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Hallmark Movies, Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, you know I love you.  I have watched just about every single movie you two channels have done.  I’m a fan! However, some things have been on my mind.

First, would it be the worst thing in the world to let your actors age gracefully?  I’m so sad to see that two more formerly filler-free actresses – proud holdouts, I thought; I won’t name names – now have joined the “chipmunk cheek and Botox” club.  Why was this necessary?  They were beautiful before!  From the profile or ¾ view, you can really see it; these skinny women with chubby faces. They could store acorns in those cheeks!  It might hurt, if they had any feeling in there!  At least these two, unlike some others, don’t seem to have the trout pout yet, but I know it’s just a matter of time, and it makes me sad.

Tell me, Hallmark: do you have an equivalent of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,and there’s a Joint Chief of Anti-Aging?  Is the Botox-ordering done at the corporate level? Is it in the contract, like uppers to make Judy Garland lose weight?  Is it even more specific – a Chief of Botox, a Chief of Facelifts, a Chief of Hair Dye…

Yes, I know we’ve discussed this before, but why do the men have their hair dyed so dark?  Look at George Clooney; he’s a beautiful man, and he looks great with grey hair!  And if you say to me, “Absolutely not, this is our policy, we must dye the men’s hair!” then I would counter to you:  Okay, how about a highlight or two?  Something to break the relentless single color that no one actually has!  Squeeze some lemon juice on their hair and send them out in the sun, for God’s sake!  Something!

But there’s an even worse Joint Chief, someone I haven’t seen before… I don’t know who it is, of course, but I can feel his or her presence.  The Joint Chief of Men’s Hair Replacement.   In one recent episode of “Mystery 101,” a series I really like, I’m not kidding – multiple men in the movie, except for Kristoffer Polaha and Robin Thomas, seemed to have a toupee.  Again, I’m not out to shame, so I won’t name names, but… One man after another, it was either rug city or a bad combover; one guy I couldn’t be sure.  We don’t need this!

Let the scalp be free, men!  Many women, myself included, think you look great! Look at Prince William!  He’s doing all right!

 Quantity isn’t always the best thing:  Why are movie series so uneven?  There will be a really great Aurora Teagarden, and then one that’s not so good. A great Mystery 101, and one that’s not so good.  In our rush to get these movies out, are we using different directors, writers… what is it? It’s perfectly fine with me if you would rather take your time and keep the level of quality more even, instead of – as my great aunt, a hard-boiled bridge player, would say to describe hands with a few good cards and then nothing higher than an eight:  “Aces and spaces.”

Extending this thought a little bit:  Bring back Lori Loughlin! The woman hasn’t even gone to trial yet, and you not only convicted her, you wiped her off the face of the earth! The Garage Sale Mysteries were good! (Even though there was the hair dye issue in some of the men.)  I think you did this, Hallmark – joined in the automatic hate and social-media fomented shaming, which seems to be the default reaction to everything these days –  and then panic-filmed a bunch of movies trying to fill the giant hole in programming.  If you showed even the Garage Sale Movie reruns, that would be fine! I know you had some in the can. What if you just quietly slipped them out there, with no fanfare?

And what happens after her trial?  In this country, as the theme song to “Baretta” so succinctly put it, you do the crime, you do the time.  And, of course, the whole “innocent until proven guilty” in a court of law thing.  If she is punished, with jail time or community service, will you take her back then?  How much groveling will she have to do before we can at least see those reruns, if not entirely new movies with Dani and the antiques and vicarious yard sales?

About the similarities in plot… is that just a thing?  Let’s take the amnesia plot of “A Christmas to Remember.”  Let’s change it up, put it in the fall, make the male lead a doctor instead of a veterinarian, make the amnesiac a children’s book author instead of a Martha Stewart-type TV personality, and no one will know!  Yay!

Is there a “Wheel of Fortune”-type wheel, you spin and it’s one of a few basic plots?

Girl with workaholic (lawyer, advertising/magazine executive, website/app developer) boyfriend takes a vacation to a small town…

Girl who, herself, is a workaholic takes a trip to a small town/gets stuck in a lovely small town/leaves her busy corporate job and goes to a factory in the sticks… and discovers the meaning of Christmas, or Easter, or Valentine’s Day…

Single mom has a kid with a problem and meets a caring teacher/medical professional/tutor…

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t really mind the plot similarities!  I just wondered.  Is it a cost thing?  If so, there are hundreds of out-of-print Harlequin romances out there, with other plots.  I’m sure their authors would love to have their work live to see another day, made into a Hallmark movie – and you could probably get them for cheap!

What’s with the Golden Girls?  I have nothing against reruns.  In fact, when you take “Murder, She Wrote” off for Christmas, I go into withdrawal.  Never stop running “Murder, She Wrote!”

And I love “Psych”(and, in fact, have the entire DVD collection) and “Monk.” (Actually, I have those DVDs, too, but Monk’s OCD situations make me anxious sometimes, unlike “Psych,” which was perfection in every way, including its casting of Corbin Bernsen, but I digress.)

Please help me understand:  did you do an opinion poll and people overwhelmingly said, “We can’t get enough Bea Arthur!”

“Maude wasn’t enough!  In fact, we, the vast majority of your Hallmark movie audience, rejoiced at spinning off ‘Maude’ from ‘All in the Family,’ because her character was just that great!

“All Rue McClanahan, all the time!”

Betty White – well, I think she’s a hoot, loved her as Sue Ann Nivens on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”  But seriously:  Is it a deep discount thing?  “We can run ‘Golden Girls’ for pennies a day!”

Is there a list of forbidden phrases?  I know why nobody says “Goodbye,” after a phone call and they just hang up, instead.  That’s because some study done decades ago said viewers might tune out at the word goodbye, which is dumb.  It does seem rude to have people just hang up with no closure.  But I get that; it’s pretty much universal on TV.

However:  how come nobody ever dies in Hallmark land?  They pass.  I’m not advocating the use of insensitive phrases, like, “croaked,” or “kicked the bucket,” or “cashed in his chips,” but really, it’s noticeable.  It’s odd.  People don’t die, they just “pass.”  Like a burrito in the night…

A word about chemistry.  In some of your movies, notably your mystery series – again, I don’t want to name names; I’m not out to shame anyone – there is zero chemistry between the female and male leads.  Nada.  Zilch. Do you not do screen tests for this sort of thing?  It’s painful!

The exception to every rule? Royal movies. I love them! Can’t get enough of them! I don’t care if they’re stereotyped and hokey and unbelievable.  No standards apply here for this viewer!  Just keep ‘em coming!  I just like seeing princes and future kings and queens and princesses in little tiny fictional countries and their lovely castles and delightful servants and real or fake British accents and beautiful ball gowns!  The Joint Chief of Royal Movies is doing just fine.  Keep up the good work.  Jolly good show!

©Janet Farrar Worthington

You know I love Hallmark movies.   I love both kinds – country and western, as they said at Bob’s Country Bunker in “The Blues Brothers.”  Or, in the case of Hallmark, the romantic comedies and the mysteries.  The dramas are good, too, but since I feel there’s enough drama in the world, I prefer the lighter movies.

            Yes, I’ve had my little issues with Hallmark over the years.  One, the hair dye thing, which I’ve mentioned before.  Somebody there dyes the hair of the leading men too dark; also, the hair of some the leading ladies is too dark.  Add a highlight or two, people!  

And there’s the whole Santa thing.  The Christmas movies hardly ever mention the reason for the season – the birth of Jesus Christ.  Instead, it’s generally all Santa, all the time, and it’s kind of creepy sometimes, like kids pray to Santa.  Something good happens, and the kid says, looking upward, “Thanks, Santa!”  Santa is the kindly, godly figure who tweaks fate to bring two people together, or, at a child’s request, finds a soulmate for a single parent.

            So that creeps me out a little, but it’s still pretty much fine.  I love Hallmark!

            Even the ads, for cancer medicines, medicines for people with diabetes, the Hurry Cane, Benefiber, some kind of hair removal device that looks like a pen but, if I were to bet any money on it, probably hurts to use.  But I fast-forward those ads, so really, they don’t bother me.

            I love the royal movies!  I love the holiday movies!  I love the mysteries!  I truly do!

            In fact, I love them so much, that last night instead of watching the Oscars, which are political and stress me out, I watched installment two of the “Chronicle Mysteries,” starring Alison Sweeney and Benjamin Ayres as her probable love interest as the series develops – although I have to say, I think there’s some chemistry there with Toby Levins, who plays fireman Shawn, and who also played her brother-in-law, Bill Todd, on the “Murder, She Baked” series – because Hallmark movies, like the old Warner Brothers movies long ago, basically use the same people.  I actually really like this. It’s nice to see familiar faces. Comforting and homey, in fact. So, instead of having Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, C. Aubrey Smith, Alan Hale, Sr. (not Alan Hale, Jr., aka the Skipper on “Gilligan’s Island”), Claude Rains, Basil Rathbone, Eugene Pallette, or others in the Warner stable, you get – well, a bunch of Canadians!  

            Because Hallmark actors are Canadian!  

            I’m not questioning it; I just accept it.  Nay, I embrace it! Pardon my digression.

            Anyway, last night, there was an unrecognized, integral player in “The Chronicle Mysteries: The Wrong Man.”  It wasn’t Peter Benson, always delightful to see, although I always think of him as Arthur in the “Aurora Teagarden” movies.  (Note: I saw him in a Hallmark Christmas movie, “Christmas List,” and although he was the doomed first boyfriend – in Hallmark land, the boyfriend at the beginning of the movie is a workaholic and does not get the girl – he was a darned good ice skater.  I was impressed.  Nice skating, sir!)  Nor was it another favorite, Dave Collette, who plays Bubba Rankart on the “Aurora Teagarden” series.  It was so nice to see him here as Chuck.

            No, the very important player I’m talking about was a messenger bag.

            Benjamin Ayres’ character is a reporter, and somewhere, maybe in Canada, some props master thought:  Reporter. Aha!  Messenger bag!

            Also:  leather jacket!  Maybe he takes it off to shower, swim, or sleep, but we don’t know.  

            Anyhoo, God bless him or her, that props master made sure that in just about every single scene, Benjamin Ayres had that messenger bag.  

            It was like “the football,” or “the atomic football,” the emergency satchel that accompanies the President everywhere with top-secret contents that would authorize a nuclear attack.  

            I became obsessed with the messenger bag, worn diagonally across Benjamin Ayres’ shoulder.  I started texting my daughter, Blair, about it. 

            I have only one regret:  I only started photo-documenting this bag with my phone about halfway through the movie. I should have been on it sooner. Darn, darn, darn.  

            Here’s the first one.  (Note: I was lying on the couch with the three dogs, so I was at a slight angle.)

This isn’t the greatest picture, but here’s the messenger bag, on a mission with Drew (Benjamin Ayres) to a newspaper office in Philly.

            Here’s my initial text to Blair, as I was gradually realizing the momentum and power of the bag.  “Drew, the reporter, wears a bag diagonally… in every scene!”

The bag went with Drew and Alex for coffee, and conversation.

            I added, “Note to self:  put on messenger bag.”

The bag likes Uncle Miles.
The bag is excited, because Drew has important information.

            This scene prompted some reflection:  “But maybe I am completely wrong… maybe it’s got his portable dialysis machine or something.”  “Maybe a supplemental organ.”  “Or hair product.”

Close-up of the strap, and the leather jacket.

            Blair said, “You could have prepared a lovely slideshow.”

The bag notes that while Alex has an umbrella, Drew does not.

            The scenes kept coming.  Thank God for Direct TV, which lets me pause the movie.  

            Blair told me not to stop documenting.  “The people need to know!”

Back at the Chronicle, giving vital information to Alex.

            Toward the end of the movie, the action really heated up, and there was a dramatic change:  He was carrying the bag, instead of wearing it diagonally over the shoulder! What are we to make of this development?

You can’t see it so much in the picture, but my goodness, look at the shadow! The bag has left the shoulder!

            And finally, here’s a shot from the movie’s last scene.  Holding the bag in both hands! Is it closure?  I don’t know!

You could say that Alex and Uncle Miles have left Drew holding the bag.

            Hallmark, how you taunt me! And haunt me!

            Also, I can’t allow Michael Kopsa, who plays Uncle Miles, with those piercing blue eyes, to go without a shout-out.  Another Hallmark regular, also Canadian, he has been in many of my favorite Hallmark movies, including the “Father Christmas” and “In the Vineyard” series, and he adds dignity.  

            I can only hope to see all of these old friends, and the new one – the messenger bag – in the very near future.

            Also the leather jacket!

            © Janet Farrar Worthington