This close to Christmas, most people aren't looking for any surprises, and aren't willing to settle for anything less than heartwarming good cheer. Not, at least, in CBS' older-skewing demographic, which is pandered to quite nicely in sentimental, romantic drama "I'll Be Home for Christmas."

This close to Christmas, most people aren’t looking for any surprises, and aren’t willing to settle for anything less than heartwarming good cheer. Not, at least, in CBS’ older-skewing demographic, which is pandered to quite nicely in sentimental, romantic drama “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”

It’s nearing Christmas in the little town of St. Nicholas, and the mayor faces a crisis: The local doctor has died, and the community’s hospital (!) faces closure unless a replacement can be recruited. The search has not been going well: A candidate from Nome, Alaska, rejects St. Nicholas (somewhere South of Minneapolis, evidently) as being “too remote.” The ideal candidate was born and raised in St. Nicholas, but moved away 20 years earlier.

Not only did he break the heart of his then-fiancee — now the mayor — but he got married.

The still-unmarried mayor, Sarah, is also the town veterinarian and played by Ann Jillian. The wayward and now-widowed sawbones, Michael (Robert Hays), has a cute, precocious pre-teen daughter (Ashley Gorrell). Even she sees the end of this one coming by the time she spots Mayor Sarah. Only Mike fails to see the inevitable, until moments from the pic’s end.

The details here make the movie. Jillian’s performance is top-notch, as are those by Hays, Gorrell and — as the Hays character’s father — Jack Palance. The St. Nicholas Town Square, all lit up for Christmas, is a nice job by production designer Rolf Harvey, and there’s a family of pigs cute enough to cause a viewer to swear off bacon for a day or two.

Darrah Cloud’s script takes a shot at HMOs (nobody here likes them) without explaining how St. Nicholas’ hospital is financed without them — the former doctor often bartered for poultry, though the hospital seems better-equipped than the average chicken coop.

If there’s any doubt about who’s the star here, take a look at Jillian, all decked out for the season in bright red, while the rest of St. Nicholas’ townspeople dodder about the tree-lighting ceremony in dark earth tones.

I'll Be Home for Christmas

Tues. (23), 9-11 p.m., CBS

Production

Filmed in Toronto by Jaffe Braunstein Films. Executive producers, Michael Jaffe, Howard Braunstein, Darrah Cloud; producer, Susan Murdoch; director, Jerry London; script, Cloud.

Crew

Camera, Dennis Lewiston; editor, Stephen Lawrence; production design, Rolf Harvey; sound, Tom Mather; music, Geoff Levin; casting, Shana Landsburg, Deirdre Bowen.

Cast

Cast: Ann Jillian, Robert Hays, Jack Palance, Tom Harvey, Linda Sorenson, Eric Peterson, Ashley Gorrell, Jack Jessop, Bernard Behrens, Yvonne Moore, Drew Coombs, Stan Coles, Joan Heney, Frances Hyland, Magaret Wright, Boyd Banks, Ralph Small, Diego Matamoros, Diane Douglas, Michael Vollans, Peggy Coffey, Colleen Williams.
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