancy seem cool. I was waiting for a computer-heavy scene like you get in hacker movies, but since financial and tax stuff in still paper-driven, it’s mostly Ben sitting in a conference room with folders and highlighters and a furrowed brow.

Exciting!

Apparently Ben’s work at Not Google has made him some enemies. A bunch of bad guys attack him and he kills them in an assassin-y way. The violence is weird and intense for a movie this dumb. Now you’re like, “Ohhhh, that’s why the Detectives are after him.” Then the bad guys come after Anna Kendrick and Ben Saves her. The game is on.

Mental Health Corner: We get periodic flashbacks to Ben’s troubled childhood and how growing up with autism Was Not Easy. I should note that Ben Affleck’s character is basically whatever they need him to be at a given time. He’s a sociopathic killer who lacks emotion when the script needs an anti-hero, and he’s a parody of an awkward nerd when they want his relationship with Anna Kendrick to have sexual tension.

They also have him beat himself with a stick sometimes (?) I don’t even know. They’re probably going to get letters for some of this stuff.

Summary: Why Is This Movie Bad:

The first half of this movie is silly and ridiculous. But the core badness is contained in the second half, which Mr. Max likened to aviation before the Wright Brothers.

How did it crash and burn so spectacularly?
1) The cop plot. On the surface, this is a totally respectable framing device. Rookie Cop and Nearing Retirement Cop are recognizable tropes. Yet something about it seemed really odd. It took me a few days after seeing the movie to realize that it’s that Ben Affleck NEVER appears in the same scene with the cops. Like, ever. I think we can all agree that even bad movies generally have the principal actors in at least a few scenes together. It makes me wonder: Did they decide to expand the cop plot after test audiences were all like, Ben Affleck is creepy in this movie? Maybe Ben didn’t want to come back for additional stuff, so they just filmed a bunch of cheap scenes in Canada or something? I don’t know, but it’s bizarre.
2) John Lithgow’s Dr. Evil Speech. Spoiler alert, John Lithgow ends up being the source of corruption at Not Google. He reveals his involvement with a campy “I did it!” monologue. Do people even do this in movies anymore? I thought this died with 1960s Bond movies.
3) “He Ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.” So, Ben Affleck’s main bad guy adversary ends up being… his long-lost brother. I called this after the second flashback sequence because I have expert level insight into terrible trash writing courtesy of Lifetime movies. But… really?

Julie? Lisa??

And last but not least, we have 4) The Preposterous End Reveal which undoes the ENTIRE movie. In the last fifteen minutes we learn that 1) The detectives were NOT actually searching for the evil accountant — well, Rookie Cop was, but Nearing Retirement Cop was actually secretly working with him. 2) Ben Affleck is really a Robin Hood type who’s tattling on his bad guy clients to the cops. Apparently the cops looked the other way about him killing a bunch of people because… all the people he killed were bad? And 3) Ben Affleck used the money from his (actually noble) criminal enterprise to fund the autism program he briefly attended as a child. And the secret lady accomplice? His nonverbal childhood friend. I dunno guys. I just don’t know.

Mr. Max likes to remind me that I picked this seeing this movie over Arrival. I deny responsibility.

It’s your fault, Ben.

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A while back. I dragged a group of friends and coworkers out to one of those retro movie nights at the local theater. They were showing Blade Runner, a celebrated sci-fi masterpiece that I’d never seen. A modern classic according to pretty much everyone.

It was gonna be great! And for about the first 5 minutes, with those wide expansive shots of a futuristic city and the retro synth score, it was. Then the plot started and I wanted to be out of there faster than a Beatles fan skips over ‘Yellow Submarine.’

I searched the Internet for ‘Blade Runner overrated’ and found no significant results. What?

I took to Twitter and was quickly rewarded. I can always count on Lena Webb:

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But Twitter isn’t enough – there needs to exist a full-length article that breaks down the badness of this absurdly overrated movie. So, like the kind souls on Stack Overflow who add helpful things to the Internet for no reason other than pure altruism, I’m going to make the world wide web a better place with this:

6 Reasons You Don’t Actually Need To See Blade Runner

1. It is not Logan’s Run.
10 minutes into Blade Runner, I was already confused. What’s this crap about replicants? Isn’t this the movie where they kill everybody before they turn 30? Wait – is it the one about memory implants?
Answer: Neither. Because both of those movies (Logan’s Run and Total Recall) are about actual things, and Blade Runner is about nothing. Okay, fine, I guess it’s about ‘replicants’ but we only know what those are from a one-paragraph title crawl. Mostly it’s about nothing.

Here’s the thing with sci-fi movies: the sci-fi piece is usually just a backdrop. It’s a way to present a dark mirror of our current world, or make a statement on how society might progress in the future. When you take away the spaceships and tricorders, that’s usually the point. When all you have are noir-esque visuals, there’s nothing meaningful or memorable about the movie.

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Even if she’s pretty!

2. It will ruin your crush on Han Solo.

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If you’re a lady of a certain age, you probably developed a fondness for Harrison Ford via the likable scoundrel Han Solo. Well get ready for Blade Runner to kill your crush dead because Harrison Ford is GROSS in this movie. But, you ask, “It’s Harrison Ford, the lovable carpenter! How is that possible?” I know. It’s hard to believe. But he’s a bad, bad dude.

Why? Well….it’s because…

3. The character was written by Michael Scott.

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Remember that episode of The Office where they made a movie from Michael Scott’s terrible screenplay, Threat Level Midnight? And they had Jim play the part of the villain? And Instead of being a normal take-over-the-world type villain, they had him talking about weird dark shit like humping a corpse? The joke is that Michael Scott was too dense to know that necrophilia is, like, way over the line even for a villain. That’s how it is with Blade Runner. You can tell that the writers were going for a rough around the edges anti-hero. So… they had him smoke cigarettes…

…and drink….

And murder unarmed women in cold blood.

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No, Michael Scott. Just no.

This leads me to my next point:

4. It has a problem with protagonists. And women.
So, given that Harrison Ford is AWFUL in this movie, who is the protagonist? Is there even one?

Some background: The basic plot is that Harrison Ford is a detective brought out of retirement to catch some on-the-run replicants. The replicants are like android slave type things that look human. Okay. So we’re watching the detective go about his gritty investigating, until he catches one of the replicants- a half naked, unarmed prostitute — and shoots her in the back AS SHE IS RUNNING AWAY.

This was the moment where I was 1000% sure the movie was going to completely shift: Ford would be revealed as the real villain and the innocent replicants would become our protagonists. A bait and switch — like how the dude in I am Legend was revealed to be the real bad guy at the end. So imagine my surprise when instead we stayed with Harrison Ford:

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Crackerjack prostitute murderer.

I can’t even begin to described how deeply fucked this movie is about women. At the top of the list of gross things is the skin-crawly combination of violence against women and naked dead body ogling. At the bottom is the personality-free “love interest” character. In the middle is the super rapey scene where Ford traps said love interest in his apartment and force-kisses her.
Seriously, guys. I know the outfits are cool. I know the cinematography is striking. And who doesn’t love 80s synthesizers? But – come now – this movie is totally the worst.

5.It is actually quite boring.
Look, I have a lot of patience for pacing. I like plenty of slow, arty shit. But this movie CRAWLS.

As evidence, the ‘enhance’ scene:

This scene is over 2 minutes long. And everyone in the audience can spot the stupid thing in the photo that he’s ‘enhancing’ in the first 30 seconds. Why does he have to say ‘enhance’ like 100 times? Is it purely to make this scene take as long as humanly  possible?

6. Underneath the glitz, it’s a bad Rutger Hauer movie.
In our post-film parking lot skull session, Mr. Max hit on the truth: Blade Runner is nothing but a dressed up Rutger Hauer movie. Hauer was in a whole bunch of garbage films throughout the 1980s, usually playing the same spooky bad guy in basically the same way. And this is no exception! He just does crazy eyes and hops around. And Daryl Hannah does gymnastics moves in a fight sequence. Does that sound like something that happens in an acclaimed sci-fi masterpiece? Or some straight to VHS trash?

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You know the answer.

Haylie Duff Lifetime movies are almost impossible to resist. So when I flopped down on the coach after yoga and saw this:

I knew my Sunday was basically shot.

Looking at the description, I had questions…

It’s a supernatural one? And is that really NOT a Duff?

Calm down, gentle readers. It’s totally a Duff — Comcast is just doing its usual bang up-job and displaying the description from the wrong movie. There’s no lame ghost crap, either. No, this Sunday treasure is classic Lifetime to its core: Haylie Duff, a simple evil husband plot, waste-no-time foreshadowing… it’s all here, people.

We open with a wedding, and we know this because we read it off a black and white title card like the ones on Frasier.

Okay, strange choice but I can accept it. The marrying couple is Haylie Duff and Evil Husbear.

A beard IS pretty unusual for a Lifetime villain. They usually go for the Michael Douglas clean-shaven-MBA-douche look.

There are a couple of notable things about the wedding scene: 1) They find a new way to ruin the pretty-but-ALWAYS-used-in-tacky-weddings Bach Air on a G String. This time we get an all-synthesizer version for no reason. Isn’t real classical music super cheap to use? And 2) The bride/groom wedding dance segues from semi-classy slow dance to weird 80’s rock out with awkward seizure movements.

I chuckled at this because in another life Mr. Max and I lived in a rental facility that did weddings, and this is pretty accurate bad middle aged person dancing. Also that wedding dress is ugly (sorry, Haylie).


Another title card!

Apparently our newlyweds have moved into their dream home. The house is a bad modern House Hunters style house with weird cement crap on the outside and a big double vanity bathroom. Side note: why are ALL people on House Hunters obsessed with double vanities? It’s just a sink, call a plumber you can basically put that crap anywhere. Ahem.

Husbear comes over and says, “Hi I missed you” and gives Haylie a kiss that’s golden-retriever level sloppy. He’s basically drooling on her chin, it’s bad. This is the moment when I knew I would watch this movie in its entirety.


I had to.

Haylie is surprised to learn that there’s a live-in gardener on the property. So am I – way to create a relatable protagonist, Lifetime. Gardener says “Have we met before” with a suspicious look, which is the Chekhov’s Gun of all Lifetime movies.

Now Husbear and Duff are unpacking, and Husbear unpacks his most prized possession… and it’s… it’s…


The craziest painting ever. Mr. Max was half asleep and asked if they had unwrapped a pizza from a box. On the Pizza to Artwork Likert scale, I would pick ‘strongly agree it looks like a pizza.’

Husbear babbles a bunch of arty bullshit about color and meaning – I don’t know, I kind of zoned out here.

Next title card. I should note that we’ve had 3 title cards in the space of about five minutes. This movie is 60% paper.

Finally the real creepiness begins: Haylie Duff wakes up with a nightmare and Husbear puts an oxygen mask up to her face. Huh. That probably won’t be important later.

Another title card!!! Amazing.

Production Note: In the scene where Duff starts work as a substitute teacher, there’s no fade out between when she arrives at school and the next scene with her on the playground at the end of the day. It’s like they quantum leaped in time (using the power of sloppy editing).

There’s a young male teacher with a moustache who insists on giving her a lift home. He’s pushy but he’s probably just a red herring baddie.

Another Title card: TUESDAY (I guess we ran out of card ideas? I have a new appreciation for the Frasier writers.)

Now Haylie’s outside having an overshare with the live-in gardener. She says, “We got married so soon after we met, there’s a lot I’m still learning” Folksy gardener replies back about how he likes plants because “Plants don’t talk back to you.” Charming!

Next we get a flashbacky scene of Haylie taking some pills for a heart condition. Okay, the oxygen thing is starting to make more sense.

DEFINITELY out of title card ideas.

Evil Husbear meets Moustache Teacher and starts acting all jealous and controlling. Husbear’s Goth (why? We are never told) sister starts hanging out at the house too much and giving off incesty vibes. The Moustache teacher gets falsely accused of child molestation. Guys, guys – the gardener can’t find his dog. Shit’s about to get real.


Seriously, why is the sister a goth?

THE PARTY: We haven’t had a title card for like 20 scenes but sure why not.

Husbear and Duff host a party but spend the whole time fighting over the first world problem of who’s in control of the patio renovation. For some reason the housewarming party playlist is all loud club music. Sister is wearing a straight up dominatrix getup. Does someone involved in the production have an S&M fetish that they’re shoehorning into every scene? Please don’t answer that.

Fashion Corner: Duff wears the fancy dress Husbear bought her. It’s supposed to be super sexy but it kinda looks like a bathrobe.

A nice bathrobe…

The plot moves pretty quickly from here. Gardener gets murdered for asking too many questions and Evil Husbear uses the old ‘your mom was bipolar’ trick to gaslight Haylie. After a visit to some unhelpful cops, Duff morphs into a self-investigating Lifetime heroine. There’s a scene where she Googles the logo on her “heart medication” and we’re supposed to be impressed by her craftiness.

As a person with mild anxiety I use this skill all the time to make sure it’s ‘really Tylenol in that bottle’ so I thought of it in the first scene, but okay. Go Duff!

Now she’s hacking into Husbear’s computer. She finds webcam footage that proves that the gardener was killed, and copies it onto a flash drive. Smart. She yanks the flash drive while the file is totally still downloading. Ummm…

Now, the big reveal: Duff visits the address of the family of Evil Husbear’s secret dead wife. Turns out Duff is the spitting image of dead wife! Where the spitting image = an exact picture of Haylie Duff.

Eagle-eyed viewers will remember this turning your new wife into your old wife trope from one of my earliest reviews, of A Face to Die For.

Finally she gets caught snooping around for evidence by Evil Husbear and sister.

It’s two against one, but she gets in a direct punch to the balls before the cops show up. Sister aims a knife at Haylie, but hits Husbear instead. The cops arrest sister and escort Duff away from the crime scene. She looks longingly one last time at the hideous House Hunters house.

Aw man, who’s gonna design the patio now?

Overall Rating: Choice. Best laundry folding and/or drifting in and out of consciousness movie of 2016.

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: