Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

Warm and believable Marry Us for Christmas airs tonight (12/7) @ 7:00 PM (ET) on UP TV. 

Synopsis (from the UP press release): In the sequel to last year’s popular UP Original Movie Marry Me for Christmas, it’s a year after Marci Jewel (Malinda Williams) and Blair Kirkland (Karon Riley) declared their love for each other and decided to tie the knot.  But as the big day approaches, Marci is so consumed with work that she’s had no time to plan her wedding.  To make matters worse, she may have to team up with former assistant/fake fiancé Adam to win a project she’s been vying for – a little tidbit Marci has held back from Blair.  But Blair, as it turns out, has a secret of his own.  Thanks to years of doing pro bono work for financially-strapped clients, he quickly is running out of cash and might have to accept an offer to work for his longtime nemesis, Marci’s manipulative cousin Preston (Carl Payne).  Meanwhile, Marci’s mother Stephanie Chandler Jewel (Victoria Rowell) is making some rather bold moves of her own with her sexy salsa teacher, Antonio Simpson (Marques Houston), who is more than a little smitten with her — and about 20 years her junior.  Will there be a wedding for Christmas?  Better yet – whose wedding will it be?   Naturally, the festivities wouldn’t be complete without family, including Marci’s Uncle Donald (GregAlan Williams), Aunt Myra (DeEtta West), Aunt Elizabeth (Chrystale Wilson), Charlene (Dawn Halfkenny) and Antonio’s uncle Lawrence Simpson (Kristoff St. John). 

Mini-Review: About a year ago, I wrote  in my review of Marry Me for Christmas that the film is  “familiar territory to anyone with a TV. But, while there’s not much new or particularly groundbreaking here, the familiar pieces are mixed and matched with skill. The dialogue is crisp, witty and believable. The cast and characters…are likable and all the performances are good. In the end, you’re left feeling satisfied.” The same can be pretty much said of its sequel.  Marci and her family are a likable bunch worth spending a couple of relaxing hours with. In fact, now that UP is getting into the scripted series business, the network could do worse than consider weekly installments. In any event, Marry Us for Christmas is recommended.

Marry Us for Christmas is produced by Atlanta-based Swirl Films. The film is directed by Drue Powell from a screenplay by executive producer Rhonda F. Baraka (UP’s Marry Me for Christmas and Trinity Goodheart).

Not-quite-believable Christmas at Cartwright’s airs tonight (12/7) @ 8:00 PM (ET) on Hallmark Channel.

Synopsis (from the Hallmark Channel website): With the holiday season at hand, single mom Nicky Talbot (Alicia Witt) is unemployed and struggling to afford a nice Christmas with her 8-year-old daughter. Hearing that Cartwright’s Department Store is hiring temporary holiday help, Nicky rushes in to apply, but is rejected by Senior VP Fiona Aldrich (Gabrielle Miller), who considers Nicky a threat to the relationship she hopes to have with Bill (Gabriel Hogan), a charming and handsome store manager. In a whimsical turn of events, Harry Osbourne (Wallace Shawn), claiming to be a consultant from corporate headquarters, encourages Nicky to dress up and begin working as Cartwright’s store Santa Claus. With the magical help of Harry, Nicky keeps the job, but nobody knows Cartwright’s Santa Claus is a woman. Will she be able to keep her job if her secret gets out?

Mini-Review: I know criticizing a Christmas fantasy as “not quite believable” may seem unfair. After all, by definition, fantasies  aren’t intended to be realistic. But they really should be believable — at least on their own terms. Unfortunately, everything about Christmas at Cartwright’s comes off as contrived and forced. Perhaps the idea sounded promising on paper but the script, IMHO, falls short of delivering on that promise. Yes, the film is a fantasy but I had a real problem getting past how the Fiona Aldrich, the villainous store executive who overseas the staff, wouldn’t realize that her Nicky was a woman. But even accepting that as some sort of Christmas magic, the scenes were Nicky’s in the store cafeteria eating with the staff in full Santa regalia (without even removing her bead) was really absurd  — though not played as such. In fact, the whole idea of nobody knowing Cartwright’s Santa is actually a woman (which, again, may have sounded good on paper) ends up really undermining the whole movie. It might have worked better if Nicky somehow got the job over Fiona’s objection — and then let the story proceed from there.

As for the romantic angle of the film, the character of Bill is presented with almost aggressive blandness, almost like a department store Ken doll come to life (which, come to think of it, isn’t a bad premise for a movie). In any event, Alicia Witt, Gabriel Hogan and the other actors do what they can to bring their respective characters to life but, for me at least, Cartwright’s is a very hard sell.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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