In what’s surely a sign of our TV times, the third in a trilogy of holiday movies based on works by author Donna Van Liere lands not on CBS — which aired the first two — but at Lifetime Movie Network, which will package “The Christmas Hope” with encores of “The Christmas Shoes” and “The Christmas Blessing.” The cable channel is thus assured of treating its viewers to a stocking full of yuletide schmaltz with a hard-to-resist emotional hook about coping, grief and loss, and the comforting presence of Madeleine Stowe and James Remar.
Stowe plays Patti Addison, a social worker still emotionally scarred by the death of her teenage son, which has driven a wedge into her marriage and inspired husband Mark, an airline pilot, to seek refuge from their chilly household in the friendly skies. After a short intro, she reluctantly takes in young Emily (Tori Barban), whose mother gets run over by a car, reminding us that holiday movies can be awfully rough on families.
Mark and Patti instantly recognize that having Emily around is altering their home’s atmosphere for the better, but they’re nevertheless reluctant to commit to keeping her around. Meanwhile, Mark begins mentoring a boy that their son knew, and a local doctor (Ian Ziering) starts piecing together his own connection to the couple’s son — providing additional kindling for the heart-thawing fire.
Directed by Norma Bailey and written by Wesley Bishop, “The Christmas Hope” deserves credit for generally bringing an understated approach to its drama. That said, it has the misfortune to arrive amid a frankly numbing barrage of holiday longform offerings from Hallmark, Lifetime and ABC Family, where the tone is so painfully earnest that there’s nary a surprise or unanticipated moment to be found — including the crowning messages from beyond the grave.
Stowe and Remar are solid enough in parts that require little more than lots of mournful looks, and Barban is plenty adorable as the kid who saves Christmas. Still, “The Christmas Hope” mostly leaves you hoping that next year’s stocking-stuffers will venture slightly more ambition, or at least not feel obliged to telegraph every heartwarming gift so far in advance.