The Holiday Sitter is Hallmark’s first gay holiday romcom. A big city business man falls for a small-town hunk while babysitting his niece and nephew. Jonathan Bennett mugs like he’s channeling Lucille Ball. George Krissa underplays the guarded love interest. They balance each other nicely. The screenplay briefly acknowledges that gay men’s experiences lie outside Hallmark’s hetero-normative fantasies. I wish it dug a little deeper. But Hallmark knows telling a queer story is inherently a risk. So, they’ve kept everything else close to formula.
Let’s break it down in a spoiler filled recap.
Adventures in Baby Sitting
Scene One: Last Resort
JONATHAN BENNETT: I’m a Big City gay who’s afraid of kids.
JUDGEY SISTER: I need you to babysit my kids while I adopt a new baby! You’re single so you have no responsibilities!
BENNETT: But I was going to spend Christmas in Hawaii! (Bugs out his eyes.)
Scene Two: The Kids Ask for Reasonable Things
NIECE: I want vegan pancakes!
BENNETT: But I can’t cook! (Sets the stove on fire.)
NEPHEW: I want to audition for the Christmas play to impress a girl.
BENNETT: Nobody’s impressed by Christmas plays. (Makes a face.)
BENNETT: Stop trying to make fetch happen!
(The dog leaps on him. He falls into the Christmas Tree, knocking it over. Studio audience laughs.)
HOT NEIGHBOR: There there. I’ll make pancakes, take the boy to the audition and fix the tree.
BENNETT: Gawrsh. Let me pay you to babysit. My sister should have done that in the first place.
Scene Three: Romance
HOT NEIGHBOR: I’m going to adopt a baby.
BENNETT: Gross. I mean… Good for you?
HOT NEIGHBOR: You’re just like the shallow guys I met when I lived in the Big City. (Thunder crash.)
BENNETT: I’ll prove you wrong. Niece? It’s okay that you resent the new baby. I used to resent your mom. Nephew? I’ll give you acting lessons. Bug out your eyes and talk REALLY LOUD LIKE THIS!
NIECE and NEPHEW: Thank you Uncle Bennett!
HOT NEIGHBOR: Aww.
(Bennett and Hot Neighbor almost kiss. But are interrupted by…)
Scene Four: Arbitrary Break Up
JUDGEY SISTER: I’m back! And I’ve got the new baby!
BENNETT: Swell. Now I can hop on the plane to Hawaii.
JUDGEY SISTER: You don’t want to spend Christmas with your FAMILY!?
HOT NEIGHBOR: YOU MONSTER!
BENNETT: Here’s your babysitting money.
HOT NEIGHBOR: Keep it. I’m not your whore. (Storms Off)
Scene Five: Reconciliation
JUDGEY SISTER: So why do you keep avoiding your family?
BENNETT: How honest should I be?
JUDGEY SISTER: Don’t say anything that will make Hallmark subscribers feel bad.
BENNETT: Let’s just say that gay men of my generation were told they couldn’t have a husband and kids. I thought the answer was no. But now, for the first time, I feel like the answer is… maybe.
HOT NEIGHBOR: Maybe? That’s good enough for me.
(Bennett and Hot Neighbor share two surprisingly intense kisses. Their families cheer!?)
Paving the Way
In 2020 multiple networks produced queer holiday romcoms. Hulu’s Happiest Season made the biggest splash with its starry cast and emotionally abusive characters. Hallmark stuck their toe in with The Christmas House. A film about a straight man reconnecting with his ex-girlfriend and his gay brother (Jonathan Bennett). Ratings were positive so a sequel was produced. The Christmas House 2: Deck Those Halls saw the siblings competing on a reality show. The contest sparked the gay sibling’s velvet rage. He confessed that he felt his straight suburban relatives and neighbors were always looking down on him.
The Holiday Sitter is a harmless romcom. It’s also part of a larger conversation about the limits of assimilation. Bennett will be embraced if he settles down with the hot neighbor, raises a baby and directs a Christmas play or two. But look at how harshly folks treat him if he steps out of line. A kitchen fire becomes the joke of the town. When his new in-laws learn he wanted to spend Christmas in Hawaii they behave as if he’d just shared his Grindr profile. Some boundaries will need to be established for the sake of his sanity. In truth, he’s being treated as poorly as independent career women are by this channel. Love wins?
When you score Christmas romcoms you’re grading on a curve. I’d rank The Holiday Sitter above the offensive Single All the Way, the dour Dashing in December and the tedious A Christmas to Treasure. It sits comfortably alongside Lifetime’s The Christmas Setup.
For more Hallmark recaps check out Afropig’s fantastic Hallmark Countdown to Christmas series. You can find more of my reviews on The Avocado, Letterboxd and Serializd. My podcast, Rainbow Colored Glasses, can be found here.