Hallmark Channel is trying to replicate the soft-focus feel of its movies in series form, so why not go to the source? Exec producer Martha Williamson anchored CBS’ Saturday night for years with “Touched by an Angel,” and her new movie, “Signed, Sealed, Delivered,” was ordered as a series even before its premiere. Purposefully old-fashioned, shamelessly sentimental and proudly faith-based, the show plucks heartstrings with such unreserved conviction it will likely connect with a target audience prone to dismissing most of pop culture as one big cesspool. While too sappy for the cool kids, for Hallmark, it feels like the right package.
For starters, the premise and groan-inducing title have an almost unintentionally comical conceit: The U.S. Postal Service — a much-derided organization, running a massive deficit and struggling to survive the age of email — cast as intrepid heroes, repairing lives and piecing together happy endings. In an odd way, it might be the strangest conservative/liberal hybrid ever — giving a vote of confidence to government, while simultaneously displaying old-fashioned values and embracing God.
“Touched by a Postal Carrier” has a vaguely creepy ring to it, but the vibe here is closer to those Dear Santa Claus letters, with the postal carriers cast in the role of righting wrongs and making wishes come true.
The show is set in the Dead Letter Office, where investigator Oliver (“Ugly Betty’s” Eric Mabius) almost feels like a 1950s anachronism when he bumps into his new colleague Shane (Kristin Booth), who is of course more plugged into the electronic age. But with his two quirky co-workers (Crystal Lowe, Geoff Gustafson), they are soon thrown into a mystery about a cancer-stricken girl (Laci J. Mailey) and the cheerful guy (Benjamin Hollingsworth) with whom she spent a magical day before trying to send him an explanatory letter that never got there.
Like all Hallmark movies, the premise is constructed in such a way that you can see every beat telegraphed (or in this case, pre-addressed) well in advance, which serves to both make viewers feel smart and wrap them in a warm blanket of familiarity. As a bonus, Williamson doesn’t spare the saccharine, with schmaltzy backstories for the two leads, although as a series, the show will have an almost-anthology-like feel, helping a different member of the postally challenged each week.
“This is a high calling, indeed,” Oliver says near the beginning, later noting that the postal service “cannot play God.”
Maybe not, but they can certainly play at catering to an audience hungry for such squeaky-clean fare — and in crass commercial terms, Hallmark (which recently introduced “Debbie Macomber’s Cedar Cove”) needs to attract a lot less of them than CBS ever did to look like heroes.
Hokey isn’t particularly fashionable, but commercially speaking there is a place for it. For that reason, while the future of the Postal Service doesn’t appear particularly bright, the outlook for Williamson’s ode to it just might be.