'Bells' Tolls Right on Time Hallmark Sticks with Reliable Recipe for Roasting a Holiday Chestnut

By Cox, Ted | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), November 25, 2005 | Go to article overview

'Bells' Tolls Right on Time Hallmark Sticks with Reliable Recipe for Roasting a Holiday Chestnut


Cox, Ted, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: Ted Cox Daily Herald TV/Radio Columnist

"The Hallmark Hall of Fame" offers comfort food for the TV, so it makes perfect sense that it should kick off the holiday season this Thanksgiving weekend with a freshly made chestnut sure to warm the cockles of a viewer's heart - if nothing else.

Airing at 8 p.m. Sunday on CBS' WBBM Channel 2 (yes, opposite "Desperate Housewives" on ABC), "Silver Bells" is exactly what one would expect. After all, who wants to be surprised on Thanksgiving? Just bring out the turkey and the stuffing, make sure it's not still moist and not dried out, and everyone's happy.

Before the opening credits have finished rolling, some Clydesdales come trotting in, sleigh bells jingling, and from there it doesn't get any less predictable. There's a lovely widow and a handsome widower - fancy that - as well as not one but two sets of estranged fathers and sons. You can safely bet the holiday gift money they'll all get together in the end.

Yet that's the main strength of "The Hallmark Hall of Fame" - that its drama is tasteful, slow-paced and inevitable - and the 225th production in the series isn't about to mess with what amounts to a reliable family recipe. Instead, it spoons it up with an effortless grace.

Tate Donovan stars, and if he still seems a little young to be a domineering dad - even after his more weak-willed efforts in that regard on "The O.C." -he makes a hunky ornament on the arm of Anne Heche. This is a nice role for her as she tries to regain leading- lady parts after her highly publicized relationship with Ellen DeGeneres - and highly erratic behavior after their split.

In any case, she's fetching without ever really being hot as Catherine O'Meara, a New York City museum curator who, of course, lost her husband a few years long ago. Ever since, she's been unwilling to buy hand-cut Christmas trees from the Byrne family, who set up shop on the street every December.

She's also had a crisis of faith, so that Christmas finds both the studmuffin tree salesman and the local parish priest trying to "win her back." Who will prevail? Hint: It's not a race with only one winner.

Donovan, therefore, is Christy Byrne, tree cutter, salesman and single father to Michael Mitchell's Danny and Courtney Jines' Bridget. …

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