When Calls the Heart, Season 6 (Series Review)

We don’t speak of her anymore

Plot Summary

And once again we return to the fake small town known as Hope Valley for another fruitless season of people living in the dream world crafted by the series creators. Hardly anybody remembers Jack the Mountie anymore except for the fact that he and Elizabeth were married long enough to produce an instant child who’s coincidentally named after him. While Daniel Lissing willingly left the show, which was last season’s biggest news, Lori Loughlin was literally handcuffed, removed, and totally scrubbed from the show. The shadow of her scandal looms over the sixth season, especially with how Hallmark mishandled the whole ordeal and drew unnecessary attention to the problems. As a whole, Abigail’s awkward exit from the show and the subsequent complete rewrite of the show is the most interesting things that happened, but why are we not surprised? Michael Landon Jr. always planned to subject Erin Krakow to his favorite young-widow-starts-sort-of-dating-again treatment as he always has, so there’s nothing left to do but once again point out the same old flaws this series commits and count down the minutes for the Hearties to descend on my little blog post to vehemently defend all things wholesome in the face of such heartless (lol) criticism.

Production Quality (2 points)
What’s a Hallmark production without the same carbon-copy lineup of good camera work and video quality, acceptable audio quality, and that predictable, nauseatingly bubbly soundtrack? When Calls the Heart part VI checks all the proverbial boxes in this category, and it’s getting very difficult to differentiate any of the seasons from each other (except for the first two). Hope Valley still consists of the same old sets, locations, and props that are no doubt re-purposed for other Hallmark productions and are designed to make the audience believe this is a real Western town. Also, there’s still that tiny forest area Bill goes to dramatically reveal another part of his vastly complex yet noticeably cagey backstory. The only complaint for this section (besides their doing the same thing with no noticeable changes or improvements) is that we still don’t have a set for the beauty salon where the female characters get their hair done (although we might have gotten a quick glimpse at it in the finale).

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)
As we’ve said before, ever Hamilton took over Hope Valley, nothing has ever been the same. We just get the same old helium-infused characters spinning in circles as they retrace old plots steps over and over again. The only chances we have to get outside of the Hope Valley crossroads are Bill’s forest trips to tell us another part of his ever-fluctuating history, but now that we have a new Mountie, I guess we’ll have some trips to that bridge or something. Elsewhere, Elizabeth keeps us wondering why she’s even still in the series as her heart (lol) is passed around like a football and only exists for Michael Landon Jr. and company to continue their fetish of pairing a woman with a law enforcement character just long enough for her to get pregnant before killing said man near the end of the movie\series or even in between installments. Seriously, how is Elizabeth and Lucas vs Nathan any different from Charles vs Jack (except that Marcus Rosner was an essential addition to the show yet was stolen from us)? Elsewhere, the town is littered with many empty-minded side romances that they desperately want us to care about (although Aren Buchholz is quickly becoming one of the most important aspects of the entire series). Even Rosemary is losing her luster as a satirical comic relief who reminds us how un-serious the whole ordeal is as the writers are muting her character to go all dark and brooding because of [WHOOPS SPOILER]. And then there’s that whole situation with Abigail. Ironically, just before Lori Loughlin was led away by the police, her character made a hilariously funny reference to how Bill needed to bring some random bad guy to justice, and this is definitely the defining moment of the entire season. Loughlin’s scandalous shadow looms large over the poor town; even after the writers awkwardly tried to erase her from the universe’s memories, everything was clunky following the hiatus. Subplots awkwardly start and stop with no real conclusions. Scenes between Elizabeth and Lucas seem directly copied from Beauty and the Beast (yes, he gave her a library). Gowen is as uneven as ever (seriously, what do the writers expect from him at this point?). They all seem lost without Abigail to guide them in their everyday lives, but alas, she and Cody (awwww he left too!) has bigger fish to fry in court “back east.” Thus, with nothing really new to say here besides the same garbage we’ve seen from the past two indiscernible seasons, Hearties only have this incoherent stream of consciousness to parse through as they rush from Facebook to “own” the author of this post with zingers better suited for a clickbait news site.

Acting Quality (0 points)
For the most part, the acting of this season is as sappy as ever, but there are a handful of instances, especially near the end, that feel very muted and more scripted than usual. This is no doubt that this is due to some of the redone footage after Loughlin’s untimely exit, and the cast members were likely just emotionally distraught over her absence. Overall, there’s really nothing new to write home about (although Elizabeth does quite a bit of writing these days), and this section is award no points because we expect better than this after six seasons.

Continuity Quality (0 points)
As previously mentioned, some of this season’s subplots seem to disappear from the writing with no warning, which is a likely byproduct of the rework done following Loughlin’s arrest. Otherwise, it’s just typical plug and play romances as the writers introduce one after another to the point where you can’t hardly tell the different between them. Also, as a side note, at least a third of the subplots in season six relate in some way to the upcoming summer spinoff show When Hope Calls, which is possibly where many characters will escape to once When Calls the Heart finally runs out of steam.

Conclusion

Oh yeah, so there’s a seventh season coming up. MLJ has at least two more seasons to use Elizabeth’s indecisiveness and lack of personality as a carrot to dangle in front of his rabid fans, but sooner or later, they’ll get tired of this song and dance. With Loughlin’s scandal-ridden exit, this series is already running on fumes and has only been sustained by constant romance bait-and-switch. I mean, is anybody the least bit annoyed with how they treat Elizabeth? Anyhow, this has been another WCTH review from your favorite reviewer in which I didn’t talk about much substantial and just sort of rambled on about random things I thought of while I binge-watched this season. Begin commenting now……………………….

Final Rating: 2 out of 14 points

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When Calls the Heart, Season 5 (Series Review)

Why are we still here?

Plot Summary

When Constable Jack Thornton returns from the North back to the nice little town of Hope Valley, everyone expects him to finally marry Elizabeth Thatcher, which the series has been building up for way too many seasons now.  Thus, the TV couple finally ties the knot and is married long enough for Elizabeth to get pregnant, and Michael Landon Jr. and company follow this up by the long-awaited and long-expected death of the male lead, which leaves Elizabeth (shockingly) free to love again.  Elsewhere in Hope Valley, the other characters are doing the same things they always did with no significant alterations in their character arcs (except Jesse is a good guy now or something like that), but when you have a rabid fan base and unlimited season renewals, why would you try anything creative as a writer?

 

Production Quality (2.5 points)

If anything improved in this season of When Calls the Heart, it’s that the production got slightly better.  Video quality is still crisp, and camera work is still professional, but the sets and locations seem to have improved somewhat.  Props are pretty much the same old stuff.  The soundtrack is that same recycled and very tired and uncreative score that can be found in pretty much any other Hallmark production.  Further, the editing is pretty standard in Season 5, and overall, there’s not much keeping this production from being nearly perfect (except for the soundtrack), which shows you that it pays to have a good budget.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

What was Season 4 about?  I already forgot.  The railroad?  Anyways, I challenge any Heartie to tell me what Season 5 is actually about except for completing Michael Landon Jr.’s favorite romantic chase storyline with the female lead’s marriage, pregnancy, and eventual husband’s death.  Shocking turn of events, I know.  Well, Hearties can be consoled that Michael Landon Jr. is known for rebuilding the romantic chase for the young widow by introducing a new love interest later in the series.  By killing off Jack and freeing Daniel Lissing from this nonsense, Landon Jr. and company opened up a whole new world of storylines to pursue for at least three or four or five more seasons, so you can rest easy!

Acting Quality (1 point)

Are we still here?  These same old tired cast members are still old and tired.  Erin Krakow, Lori Loughlin, Daniel Lissing, Kevan Smith, Pascale Hutton, et al. haven’t changed much since last season.  Michael Landon Jr.’s approach to casting, acting, and makeup is no better than it’s always been.  However, there are a few bright spots from some of the peripheral cast members that keep this section from being zero.  Nevertheless, most of Landon Jr.’s casting work seems like a plastic surgery pageant.

Continuity Quality (1 point)

At least this season creates a story arc that is somewhat interesting, which is the loss of Jack.  It was really the only card this show had left to play, so now this move opens up a whole new world of plot possibilities.  However, I don’t expect many of them to be any good.

 

Conclusion

As I predicted months ago, after wasting away at least two seasons kicking the can down the road ad nauseum and trolling with his typically pageantry and empty characters that are ripped off from a Janette Oke novel series that doesn’t even remotely resemble the dollhouse show this series has become, Michael Landon Jr. has finally come full circle with his favorite storyline of all: the young widow plot.  As can be seen throughout the Love Comes Softly series, including Love Comes Softly and Love’s Unending Legacy, Landon Jr. is infatuated with the chase of a romance, but once the couple marries and has some kids, it’s time to kill off the husband between movies and introduce a new romantic chase for the young widow.  It’s no surprise to see the long overdue exit of Jack Thornton from this series, especially since Daniel Lissing probably has better things to do.  Expect next season to introduce Elizabeth’s new love interest and her new chase after the grief has subsided (please bring back Charles).  Also, since we’re going to keep mindless renewing this troll-fest, let’s go ahead and experiment with some other cast members this show needs right now.  I vote for Erik Estrada, Morgan Fairchild, Kris Kristofferson, and Corbin Bernsen, to name a few.  Cast-member-guessing is the only thing keeping this show interesting at this point.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 14 points

 

Hope Island, Season 1 (Series Review)

Plot Summary

As penance for his past indiscretions, Revered Daniel Cooper is sentenced to take over a small church on the small island community of Hope Island, off the coast of the northwestern United States.  Though skeptical at first, he finds a charming town of quirky people who accept him with open arms.  The days on Hope Island are not without intrigue and conflict, but at the end of the day, they all like each other and everything stays pretty much the same all the time.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

As a late 90s\early 2000s production, Hope Island can look archaic at times, but it’s not all bad.  On paper, the production is fine, including good video quality, camera work, and audio quality.  The soundtrack leaves something to be desired, however, and there are some dumb sound effects used throughout.  The opening sequence is long and boring, and most of the flashbacks have a very strange and almost un-watchable quality about them.  Further, the editing is pretty standard, and overall, this production is just above average.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

It’s really no surprise this vaguely Christian series on the old PAX channel didn’t get renewed.  It contains nothing creative and settles for many predictable small-town concepts, elements, subplots, characters, and tropes.  The storylines therein are very safe and pedestrian as each character fits perfectly into their molds: the main character with a secret past who comes to a new area for a new start, his obvious love interest (who doubles as the diner character) who doesn’t like him at first, the young white couple whose relationship we’re supposed to be interested in, the quirky self-seeking schemer and his clueless sidekick, and all those one-episode characters who appear only once in over twenty episodes, even though this is a tiny island with a couple hundred people on it.  Besides this, there are far too many attempts at comedy that aren’t even funny and are actually quite juvenile.  Also, there are some odd attempts at ‘edgy’ content that fall completely flat and feel out of place and desperate.  Christian themes are only used when convenient, and conflicts are easily resolved with coincidences and convenient turns.  Unfortunately, there’s not much good to note here.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

As a professional cast, these cast members are mostly fine and typical.  However, they have some odd, head-scratching moments at times.  Other times, they are too awkward, especially when they are trying too hard to be funny.  However, there are enough good moments here to make this section average.

Continuity Quality (0 points)

Hope Island follows the predetermined inspirational series formula that rolls out one thing after the next.  Each episode is its own 45-minute bubble of time that has little effect on the following episode and receives little effect from the previous episode, except for the predictable romantic subplot arcs, which are the only notable story or characters arcs present here.  This series is basically a collection of shallow conflicts that are introduced and quickly resolved and never mentioned again, thus not warranting any points in this section.

Conclusion

PAX was trying to blaze new trails in Christian\inspirational made-for-TV entertainment before UP existed and before Hallmark rebranded themselves as a plastic dollhouse.  Now PAX has turned into that absurd channel called ION and has even more laughable content than Hallmark.  Hope Island is a microcosm of the late 90s\early 2000s attempts at mainstream Christian content that didn’t work out, not only because of its split personality of trying to please two different audiences or because of its underwhelming production and acting quality, but mostly because it’s so boring.  It was hard enough to sit through over twenty episodes of this; I can’t even imagine what another season would be like.  Alas, we never saw another season, which is a blessing.  Now, as I continually say, it’s time for a real, truly quality Christian series to be made.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 14 points

 

A Time to Dance [2016] (Movie Review)

Why are we even here?

Plot Summary

Abby and John fell in love in high school, went to college together, got married, and came back to the small town where they grew up.  They raised a family together, but now they are growing apart.  They are ready to file for divorce when their daughter comes home from college suddenly engaged to her boyfriend.  Not wanting to spoil her time, they decide to hold off until she gets married.  However, Abby’s father uses this time to step into their business to find out what’s really going on between them.  Forced to work together for their daughter’s wedding, Abby and John begin to relive why they fell in love in the first place.  But they must rekindle their romance before time runs out.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Not to be deterred from their endless factory model of manufacturing inspirational films ripped off from popular authors, Hallmark always spends the money on production quality.  Clear video quality is evident, as is professional camera work.  Audio quality is consistent throughout, but there’s the ever present generic melancholy-serene Hallmark soundtrack to listen to throughout the scenes.  While the sets and locations seem above board, they are actually quite limited and dressed up to have that ‘magical’ Hallmark look.  As will be expounded upon shortly, the editing is lazy and sloppy, leaving the viewer with a half-effort plot.  In other words, A Time to Dance is business as usual for Hallmark.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Anything good about this plot can be credited to Karen Kingsbury, not Hallmark.  The otherwise interesting novel A Time to Dance has officially been #Hallmarked.  What was an intriguing plot about a highly pertinent issue facing many Christians—namely broken marriages—has been transformed into a mellow and boring snoozefest full of the typical Hallmark emptiness and the unrealistic fairy tale alternate realities.  Complete with cardboard characters that spew obvious dialogue designed to drive the plot along, viewers who choose to watch this disaster will be dragged out over a nearly one hundred minute runtime of melancholy delay of the inevitable just to have the so-called conflict resolved in five minutes or less.  The conflicts therein are extremely empty, as are the relationships between the characters.  We can’t appreciate or understand anything they’re going through because it doesn’t seem real.  There is far more telling than showing; for example, we are told about things that happen off screen or are informed of things that happened in the past rather than being provided with a flashback.  Also, the Christian message is very manufactured and plastic.  I could go on and on, but the same old truth remains: Hallmark has no regard for preserving good plot ideas, they only care about making money.

Acting Quality (0 points)

What else is new?  The acting is forced and stiff.  Line delivery is very awkward and sometime monotone; emotions are almost nonexistent.  As usual, every cast member has far too much makeup and look like either washed up wannabes or desperate wannabes.  The Hallmark acting rule is to throw a bunch of big names in the film so the commercials will catch people’s attention but to do nothing to actually coach them.  But at this point, we don’t expect anything different.

Conclusion

Hallmark has a real chance to bring great Christian novels to life.  They have the resources, they have the connections, and they have the marketing to do this well.  But instead, they settle for half-measures to improve their profit margins.  People desperately want to see wholesome entertainment, and Hallmark claims to provide this, but they are short on delivering it.  A Time to Dance could have been an inspiring Christian film on an important topic, but instead, it just became another forgettable show of Hallmark pageantry.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

 

The Bridge, Part 2 [2016] (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Seven years after her father’s secret manipulation of her relationship with Ryan Kelly, Molly Callens transfers away from Franklin, Tennessee, finishes her college degree, and joins her father’s company and prepares to become its CEO.  Meanwhile, Ryan travels the country as a successful backup musician.  In Franklin, Donna and Charlie find themselves faced with financial ruin when storm damage threatens to take The Bridge away from them forever.  Then they are hit with an even worse tragedy, causing them to reach out to everyone whose lives they’ve touched.  This prompts Ryan and Molly to return to Franklin and reunite with a common goal: to save The Bridge.  Little do they know that their relationship might be rekindled too, even seven years later.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

There is a marked improvement in production quality from Part 1 to Part 2.  The camera work improves; it seems like more time was spent on it.  The sets are not as limited, but there are still excessive Christmas decorations everywhere.  However, the musical score is no better and the editing is still below par.  Time is better utilized in Part 2, but it still feels like important things have been discarded for the sake of typical Hallmark elements.  Overall, The Bridge, Part 2 is back to usual Hallmark production quality, but no better than that.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

Writing a second part seven years later is an interesting concept, but it’s not presented properly.  Why did it have to be seven years?  Why not three, just enough for Molly to finish school?  It seems like everything except Molly’s schooling and Ryan’s musical career was paused during the seven year lull.  How did Molly and Ryan never ever discuss their falling out during those years, or even re-think their relationship?  Nevertheless, Part 1 ends with Christmas, and viewers are transported seven years later—to another Christmas!  Thus, this plot is littered with trite Christmas concepts.  The Christian message is only slightly more pronounced than before.  Since no character development was attempted in Part 1, the characters cannot be appreciated in Part 2.  The dialogue is still wooden and robotic.  The characters are still swept along by circumstances rather than affect their circumstances with their personality-driven choices.  The Bridge quickly descends into the typical save-the-bed-and-breakfast plot and rushes to an expected conclusion.  But even with that, the inevitable end of the plot is quite understated and confusing.  In short, this plot once again has some potential that is washed away in a tide of Hallmark nonsense.

Acting Quality (.5 point)

One consolation here is that the helium from the previous installment has been discarded and replaced with typical amateurish acting.  Line delivery is still robotic and forced and emotions are still not felt, but there is slight overall improvement.  However, there are still makeup problems and too much costuming.  In short, an all-too-common Hallmark casting performance.

Conclusion

As another aside, was it necessary to play Part 2 on Easter 2016 when there are still overt Christmas themes?  Why not play both of them in December 2015?  Where Part 1 was rushing to get to Part 2, the latter part is business as usual for Hallmark.  Karen Kingsbury’s talent as an author is lost in this two-part disaster, all thanks to Hallmark.  Some may criticize us for being so hard on this inspirational entertainment network, but their commitment to fakeness and fantasy over reality cannot be ignored.  With the amount of money they spend on movies per year, they should be turning out some serious quality content.  We can only imagine what quality movie creators like the Kendrick brothers, the Erwin Brothers, or the Burns Family especially could do with a three-hour two-part movie.  It’s highly likely that a large network like Hallmark will never pay any attention to these meager blog posts, but we continue our clarion call to the Christian movie culture nonetheless: produce quality and creativity that’s better than the mainstream, not the same old thing over and over again.

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

 

The Bridge, Part 1 [2015] (Movie Review)

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Plot Summary

Following a tragic personal loss, Charlie and Donna Barton are driven to pursue their dream: owning and operating a bed and breakfast.  They lease a beautiful property and begin renovating it and open it for business, calling it The Bridge.  They seek to make personal connections with their customers through hospitality and real books.  The Bartons are able to see many personal stories unfold, including the developing love between Molly Callens and Ryan Kelly.  Though Molly and Ryan are from very different worlds, they find common ground in making future goals and in discovering their true purposes in life.  As they grow closer together, little do they know that their relationship is about to be tested to its fullest.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

Hallmark is usually known for their high production quality, but corners were obviously cut in The Bridge, Part 1.  For starters, there is far too much soft lens camera used, like they are trying to cover up things.  This only lends to the overall plastic feel of the film.  However, there is some good camera work that mostly saves the production from being horrible.  The sets are severely limited, only showing The Bridge over and over again, a couple of house and outside scenes, and that old truck.  The editing is very confusing, dropping viewers in the middle of circumstances with no explanation.  The 90 minutes of runtime are very poorly utilized.  The Bridge also makes use of Hallmark’s most annoyingly loud soundtrack.  In short, this film was obviously thrown together just for the sake of making it.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)

The Bridge is not up to par with a typical Karen Kingsbury plot, and it can be understood why, since the movie departs from the original book concepts.  In this forced two-part movie, there is far too much repetition.  With 90 minutes to work with, the characters should be very deep and believable.  They are not.  Rather than being authentic, they are swept along by the plot without any control over their circumstances.  They make unexplained decisions, such as poor communication at convenient times, and are affected by coincidences just to extend the plot.  Besides this, the characters have a strange obsession with The Bridge and the Bartons have an unexplained perceptiveness.  The Christian message is watered down and replaced with trite Christmas superstitions and a crusade against ‘downloads’.  The only consolation in Part 1 is that there is a small amount of potential in the plot concept, yet it is squandered.  The end makes no sense and is anti-climactic, thus making this entire movie a waste of time.

Acting Quality (0 points)

Hallmark has coached some infamous casts before, but this collection takes the cake.  Filled with overly syrupy happiness, the actors and actresses seem like they are snorting helium.  With constant overdone smiling, they robotically deliver their lines with no emotion.  This is not to mention the very amateurish makeup jobs.  There is really nothing good to say here.

Conclusion

We maintain that Hallmark contacted popular Christian author Karen Kingsbury and instructed her to write a plot that closely follows the mindless romance storyline they are so deeply obsessed with.  Hallmark essentially used Kingsbury’s popularity among Christians to spin out another two-part movie about their typical themes.  They are obviously convinced that their audience constantly wants to see mindless romances time and again.  This movie was forced to be two parts, thus totaling up three hours of runtime, which was totally washed down the drain.  Karen Kingsbury is not at fault here—this is just another typical Hallmark disaster.

 

Final Rating: 1.5 out of 10 points