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Made-for-TV movies inspire Second City’s ‘Deck the Hallmark’ holiday revue

“Deck the Hallmark: A Greeting Card Channel Original” pokes fun at the genre that has grown ever so popular in recent years.

Shelby Plummer (front row, from left), Henrik Blix, George Elrod, and (back row) Jess DeBacco and Rob Grabowski in “Deck the Hallmark: A Greeting Card Channel Original” at Second City.
Shelby Plummer (front row, from left), Henrik Blix, George Elrod, and (back row) Jess DeBacco and Rob Grabowski in “Deck the Hallmark: A Greeting Card Channel Original” at Second City.
Timothy M. Schmidt

When December rolls around, there is only one Christmas movie that matters to Chicago actress/writer Carisa Barreca. It’s not the Charles Dickens classic “A Christmas Carol” or the Frank Capra masterpiece “It’s A Wonderful Life.” It’s not even the 1964 stop motion piece de resistance “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer.”

Barreca’s holiday essential is in fact a made-for-TV flop called “A Christmas Wedding,” starring the affable Dean Cain and Sarah Paulson, which was developed for the Liftetime network in 2006. The movie centers around Paulson’s main character who leaves to go on a business trip and gets stuck at an airport and tries to make it back home in time for her big day.

“That’s the entire plot of the movie — literally nothing else happens. It’s the worst-best movie I’ve ever seen in my life, and I just have to watch it every year,” says Barreca. The long-time Second City writer/performer is so inspired by the movie and others of its low-hanging ilk that she and fellow scribe/show director Anneliese Toft (along with writers Kelsey Kinney and Adam Schrek) pitched the idea of a holiday movie parody for the comedy club’s annual festive revue.

“Deck the Hallmark: A Greeting Card Channel Original” pokes fun at the genre that has grown ever so popular in recent years. The “It’s A Wonderful Lifetime” series on the LMN network now offers 24/7 programming with such gems as “Mistletoes & Menorahs” and “Christmas A La Mode,” while tech company CenturyLinkQuote made recent headlines for taking applications to hire a qualified individual to watch 24 Hallmark Channel originals including “Check Inn To Christmas” and “The Mistletoe Secret” by Christmas Day, earning $1,000 in the process.

“The storylines all have this very specific and repeat formula. We know exactly what’s going to happen to the big city gal when she goes back to the country and all the hijinks that will ensue. I mean, did you know there are two separate movies out there about a woman getting trapped in a snow globe? But yet still there’s still this huge audience that can’t stop watching them — including me,” says Barreca who admits to devising drinking games with friends for at-home screenings.

Toft assures, “The best part about this show is if you have never seen one of these movies, you can still love the revue if you are even slightly aware of pop culture. We have deep-cut references if that is what you are looking for, but if you have ever seen a rom-com in your life you’ll be prepared.”

Henrik Blix, Rob Grabowski, George Elrod, Bri Fitzpatrick, Jess DeBacco and Shelby Plummer in a scene from Second City’s holiday revue, “Deck the Hallmark: A Greeting Card Channel Original.”
Henrik Blix, Rob Grabowski, George Elrod, Bri Fitzpatrick, Jess DeBacco and Shelby Plummer in a scene from Second City’s holiday revue, “Deck the Hallmark: A Greeting Card Channel Original.”
Timothy M. Schmidt

The show features a throwaway reference to Hallmark Channel darling-turned-alleged-college-admissions-scammer Lori Loughlin, a father figure character based on eternal TV movie favorite Wilford Brimley, and of course a Dean Cain prototype. “He’s the quintessential Hallmark Hunk. We couldn’t leave him out,” says Barreca.

“Deck The Hallmark” is a different format for the normally sketch-heavy Second City. “It’s actually a full narrative with a plot,” says Toft of the two-act show. “There are still some improv elements woven in, but it’s really exciting because we were able to write in a new way almost like a play. And with that, we were able to spend time making fun of the problems of the genre in a satirical way,” Toft adds. “I don’t want the movies to get smarter; I want us to get smarter while watching them.”

The show’s story centers around Holly Sweetberry who was recently promoted at her job and has become engaged to her big-city boyfriend, but the magic ends when she has to return to her long-ago-abandoned hometown to deliver a message. “Will songs be sung? Will a winter festival be thrown? Will the cookie-cutter characters be missing any semblance of a backstory?” the program teases. “We also have a mystical taxi driver who has a secret, but we don’t want to give anything away,” says Toft.

The show, running through Dec. 31, will end the citywide Year Of Theater initiative in 2019 and comes on the heels of The Second City’s 60th anniversary, a milestone not lost on the two comics.

“We both started here right after the 50th anniversary, and now it’s another moment for us to take in this institution where all our heroes came from. When you first step out on one of these stages, in the footsteps of these people, you realize what a dream it is to be here,” says Barreca. As for her next big dream, she doesn’t hesitate: “Hallmark, let us write your next movie!”

Selena Fragassi is a local freelance writer.