Five festive treats from the warped Christmas world of ABC Family

Tuesday December 25th 2012

Since its relaunch in November 2001, the ABC Family network has offered good, Christian families across the United States an embarrassment of festive viewing options each and every December, as part of their 25 Days of Christmas programming block. Each year, the schedule includes a number of original, made-for-TV movies, and they are — without fail — completely and utterly bananas. This year, I’ve gone out my way to take in as many of these alternative Christmas classics as possible. Here are five of the best:

Holiday in Handcuffs (2007)

Fading Hollywood starlet: A post-Sabrina, pre-Romney-endorsement Melissa Joan Hart, then 31 and determined to stop playing teenagers.
Vaguely familiar love interest: Mario Lopez, best known as A.C. from Saved by the Bell (and its less successful collegiate spin-off, Saved by the Bell: The College Years)
Problems faced by female protagonist: As if walking around with that hair wasn’t traumatising enough, aspiring painter Trudie also has to put up with her dead-end job at a local diner and increasing pressure from her parents to find a boyfriend and settle down.
Mad shit that happens fifteen minutes in: With the prospect of yet another boyfriend-free Christmas looming, Trudie does what any self-respecting singleton would do and kidnaps a random stranger named David at gunpoint, forcing him back to her family home to play the role of her adoring boyfriend.
Inexplicable subplot: Halfway through the movie, Trudie’s brother Jake announces that he’s split from his fiancee, has come out as gay, and is now dating a man named Ryan. ‘I think I always knew’, opines Trudie.
Ludicrous resolution: David eventually comes to appreciate Trudie’s psychopathic wacky ways, and gladly ditches his model girlfriend for her. At the film’s conclusion, he kidnaps Trudie in kind, eventually depositing her in the art gallery he’s bought to exhibit her work.

12 Dates of Christmas (2011)

Fading Hollywood starlet: Amy Smart, shortly after she hit rock bottom with a demoralising, mostly nude appearance in Crank 2: High Voltage.
Vaguely familiar love interest: Another Saved by the Bell alumnus: Mark-Paul Gosselaar, who played the show’s preppy fourth-wall-breaker, Zack Morris.
Problems faced by female protagonist: Workaholic Kate wants nothing more than to patch things up with her ex-boyfriend Jack, who somewhat callously broke things off after Kate’s mother died. Instead, her father (and irritating step-mother) insist on setting her up on a series of blind dates.
Mad shit that happens fifteen minutes in: Kate acquits herself badly on a Christmas Eve date with handsome bachelor Miles. As punishment, the universe decides that she must live out the day over and over again until she gets it right. It’s like Groundhog Day meets Groundhog Day.
Inexplicable subplot: Kate goes for cocktails with the worst woman in the world, who complains that every year, her boyfriend makes her a snowflake statue out of Christmas lights. ‘Men!’ exclaims Kate, ‘That is not what you want for Christmas’.
Ludicrous resolution: Miles finally takes a shine to Kate after — on their twelfth and final first date — she invites him and the underprivileged orphan basketball team he coaches (keep up, keep up) back to her place for Christmas dinner.

Snowglobe (2007)

Fading Hollywood starlet: Four years after Love Don’t Cost A Thing first put her in a leading role, ‘Dip It Low’ hitmaker Christina Milian again takes centre stage.
Vaguely familiar love interest: Matt Keeslar, yesteryear indie darling of SplendorLast Days of Disco and Waiting for Guffman fame.
Problems faced by female protagonist: Deli worker Angela ‘loves Christmas more than anything’, but her festive spirit isn’t shared by her (inexplicably Italian) extended family, who’d rather just have a nice dinner than sit around gazing wistfully at tinsel.
Mad shit that happens fifteen minutes in: After receiving a magical snowglobe capable of transporting her to a chintzy wonderland in which each and every day is December 25th, Angela becomes entranced by the insufferable happy-clappy idealism of the orb’s residents.
Inexplicable subplot: Angela’s Christmas-loving fantasy man Douglas accidentally escapes into the real world, and proceeds to indulge in a bevy of sub-Enchanted fish-out-of-water escapades.
Ludicrous resolution: Angela eventually realises that Christmas isn’t all that, and leaves Douglas for her friendly neighbour Eddie, who eats a lot of pizza because he’s a regular guy. For their part, her family are willing to compromise on the festivity issue, unveiling some kind of heinous roast turkey/lasagne hybrid at the film’s denouement.

Christmas Cupid (2010)

Fading Hollywood starlet: Christina Milian. Three years later.
Vaguely familiar love interest: Chad Michael Murray, who’s a global superstar by ABC Family standards, but probably just ‘that guy from One Tree Hill‘ to your average viewer.
Problems faced by female protagonist: Unscrupulous in business and in her personal life, publicist-with-the-most-publicisty-name-ever Sloane Spencer exploits the troubled life of star client Caitlin Quinn for her own gain. Meanwhile, she refuses to join her family for Christmas dinner, choosing instead to spend the day with her boyfriend, who she’s only dating to get to his father — the head of a major PR firm. Basically, she’s awful.
Mad shit that happens fifteen minutes in: After Caitlin unexpectedly (even for an ABC Family movie) chokes to death on an olive, her ghost visits Sloane to inform her that she will be visited by three ‘ghosts of ex-mas past’ — a parade of old boyfriends who’ve all been fucked over by her in some demonstrable way.
Inexplicable subplot: Sloane’s old college roommate Jenny starts up a restaurant with her husband Ed. They specialise in chestnut tartlets.
Ludicrous resolution: About ten minutes before the movie’s end, Sloane finally decides to stop being horrid, and resolves to fix her life. She throws a joint movie premiere / memorial for Caitlin and is promoted to Vice President of the firm, whilst also reconciling with her mother and getting back together with her doctor ex-boyfriend Patrick. Caitlin gets her wings and rises up to heaven.

Christmas Caper (2007)

Fading Hollywood starlet: 90210 (and more importantly, Mallrats) star Shannen Doherty, who’d already hinted at the imminent collapse of her integrity the previous year with an appearance on Bo! in the USA, removed all doubt here.
Vaguely familiar love interest: Ty Olsson, the voice of Ord the dragon on Dragon Tales.
Problems faced by female protagonist: After con artist Kate Dove is betrayed by her partner-in-crime during their latest heist, she’s forced to hide out in her small, suburban hometown. For reasons too banal to get into, she’s also cajoled into babysitting her nephew and niece.
Mad shit that happens 15 minutes in: Kate teaches her nephew (and budding crim understudy) Parker the basics of breaking and entering, while simultaneously scheming how best to get even with her erstwhile cohort.
Inexplicable subplot: Kate befriends old high school peer Holly (Stefanie von Pfetten, who you might remember as the topless girl in 40 Days and 40 Nights) and in the process, realises that she used to be a bully. It’s all a bit Very Special Episode.
Ludicrous resolution: Realising the error of her ways, Kate shacks up with old boyfriend Hank. Luckily, he just so happens to be a cop, and one with enough power to reduce her inevitable prison sentence down to a sweet community service deal. It’s a Christmas miracle!