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5 new Christmas tales on cable neatly tied up with a bow

Reviewed: 'Christmas in Canaan,' 'Debbie Macomber's Mrs. Miracle,' 'The Christmas Hope,' 'A Golden Christmas' and 'Santa Baby 2: Christmas Maybe'

December 12, 2009|By ROBERT LLOYD | Television Critic

It's Christmastime, on television as it is on Earth. Elves from several basic cable networks have labored in their respective dens to bring you a weekend of new holiday movies.

If these films are more than usually predictable, predictability has its uses; it is one of the defining qualities of television, a medium whose job it is to provide psychic comfort in the form of mild stimulation. It's a quality that is especially desirable at this festive season of the year -- if a Christmas flick doesn't make you feel all warm at the end, it's just, you know, a prank, a jar of nuts from which snakes explode.

Adapted from a book co-written by singer Kenny Rogers, "Christmas in Canaan” (Hallmark Channel, 8 tonight) stars fellow singer Billy Ray Cyrus as a Texas farmer -- a widower, as is the fashion in these things -- who, in 1964, "punishes" his son by forcing him to live briefly alongside the smarter but no less surly black classmate with whom he's been scrapping. Of course, he is only teaching them both to love. But it will take a wounded puppy to really bond them.

Like most stories written to make a point, it suffers from having been composed backward, as it were, and suffers again from not knowing how to sit still and concentrate: Just as 1964 is getting interesting, it jumps to 1971, with both children living (remarkably unremarkably) as brothers under the same roof. All their ensuing troubles, from arson to spinal injury, are mastered as easily as opening a greeting card; Hallmark movies want you to feel, but they want you to feel better soon.

Cyrus is a grounding presence on his daughter Miley's show, a little thing called "Hannah Montana" and, though he is not called upon to be anything here but a fatherly philosopher, he is solid. "We'll get by somehow," he says, "we always do" -- possibly not coincidentally the title of his latest single.

In “Debbie Macomber’s Mrs. Miracle,” which premiered last week and gets a repeat airing on Hallmark today at 2 p.m., Doris Roberts ("Everybody Loves Raymond") is a sort of Dolly Levi cum Mary Poppins -- the film's opening repeats that of the Disney classic -- who comes to bring order and love to the household of widower James Van Der Beek, he who was Dawson of "Dawson's Creek," and his rambunctious twin sons. The appealing Erin Karpluk is the Christmas pageant director who is guided into their lives. Roberts, whom you are to regard as actually angelic, is funny when she is allowed to be acid and dry, less interesting when she has to go soft like a cherry cordial.

Lifetime Movie Network's good-looking “The Christmas Hope” (Sunday, 9 p.m.) is from a novel by inspirational author Donna VanLiere. Child services worker Madeleine Stowe and airline husband pilot James Remar are living not quite together in a big tidy house, separated by a space defined by their dead son. Into their life comes a newly orphaned, and perhaps insufficiently traumatized, little girl, along with more providential coincidences than you can shake a copy of "Great Expectations" at.

Stowe and Remar keep things reasonably adult and subtle until they are mowed down by a power ballad ("Love is a savior/Sent down from heaven/To rescue our hearts") and strangled in a knot of prettily tied loose ends.

Also Sunday at 9 p.m., Ion Television serves up its first movie original, “A Golden Christmas,” a romantic comedy (school of Nora Ephron) with Nicholas Brendon, who was Xander of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," as a single dad with a daughter, and Andrea Roth ("Rescue Me") as the widow with a son. They wrangle over the ownership of a house, not realizing, as you already have, that what seems to drive them apart is the very thing that binds them together -- but that they don't get along for most of the movie is for the best. There is a dog in this one, too, along with Elisa Donovan, Bruce Davison and Alley Mills, and everyone does nice work.

Something else altogether is ABC Family's “Santa Baby 2: Christmas Maybe,” which premieres Sunday at 8 p.m. and brings back able Jenny McCarthy as Mary, the modern-living marketing-consultant daughter of the man with all the toys.

Like nearly every movie about the private life of Santa Claus, it turns on the chance of Christmas not happening, in this case because Santa has "been going through some things" -- a midlife crisis expressing itself in jazz bass and golf and not taking care of business, opening the workshop to a power struggle. Like its predecessor, it is clever and charming, if, apparently, anti-union.

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