Happiest Season may have given us a rare opportunity to see LGBTQ+ characters drive a major romcom – but it’s not the only queer movie making waves this winter.
Yes, the gays are getting their own festive made-for-TV movies too. And against the backdrop of what I think we can all agree is an absolute nightmare of a December, I am happy to confirm that Lifetime’s The Christmas Setup (screened in the UK on Channel 5) is basic, schmaltzy, predictable – and I absolutely loved it.
Full disclosure, I live for a naff Christmas film. They’ve become an exquisite annual tradition over the years; as much a part of the Yuletide season as mince pies, wrapper-filled tins of Quality Street and arguments with strangers on Twitter about Fairytale Of New York.
They bypass cinemas entirely, look like they have a budget of around £9.50 and often have outdoor scenes that were clearly filmed in vast, vast warehouses.
Adding to the fun, some stellar names have got in on the action in recent years, especially with the rise of streaming: see Christine Baranski and Dolly Parton in Christmas On The Square, Emma Roberts in Holidate, or Vanessa Hudgens, Vanessa Hudgens and Vanessa Hudgens in The Princess Switch: Switched Again.
The humour? Ropey! The stakes? Low! The knitwear? Chunky! But I drink it up like supermarket own-brand mulled wine every damn year.
Real fans of the genre will be well aware that Lifetime and Hallmark are the true MVPs; having brought us such classics as 12 Men Of Christmas (with Kristen Chenoweth), Dear Secret Santa (Jordin Sparks), Pride And Prejudice And Mistletoe (Lacey Chabert, aka Mean Girls’ Gretchen Weiners), and – a personal favourite – all-time turkey The Spirit of Christmas, in which a woman inexplicably falls for a ‘handsome but cursed ghost’.
Now, in big old 2020, I could not be happier that they’re letting LGBTQ+ characters take centre stage.
Hallmark have made progress with The Christmas House, an ensemble effort featuring a prominent gay couple.
But it’s Lifetime who have gone even further and fully let the gays take the wheel: The Christmas Setup is unashamedly, entirely, top-to-bottom homosexual. Not only are the main characters gay; so are the actors, the writer, the director and an executive producer.
The plot (small ‘p’) follows high-flying New York City lawyer Hugo (Arrow’s Ben Lewis) as he returns home for Chrimbo and comes face-to-face with high school crush Patrick (Blake Lee, Lewis’s real-life husband).
As romance blossoms over things like ‘the best hot chocolate in the world’ and an extremely convenient display of aurora borealis, Hugo’s offered a new job role overseas and finds himself forced to figure out what he really wants in life: a promotion, or a smokin’ hot boyfriend?
You know what you’re getting from the outset, and The Christmas Setup ticks every box with, er, gay abandon. Witty best friend (GLOW’s Ellen Wong)? Tick! Sassy mother (Fran Drescher)? Tick! Low-stakes conflict, wholesome flirting, a musical performance? Tick, tick, tick! It’s all here, and it’s all glorious.
The plot involves zero homophobia, neither of the characters have to come out of the closet, Drescher is on iconic form… and by the time the ending rolls around (spoiler alert: there’s a train station, a big snog, and plenty of CGI snow), you’ll be screaming out for a sequel.
Of course we shouldn’t pretend that a made-for-TV movie about privileged, cisgender, white gay men is the endgame for on-screen diversity. But this unashamed cheese-fest is a big step in the right direction.
And with a gay team of creatives behind-the-scenes – plus some lovely chemistry between the hugely likeable leads – it feels as authentic as a film of this nature can realistically get.
How does it square-up against, say, Happiest Season?
Honestly, I don’t think it can. It’d be like comparing recent albums from Lady Gaga and Amanda Holden – they’re both different beasts with different budgets, working to very different briefs.
But for what it’s worth, The Christmas Setup may depict a very picturesque, relatively conflict-averse world – but at this moment in time, it’s like a big cuddle.
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