Predictable joy 

Finding our made-for-television holiday spirit

If aliens invaded Earth and decimated humanity, they'd have a wealth of pop culture artifacts to piece together. But what if, in some weird stroke of Lifetime channel-inspired luck, only made-for-TV holiday movies remained to illustrate our world? Well, a lot of things would be missing, like every important news story and historical event ever. Instead, the greatest aspiration for humans would be—in the face of Grinch and Scrooge-like obstacles—finding the spirit of Christmas. Surely the extraterrestrials would be skeptical of the plot holes and bad acting, but they'd probably be entertained all the same. In the spirit of the holidays—and in case of future aliens—here is an analysis of a few of the best and worst Christmas television movies.

A Christmas Kiss

Wendy, an up-and-coming interior designer, works day and night for her shallow boss. One night, while her boss (who looks vaguely like Kate Hudson) is out of town, Wendy's friends convince her to go out, and they dress her up in glittery eye makeup "like the sugar plum fairy," because that's a normal thing to do when you go clubbing. Later that night, while checking on her boss' apartment, Wendy shares a magical kiss with a stranger in the elevator. The next day, however, she discovers the guy is her boss' boyfriend. Oh, brother! And without her glittery eye makeup on, he doesn't even recognize her. How will he and Wendy end up together in the face of an imminent engagement by the pushy, conniving boss?

If you understand the rules of these kind of movies you know that it will all come down to who—Wendy or her boss—makes the interior design that best encapsulates the Christmas spirit. And isn't that what gets the guy every time? A Christmas Kiss is predictable in a warm-fuzzy way and only slightly ridiculous. If you are a realist, this is more your style than the usual seasonal fare.

Christmas Cupid

One of the obvious tropes of made-for-TV holiday movies is that women who work in high-powered jobs need to learn a lesson—that finding true love and being at the top of a corporate food chain don't mix. Wouldn't they rather work at a less stressful job so they have time for cute boyfriends?

In Christmas Cupid, a fashionable, selfish woman named Sloane is hoping to climb the corporate ladder at her celebrity PR firm and marry her rich and powerful boss. But just before Christmas, one of her starlet clients chokes on a martini olive and dies, and Sloane is visited by a familiar plotline: The dead actress and three ex-boyfriend spirits appear to show her how bad her life is, past, present and future.

There are emotional and logistical problems with this movie; mostly it's unclear which egomaniac you should root for. The guy you're supposed to like is Chad Michael Murray ("One Tree Hill"), who switches between different shades of brooding, interrupted by bouts of distant amusement. The starlet, Ashley Benson of "Pretty Little Liars," carries around the fateful martini wherever she goes. Like most ghosts, she melts through earthly objects, but in some sloppy oversight or exception to the rule, her ghost martini is visible—and drinkable—to the living.

12 Dates of Christmas

This movie is not to be confused with The 12 Trees of Christmas, which is the You've Got Mail of holiday made-for-TV programming, or The 12 Dogs of Christmas, which falls into an alarmingly full category of holiday movies starring golden retrievers. Taking a page or several from Groundhog Day and A Christmas Carol, 12 Dates of Christmas is about how Amy Smart has to endure Christmas Eve—and a blind date—over and over until she can break the cycle. She also has to get over her ex-boyfriend and realize that Mark-Paul Gosselaar is the one for her. Each time the clock strikes midnight, Smart is transported back to Christmas Eve morning, having passed out on the floor of a department store, like we all have done. The story indulges in the Groundhog Day fantasy by allowing Smart to use her series of do-overs to learn how to hone the most important skill: baking the best Christmas cookies.

The 12 Men of Christmas

Starring Kristin Chenoweth's white teeth, the not-as-racy-as-you-hope story unfolds as a high-powered (i.e. workaholic) publicist is betrayed by her fiance. She leaves the big city and finds herself in Montana trying to make a charity calendar of sexy Kalispell Search and Rescue men. One guy is particularly arrogant and doesn't want her to make the calendar. But soon their feelings begin to change about each other. The moral of the story is that even in Montana, love can be complicated.

A Boyfriend for Christmas

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If a guy showed up at your door with a Christmas tree saying his name was "Douglas Fir," would you A) say, "Uh, I don't let psychopaths in my house" or B), ask him to pretend to be your boyfriend for Christmas so your family won't think you're lonely? In this story, it's the latter that wins out for "Holly" (also a suspect name for Christmas movie). In a surprising twist, Doug Fir may not be who he claims. But everything turns out fine. As is always the case in this genre, everyone realizes that the true meaning of Christmas—getting a good boyfriend—was right in front of them the whole time.

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