Our TV critic imagines the plot of 26 holiday movies based on the title alone

A girl with a sleigh and presents stands by a small Christmas tree with a reindeer
The plot of “Dashing Home for Christmas,” as imagined by TV critic Robert Lloyd: Helen’s sleigh rental business is in trouble, until she meets one of Santa’s magical reindeer, AWOL and looking for kicks.
(Per Breiehagen / Getty Images)

Responding to the public’s apparently unquenchable thirst for sentimental midbudget Christmas movies, Lifetime, Hallmark and similar brands have for years now turned a handful of basic plots and seasonal tropes into a cinematic parade that lasts from Halloween to the new year. It’s a holiday miracle, like a lamp that burns for eight days on only enough oil for one.

Having no time to watch them all, this year, I am just reading the titles and imagining the movies that might accompany them. (I suspect a lot of these filmmakers do actually start with the title and fill in the rest afterward.) I haven’t watched a single one or so much as read a synopsis or logline. But I have seen a lot of basic-cable Christmas movies in my time.

What follows is my completely invented preview of most of the rest of this year’s new offerings. (Just the new ones, mind you.) And if any of these ideas turn up on TV in 2021, I will find that naughty, not nice, and you will hear from my lawyers, Jingle, Jingle, Jangle and Brown.


After a public outcry last year when it pulled an ad featuring a same-sex wedding, Hallmark Channel is back with its first holiday movie featuring a gay couple.

Nov. 22, 2020

A Bright and Merry Christmas (Hallmark, Nov. 25). Someone has stolen all the Christmas cheer. Mismatched elf detectives Bright and Merry are on the case.

Five Star Christmas (Hallmark, Nov. 26). At the Hotel Christmas, it’s Christmas year-round. But when a powerful Yelp critic leaves a bad review, manager Suzie must get him to change his rating before cancellations take the business down. They’ll probably get married at the end; that seems likely.

Dear Christmas (Lifetime, Nov. 27). After too many years not getting the presents she asked for, even though she has always been (mostly) nice and (almost) never naughty, Jane decides to break up with the holiday and writes it a “Dear Christmas” letter. Jingles, a handsome North Pole postal worker, happens to read it — in some noncreepy way, not sure how — and heads south to change her mind.

Christmas by Starlight (Hallmark, Nov. 27). When the power goes out on Christmas Eve, the residents of Friendlytown face a choice between contemplating the majesty of the night sky or going to bed early. Little Joey wonders whether Santa will be able to find his way in a blackout. It’s a fair question.

Christmas Waltz (Hallmark, Nov. 28). Walt and Walt are husbands whose dance academy is failing in a depressed economy. Can they perfect their signature number in time to win the big holiday contest and save the school, while helping their son (also named Walt, of course!) prepare for his winter formal?

Merry Liddle Christmas Wedding (Lifetime, Nov. 28). Elf Merry Liddle is 300 years old and still single, causing consternation among her kin. But she’d like to concentrate on her career for a while, get out of the paint shop and into design, break that glass ceiling, before settling down. Maybe she’ll never settle down. What business is it of theirs, anyway?

Santa holds a lantern in a snowstorm.
“Christmas by Starlight”: Will Santa be able to find his way in a blackout?
(Getty Images)

USS Christmas (Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, Nov. 28). Forbidden to play reindeer games after a wild snowball breaks the window of the boss’ office, Comet, Blitzen and the gang mutiny, destroying Santa’s sleigh in the process — right on Christmas Eve. Is there enough holiday magic left in the holiday magic account to turn a World War II battleship and its ghost crew into the whatnot Santa needs to get the toys out?

People Presents: Once Upon a Main Street (Lifetime, Nov. 29). Ever since the big-box stores opened over by the highway and the town’s one factory shut down, Rustville’s main drag has been nothing but boarded-up storefronts and “For Lease” signs. This one is just depressing, sorry.

The Christmas Listing (Lifetime, Nov. 30). Contemplating retirement in Costa Rica, Santa puts his house and toy shop up for sale, only to find that his iconic North Pole complex has lost much of its value due to global warming. Small-town entrepreneur Rick (doesn’t believe in Santa, I’m thinking) has a snow-making business; Arctic real estate agent Jennifer has a plan.

Too Close for Christmas (Lifetime, Dec. 4). Roy and Dale are insisting that their whole extended family visit for Christmas — during a pandemic. Can they pull off this totally inadvisable reunion without killing any/everyone?

Secrets in the Snow (Lifetime Movie Network, Dec. 5). True crime.

Time for Us to Come Home for Christmas (HMM, Dec. 5). Siblings Tom and Jeri have been shut out from family gatherings for their political views and gender expressions. Will this be the year they build a bridge back to their kinfolk, or should they just get on with their frankly more interesting lives?


Let’s Meet Again on Christmas Eve (Lifetime, Dec. 5) Ren and Rey meet on a Tinder date but decide that a year is soon enough for a second date.

St. Nick is a jacked superhero leading the forces of nice against the agents of naughty.
“The Santa Squad”: St. Nick is kicking butt and taking names.
(Ryan J. Lane / Getty Images)

Christmas After Ever (Lifetime, Dec. 6). Oscar awakes on Christmas morning with the suspicion that he is in trapped in the 100th remake of “Groundhog Day.”

Christmas She Wrote (Hallmark, Dec. 6). Angela, an aspiring mystery novelist, falls asleep on Christmas Eve facing a blank sheet of paper; she awakes to find an entire chapter written, pages neatly stacked on her desk. Oh, and a body in the library.

The Santa Squad (Lifetime, Dec. 7). In an alternate universe, St. Nick is a jacked superhero leading the forces of nice against the agents of naughty.

The Christmas Setup (Lifetime, Dec. 12). A good-hearted ex-con finds himself framed by former bad (but not formerly bad) companions for a jewelry store heist. Can a little girl’s Christmas wish keep him out of the slammer?


A Sugar & Spice Holiday (Lifetime, Dec. 13). Back in the ’80s, Sugar and Spice had a hit Christmas song before their partnership fell apart over money and drugs. Now they find themselves booked on a pop nostalgia cruise. Will their reunion withstand enforced close quarters, random viruses and an iceberg?

Christmas on the Menu (Lifetime, Dec. 18). Lillian and Dorothy are sisters, each competitively proud of her figgy pudding, finally forced to face the fact that no one in the family really likes figgy pudding.

A Christmas Exchange (Lifetime, Dec. 19). Marcus breaks up with his girlfriend on Christmas, but things start looking up when he takes the ugly sweater she gave him — thank heaven for gift receipts, right? — back to the store. (Yes, he meets a girl.)

A representation of coronavirus on a plate
“Too Close for Christmas”: An extended family gathers for Christmas — during a pandemic.
(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Swept Up by Christmas (HMM, Dec. 19). John, a self-taught high school janitor, loves Jane, a beautiful, brainy professor who can’t see him for his khaki jumpsuit. (He is really quite good-looking, you know.) Will John finally speak up, or will this be yet another yule he spends alone with a parakeet, a fish and a TV dinner?

A Christmas Break (Lifetime, Dec. 20). Santa doesn’t see why he shouldn’t get the holidays off like everybody else, but as no one else agrees, he fakes a broken leg with the help of an elf doctor who owes him money from poker. Will guilt work its wonders before Christmas doesn’t happen?


Love, Lights, Hanukkah! (Hallmark, Dec. 20). Sam is a rabbi’s son directing the only Hanukkah-themed holiday movie in a sea of Christmas ones. Ashley is a minister’s daughter and basic-cable executive who has somehow never met a Jewish person.

Project Christmas Wish (HMM, Dec. 20). With Santa quarantined with COVID-19, the army is assigned to make Christmas happen — in America, anyway. Buzzy is the comical yet handsome noncom — rhymes with rom-com — sent to fetch the nice and naughty lists.

The Christmas High Note (Lifetime, Dec. 22). Joey, a boy soprano and the star of his choir, hits puberty just before the big contest the choir needs to win to stay alive. Will a little girl’s Christmas prayer keep his voice from changing, for just one more night?

Christmas at the Castle (Lifetime, Dec. 23). He may be an immortal bloodsucker but that doesn’t make the holidays any less lonely for Count Dracula — especially when he’s stuck in a coffin every Christmas morning, unable to open his presents, if anyone ever gave him one. Will a little Transylvanian girl’s Christmas wish bring him the cheer his cold, dead heart requires?