It’s a story as old as the hills where it’s set, and that’s A-OK when you want some down home, feel-good holiday viewing.
By Jason Hink
Our friends at Mill Creek Entertainment are distributing on DVD the 2015 made-for-TV movie Christmas in the Smokies from Imagicomm Entertainment and INSP Films. The country-set holiday story stars a bevy of friendly, familiar TV faces, including Sarah Lancaster, Alan Powell, Barry Corbin, Rebecca Koon, Gregory Alan Williams and Jill Wagner. At 88 minutes, this sweet-hearted Christmas tale won’t make you think too hard…which is exactly how I like it when sluggin’ down that quart of eggnog.
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In the picturesque Smoky Mountains, hard headed, sexy 30-something Shelby Haygood (Sarah Lancaster) holds down the fort at home, living in the same house she grew up in with her aging parents, helping take care of the family berry farm. Lingering in her thoughts is her childhood crush, Mason Wyatt (Alan Powell), who left town one night when they were teenagers and never called and never wrote—and was never heard from again.
But Shelby has larger, grownup issues to deal with. The family berry farm is facing foreclosure. The Haygoods have been through it all before, and Shelby knows how to deal with the banks. But this time is different—a slimy, greedy developer (Brett Rice) has been buying up all the surrounding land, and he can’t wait to sack the Haygood’s berry farm to turn it into a shopping center or some other pie-in-the-sky moneymaker. With the town council—led by company store owner-slash-mayor Bud Walker (Gregory Alan Williams)—feeling the heat and succumbing to the local sellout fever, Shelby has to play hardball if she’s to find a way to save the farm and keep her parents (Barry Corbin, Rebecca Koon) from spending their final years in a trailer park.
Thankfully, Shelby’s teenage crush, Mason, has returned to town for a fundraiser. He’s able to help those in need raise funds because, after he split town all those years ago, he became a country music singer. And while not a superstar, he’s had some success in his music career—enough to bring out the entire town to watch him dance like an idiot on a local cable access show for charity. Shelby wants nothing to do with him after his ditching her all those years ago, but when she dreams up a plan to utilize Mason’s notoriety for another fundraiser, maybe, just maybe the family farm can be saved after all. Think you can guess how this one ends?
Christmas in the Smokies isn’t the most original or inventive holiday film to hit cable TV and the video store shelves (do those exist anymore?), but director Gary Wheeler does a good job of playing up the strengths of his ready-for-primetime TV cast. Sarah Lancaster, best know for her role as Ellie on the TV series Chuck (as well as scoring roles on Everwood and Saved By the Bell: The New Class), looks fantastic as the headstrong, take-charge daughter tasked with looking after both the family business and her aging parents.
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And her parents are a hoot! Barry Corbin (TV’s Northern Exposure, Yellowstone) is all smalltown-country charm as the Haygood patriarch, spinning yarns, cracking jokes and finding inspiration in his Christian faith without overdoing it. Fellow old-timer Rebecca Koon (TV’s I’ll Fly Away, The Walking Dead, 2004’s The Notebook) knits and aw-shucks her way through the sun-kissed, rural story, keeping pops in line when he goes overboard inviting Mason over for dinner, low-key trying to rekindle his daughter’s romance whether she wants it not.
Alan Powell is solid as the mid-to-low level country crooner Mason Wyatt…and he’s perfect for the part: he’s an accomplished musician in real life! Powell, who had a major role on the ABC series Quantico, is also the co-founder of production house Monarch Media in Los Angeles, and has some writing and producing credits under his belt to go along with his acting.
Old pro Gregory Alan Williams (TV’s Baywatch) is right at home as the kindly company store owner and town mayor, and Brett Rice (Forest Gump, Remember the Titans) is pure, over-the-top fun as the slimy Baxter, the city-slickin’ developer buying up all the land in town. The lovely Jill Wagner (lots of reality TV co-hosting on shows like Punk’d and Hell’s Kitchen, tons of Hallmark movies) is sort of wasted in her small role as Shelby’s friend, but still makes an impression. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention actress Bethany DeZelle; her short, hilarious scene as a starstruck waitress who can’t quite get it together when faced with serving Mason Wyatt at the local greasy spoon had me in stitches.
Christmas in the Smokies has a few issues that can leave a viewer scratching their head. One complaint I saw more than once was why someone as strong-headed and beautiful as Shelby has spent the past two decades pining after a dude that left her when she was 15. (If I were a betting man, I’d say it’s because Mason’s a successful country music star! Why else?) And that sort-of twist ending seems a bit out of place (I would’ve skipped the twist and went with the expected, but I’m also drunk on spiked nog). Overall, it plays like a lot of what you’ve seen on countless Hallmark movies, many of which feature these very same actors.
But Christmas in the Smokies didn’t air on Hallmark. It aired on cable and satellite network INSP, which I don’t know much about. The network’s slogan, according to its website, is, “Heroes live here.” Co-written by director Wheeler and Richard Clark, Jr., Christmas in the Smokies is an INSP Films production that likely aired as a Christmastime exclusive back in 2015.
Special features on the DVD include some short behind-the-scenes footage and cast interviews along with a trailer. The film is presented in its 1.78:1 widescreen aspect ratio. For a standard definition disc, the image and audio looked just fine on my 65-inch living room television, and even better on my 40-inch bedroom set.
It’s schmaltzy, gooey and predictable, but sometimes that’s exactly what I want during the holidays—a familiar, feel-good vibe to share with the family for 90 minutes before going back to our regular, hectic lives. Christmas in the Smokies fits the bill just fine.