A gift yule love

Ben Lewis and Blake Lee star in “The Christmas Setup”

No matter your faith, the holidays are always a time of joy and community. From the familiar smell of baked goods in the oven, to the subtle, soul-soothing twinkle of lights and candles and the glimmer of decorations throughout the house, there is no denying the magic and comfort of the holidays. And, yes, the themed rom-coms and holiday favorites are definitely big spirit-of-the-season promoters as well.

This year, in keeping with tradition, Lifetime is adding a number of new films to their It’s a Wonderful Lifetime campaign — 30 new films, to be exact, meaning more than 1200 hours of all-new festive-film merriment between now (the films began airing on Oct. 23) and Christmas. One of the films on this list is drawing a lot of attention for its long-overdue portrayal of two leading men.

“The Christmas Setup,” premiering Saturday, Dec. 12, on Lifetime, focuses on New York City lawyer, Hugo (Ben Lewis, “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” 2010) as he treks home to Milwaukee to spend the holidays with his mother, Kate (Fran Drescher, “The Nanny”). Kate, busy with spearheading the town’s local Christmas festivities, is not too busy, however, to play matchmaker. So, Hugo’s determined mother arranges for him to “accidentally” run into his high school friend — and crush — Patrick (Blake Lee, “Parks and Recreation”), who just returned home after hitting it big in Silicon Valley. Happy to have been reacquainted, Hugo and Patrick enjoy the fruits of Kate’s labor — in more ways than one — at the festival. All seems hunky-dory until Hugo gets called up for a promotion at work, threatening his budding relationship to Patrick, as accepting the job would require a move to London, England.

While heartfelt romantic comedies set during the holidays aren’t exactly new fare, “The Christmas Setup” is still an industry pioneer, marking the first-ever instance of an LGBTQ+ couple at the center of a holiday-film cast.

Hot on the heels of the 2019 Lifetime movie “Twinkle All the Way’s” on-screen kiss between Lex (Brian Sills, “Baby on Board,” 2009) and Danny (Mark Ghanimé, “The Age of Adaline,” 2015), real-life spouses Lewis and Lee pave the way for more inclusivity in film and television.

“The world we create on camera should reflect the world we live in,” said Amy Winter, executive vice president and head of programming for Lifetime and LMN, in an interview. Asserting that movies like “The Christmas Setup” are necessary in today’s world “because they continue our effort to tell the stories of the diverse communities represented by our viewers,” Winter continued, “our hope with these inclusive films, and others, is that people will see themselves while enjoying universally relatable holiday romances.” 

Accompanying “The Christmas Setup” on the It’s a Wonderful Lifetime lineup this year is another breakthrough film for diversity and inclusivity. “A Sugar & Spice Holiday” tells the story of Suzie (Jacky Lai, “V-Wars”), a Chinese-American architect who looks to old, cultural traditions to spice up her submission to the local gingerbread house competition. Not only is “A Sugar & Spice Holiday” the first holiday film to hinge upon the life of a family of Asian heritage, it was also created by a trio of Asian women on the other side of the screen: director Jennifer Liao (“Blood and Water”), writer Eirene Donoghue (“Drink Slay Love,” 2017) and casting director Judy Lee (“Hector and the Search for Happiness,” 2014).

Needless to say, these two new Christmas films are just a couple among many exiting new additions to a list of bingeable holiday features, and there is no doubt that we’ll be adding “A Sugar & Spice Holiday” and “The Christmas Setup” to our list of favorites for next year as well.

Catch “The Christmas Setup,” when it premieres Saturday, Dec. 12, on Lifetime.

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