NEW YORK (CNS) — Since 2015, the limited series drama “When Calls the Heart” has anchored cable’s Hallmark Channel’s popular monthlong “Countdown to Christmas” programming with a special two-hour movie.
Tepid, even by Hallmark’s standards, this year’s installment, “When Calls the Heart: Home for Christmas,” debuts Wednesday, Dec. 25, 8-10 p.m. EST.
The series was inspired by Canada-bred author Janette Oke’s “Canadian West” novels. Mike Rohl directs the movie, which Alfonso Moreno and Elizabeth Stewart wrote. As longtime fans of the show will spot, however, actress Lori Loughlin who, for six seasons, played one of the drama’s central figures, Abigail Stanton, no longer appears on the program.
Facing criminal charges for her alleged role in the national college cheating scandal, Loughlin was released from her contract earlier this year, and her character was written out.
“When Calls the Heart” is set in the pre-First World War era in fictitious Hope Valley, a small town in the Canadian province of Alberta.
As this chapter opens, the series’ chief protagonist, schoolteacher Elizabeth Thatcher (Erin Krakow), faces her first Christmas without her late husband, Jack (Daniel Lissing), a Canadian Mountie. Despite Elizabeth’s grief, she wants to make the holy day special for their son, Jack’s namesake, who will have his first birthday on the feast.
Relative newcomer and tavern owner Lucas Bouchard’s (Chris McNally) Christmas festival provides Elizabeth with a welcome distraction, and she receives ample support from the community, who are almost as much invested in Jack’s birthday as she is.
Lucas is also a prospective suitor. But Elizabeth mainly focuses her sympathy and support on a rival, Nathan Grant (Kevin McGarry). A new arrival to the community, like Lucas, and a Mountie, like Jack, Nathan has commendably undertaken to raise his deceased sister’s adolescent daughter, Allie (Jaeda Lily Miller), a member of Elizabeth’s school choir.
A pending job promotion through which Nathan would become an inspector with the police force weighs heavily on Allie’s mind. Though Nathan has long desired this career opportunity, it would mean moving to another fictional locale, Union City, and Allie is very reluctant to leave her new home.
Which eligible bachelor the teacher will ultimately choose remains unresolved. But the gift Elizabeth receives from her husband’s good friend, Bill Avery (Jack Wagner), yet another Mountie, convinces her that, as she heals, she and little Jack will find their way home.
“Home for Christmas” is that rarity on television, a show that’s suitable for all ages.
Like other Hallmark productions, the program conveys important and valuable lessons. Thus the town pitches in to help Elizabeth, locals welcome strangers in need with kindness and generosity and people generally take the time to appreciate life’s simple wonders.
Traveling salesman Walter (Ryan Rosery), the sole black character in an otherwise homogeneously Caucasian cast, finds himself sharing equally in the universal good will.
That very nice, of course, but ahistorical to say the least.
In fact, there’s a false ring to the whole production. The actors look and behave more like contemporary people than figures from the past.
Ultimately, it’s the lack of tension in the story that undermines “Home for Christmas,” though. It’s a bland tale without much in the way of consequential drama.
Still, there are worse places to spend Christmas night than cozy Hope Valley. While this latest installment in the gentle saga won’t have its audience planted on the edges of their seats, it may find viewers curled up comfortably under a blanket sipping tea or cocoa.
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Byrd is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.