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Stream It or Skip It: ‘The Christmas House 2: Deck Those Halls’ on Hallmark Doubles the Feels and the Fun




Stream It or Skip It: ‘The Christmas House 2: Deck Those Halls’ on Hallmark Doubles the Feels and the Fun

Hallmark made history last year with the debut of The Christmas House, the network’s first holiday movie with a gay couple in leading roles. The film was a success and the best Hallmark movie of the 2020 season, if I do say so myself. Now the Mitchell family is back in The Christmas House 2: Deck Those Halls. Does Hallmark have a hit new holiday franchise? Or is this family reunion as awkward as real life ones? 

The Gist: It’s been a few years since we last saw the Mitchells and the family has grown. Brandon (Jonathan Bennett) and Jake (Brad Harder) have adopted a second child and are now a family of four. TV star Mike (Robert Buckley) is still with Andi (Ana Ayora) and he’s closer than ever to her son Noah (Mattia Castrillo). And instead of having just one Christmas house this year, the Mitchells are gonna double down and double their number of holiday homes!

The Christmas House 2 cast
Photo: Hallmark/Allister Foster

This all comes about as part of a live, televised, celebrity holiday decorations contest called Deck Those Halls (think The Great Christmas Light Fight, but starring the families of the stars of America’s favorite crime procedurals). But when Mike Mitchell’s competition—the perfectly named Finn Rockland of Brooklyn Medical—drops out of Deck Those Halls, the producers decide to pit brother against brother. Yep—it’s Handsome Justice star Mike Mitchell versus his baker brother Brandon Mitchell, and this Christmas competition has never been tougher!

The decoration of dueling Christmas houses serves as the backdrop for a lot of new complications in the extended Mitchell family. Bill (Treat Williams) and Phylis (Sharon Lawrence) are learning their lines for a local theater’s Christmas play; Mike wants to find the perfect way to propose to Andi, but the surprise return of Andi’s ex-husband has Mike all up in his feels about his place in Noah’s life; and Brandon and Jake are trying to make unique Christmas memories for their kids, which is hard when the holiday season involves redecorating homes from the ground floor up to the attic with nothing but yuletide cheer. It’s another Christmas with the Mitchell family, so you know it’s going to be eventful.

The Christmas House 2 - Jake, Brandon, Phylis, Bill
Photo: Hallmark

What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: There’s 2006’s Deck the Halls, obviously, except I’d argue that this Hallmark movie is infinitely more watchable (sorry Danny DeVito and Matthew Broderick). And because of the show within a TV movie nature of Deck Those Halls, the sequel gets to add in some to-camera confessional moments that only make the Mitchells feel more like Hallmark’s Modern Family.

Performance Worth Watching: Now that Bill and Phylis’ relationship is firing on all cylinders again, Treat Williams and Sharon Lawrence get to spend the sequel letting their kids supply all the emotional moments. These two are so great together and have such a fun, natural chemistry, so it’s great to watch them just have fun. Casting Mr. and Mrs. Mitchell as the leads in a bizarre little Christmas play was an inspired choice.

The Christmas House 2 - Sharon Lawrence, Treat Williams
Photo: Hallmark/Allister Foster

Memorable Dialogue: The Christmas House franchise continues to be one of the funniest on Hallmark. Here’s how a frazzled Mike sums up his holiday blues: “I’ve already got my girlfriend’s shark-punching ex making Colombian food with Noah. I don’t need you trying to outdo me too!”

A Holiday Tradition: Like all the other seasonal reality competition shows that have become a TV tradition, the occupants of Hallmark’s holiday universe get to watch Deck Those Halls every year. And of course there’s the Christmas house, which is first and foremost about making memories with the family. Will that get lost now that Mike and Brandon are competing on television? Of course it will.

The Christmas House 2 - brothers
Photo: Hallmark/Allister Foster

Does the Title Make Any Sense?: It makes the most sense—not only because the show within the movie is titled Deck Those Halls, but because the sequel’s giving us two Christmas houses. If the franchise continues for a few more years, they may have to change the name to The Christmas Cul-De-Sac.

Our Take: How do you do a sequel to a holiday romcom? Once the lead couple have kissed and professed their love, where is there to go? Netflix has this problem with its franchises. The sequels to A Christmas Prince just wandered aimlessly into the politics of a fictional European country. The Princess Switch franchise found success by jumping genres with each new sequel; this year’s The Princess Switch 3 is a romance/heist movie. Could The Christmas House figure out a way forward now that Mike and Andi are together? This is a hard problem to solve!

The Christmas House 2 - Mike, Noah, Andi
Photo: Hallmark/Allister Foster

That’s why I’m so pleased to report that The Christmas House 2 found a completely unique and narratively rewarding way forward. Instead of introducing new characters to set up on blind dates or breaking up one of our fave couples or having the Mitchells, I don’t know, form a ragtag hockey team and fight their way to regionals, The Christmas House 2 does what I rarely see Hallmark movies do: it puts very real family issues at the forefront while simultaneously recapturing all the holiday fun from the first film.

It turns out that Hallmark characters can do more than fall in love! Instead, the characters in The Christmas House 2 deal with the problems that come up after a happy ending. How will Mike propose to Andi and, more importantly, how can he be a father to Noah if Andi’s ex is back in town? And what’s driving Brandon to be so competitive with his brother? They’re two grown men—shouldn’t they be able to get along? Does the best Christmas have to be a perfect Christmas? And most importantly, how does a family unit maintain a balance as it grows to include more and more people?

Most importantly, though, The Christmas House 2 touches upon a few problems that are totally specific to the gay holiday experience. Once again, The Christmas House doesn’t treat Brandon and Jake as just any Hallmark couple. They are a gay Hallmark couple, and so much of their actions as a couple and their relationships with the larger Mitchell family center that fact. It’s beautiful to see, too, because it’s important to show that gay couples have way more issues to deal with than just coming out. I never thought that a Hallmark movie would so accurately touch upon the pressures of performative gay excellence but I’m really glad one is!

The Christmas House 2 - Jake and Brandon
Photo: Hallmark/Allister Foster

But you’re not just tuning into this movie to see what problems the Mitchells will overcome before the light switch is flipped on the Christmas houses. You’re also tuning in to spend time with these characters and, most importantly, have fun with them. There is so much fun to be had, mainly because Hallmark struck gold when they put this specific cast of actors together. Buckley and Bennett have such a brotherly vibe to them, and they sell it in the competitive scenes and the dramatic scenes. The same goes for any combination of actors, too—like Jake and Andi, who have to deal with their significant others reverting to comically childish behavior. Just like last year, The Christmas House 2 will give you all the Christmas funnies and Christmas feels you need.

Overall, The Christmas House 2 is the exact right kind of sequel. It pushes the franchise forward while bringing along—and building upon—everything we loved about the first film. Fingers crossed we get to visit the Mitchells every year from now on. It’s a tradition!

Our Call: STREAM IT. The sequel proves that The Christmas House is built to last.

Watch The Christmas House 2: Deck Those Halls on Hallmark


Sports world reacts to John Madden’s death




Sports world reacts to John Madden’s death

Legendary NFL coach and broadcaster John Madden died Tuesday morning at 85, the NFL announced. News of the football icon’s passing hit Twitter on Tuesday evening, and athletes, coaches and broadcasters from across the sports world reacted.

Fellow broadcasting legend Dick Vitale, who is currently battling cancer, called Madden “the greatest analyst of all time of any sport” in his Twitter tribute.

Former Yankees pitcher and notable Raiders fan CC Sabathia said “your legacy will live forever.” Madden coached the then-Oakland Raiders from 1969-78, a couple of years before Sabathia, a Vallejo, California native, was born. Lakers star LeBron James had similar words about Madden’s lasting legacy, adding an infinity emoji.

Former tennis star and social justice activist Billie Jean King recalled meeting Madden as a “privilege.”

Radio voice of the Rangers Kenny Albert, a five-sport broadcaster who’s been with FOX Sports since its inception in 1994, shared a photo circa 26 years ago to remember Madden.

ESPN’s Bomani Jones took a bit of a shot at current color commentators, noting that Madden “set an unreachable standard.”

Frank Caliendo, who’s made a career out of impersonations, including one for Madden, said he was surprised how emotional he felt.

Several football players, and others, including Saints running back Mark Ingram II and former Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant, credited Madden with being part of the reason why they love football.

Rams wide receiver and NFL MVP contender Cooper Kupp quote the late coach in his tribute: “The road to Easy Street goes through the sewer.”

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Miles McBride’s Knicks role will lessen with Kemba Walker’s resurgence




Miles McBride’s Knicks role will lessen with Kemba Walker’s resurgence

MINNEAPOLIS — The Knicks got back another body in rookie point guard Miles McBride, who was cleared from protocols Tuesday and rejoined the team in Minnesota.

But there is no longer any hype for the rookie’s return. Kemba Walker is back as the starting point guard and coming off winning Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors with four standout games, including his Christmas Day spectacular. The Knicks have gone 2-2 since Walker regained the starting job.

“It’s great,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He had a great week. He’s playing great basketball. The team winning helps him get recognized and he was a big part of driving that winning. It’s great for the team.’’

McBride was also spectacular in his last outing before getting COVID-19, when he played the entire second half Dec. 16 in Houston and seemingly earned a spot in the rotation. In fact, McBride had strung together two decent outings before he was ruled out. But things have changed since his emergence and McBride is likely back to being a bit player.

Without a practice, McBride wasn’t even expected to see time when the Knicks faced the Timberwolves to kick off a four-game road trip.

Miles McBride
NBAE via Getty Images

Of course, with Walker’s arthritic knee, anything is possible. The Knicks play Detroit on Wednesday in a back-to-back, so it’s uncertain whether Walker will complete both contests. In addition, Immanuel Quickley is out of COVID-19 protocols but Thibodeau wasn’t sure he was ready for meaningful minutes.

That left Walker against the depleted Timberwolves, who were missing their three top players (Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell), all because of COVID-19 .

Kemba Walker
Kemba Walker

When McBride got sidelined by the virus and Derrick Rose needed ankle surgery, Walker was resurrected by Thibodeau and it’s been a stunning comeback story.

Though Thibodeau has clear reservations about Walker based on his nine-game banishment due to his defensive malaise as an undersized point guard, he admitted after the Christmas Day triple-double against Atlanta that Walker is playing “much more aggressive.”

Walker’s triple-double that featured 10 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds was a lot different than his prior outing, when he scored 44 points against Washington.

“I thought his passing was terrific,’’ Thibodeau said before the Knicks resumed their schedule.

“Kemba had control of the game. The game tells you what to do. That’s what I loved about the way he played. I don’t think he forced anything. They puts size on him and were aggressive in their pick-and-roll coverage. He didn’t fight it. He attacked pressure the way you like to attack pressure. You don’t fight pressure with pressure. Don’t try to split it. Get rid of it, go to the backside. Let the game tell you what to do.’’

The Knicks coach is finally seeing all the elements of what Walker can do. Before his demotion, Walker was nothing more than a no-defense, 3-point shooter whose plus-minus was an abysmal minus-122.

Thibodeau was also concerned about his durability in sitting out two of the three back-to-back sets. The last load management game in Atlanta in late November triggered Thibodeau’s decision.

But now it’s only superlatives from Thibodeau in judging the last four games.

“Sometimes it’s going to be his shooting, sometimes it’s his penetration and getting in the paint to force a collapse and sometimes they’re being aggressive with their traps get rid of the ball quickly,’’ Thibodeau said. “The overall play, his rebounding. When your guards rebound, those are key to fast breaks. The more guard rebounding we get the better we can be. ‘’

The Knicks still have three players in protocols — centers Nerlens Noel and Jericho Sims and the newly infected Wayne Selden. Quickley and Kevin Knox were cleared on Christmas but were held out for conditioning.

No matter. The Knicks go as Kemba goes.

“He’s much more aggressive,’’ Thibodeau said. “That was the challenge. At the beginning of the year he and Evan were two new starters. Sometimes guys are trying to fit in. he’s being very aggressive which is the way we want him to play. Not deferring at all. When he and Julius [Randle] are aggressive like that our team is different.’’

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Bar raises dramatically for Zach Wilson in matchup with Tom Brady, Buccaneers




Zach Wilson and Tom Brady

When Zach Wilson stares across the MetLife Stadium field at the opposite sideline this Sunday, it won’t be Trevor Lawrence he’ll be looking at as his game-day counterpart.

Lawrence, drafted by Jacksonville one spot before the Jets selected Wilson at No. 2 overall last April, is a contemporary.

This Sunday at MetLife, the Jets rookie quarterback won’t be staring at a contemporary on the other sideline. He’ll be staring at the GOAT.

Tom Brady.

The bar raises dramatically for Wilson and the Jets, who are coming off of their feel-good, get-well win over the woeful Jaguars and Lawrence this past Sunday.

Brady and Buccaneers, who are 11-4, NFC South division champions and seeking to repeat as Super Bowl champions, play the Jets, who are 4-11 and seeking more signs of development from their rookie quarterback.

To say this is a step up in competition for Wilson and the Jets going from Lawrence and the Jags to Brady and the Bucs is as obvious as pointing out that Tampa Bay receiver Antonio Brown has had a few off-the-field incidents during his otherwise stellar NFL career.

There hasn’t been a lot to keep the interest of the Jets fan this season — other than watching Wilson’s development. That took an unfortunate pause for the four games Wilson missed with a knee injury, but he’s been back for five games and has looked like a better quarterback, throwing only two interceptions in those games (none in the last three) since returning from his injury.

The problem, though, is that Wilson hasn’t been producing enough touchdowns, throwing for three of them and rushing for four others in the past five games.

Zach Wilson and Tom Brady
Zach Wilson and Tom Brady
N.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg; AP

Baby steps, though.

Wilson was the better quarterback this past Sunday when matched up with Lawrence, who threw for more yards than Wilson did, but Wilson ran for 91 yards, including his electric 52-yard scoring jaunt, and made key throws when he needed them.

Wilson will not win Sunday’s game against Brady and the Bucs throwing for the 102 yards he had against the Jaguars. He and the Jets will need more.

Consider this: Brady enters the game having thrown 37 TD passes and for 4,580 yards this season and averages a league-high 305.2 passing yards per game.

Then this: The Buccaneers average 29.5 points per game this season, second most in the NFL.

And this: Wilson doesn’t have a single 300-yard passing game, averages 183 passing yards per game and has thrown seven TD passes in 11 games.

Seven TD passes is a pedestrian two-game total for Brady.

Wilson and the Jets are playing with house money anyway in what always has been a developmental season, so Sunday against Brady should, at its very least, be a great measuring-stick learning experience for Wilson, who’s studied Brady on tape.

Wilson revealed this month that he watched film of Brady before the Jets played the Eagles on Dec. 5 in an effort to pick up tips on how Brady worked against the Eagles defense when he played them earlier in the season.

“I thought it was really cool to see kind of how he went through his whole process, how he navigated the pocket, different things like that,” Wilson said at the time.

On Sunday, Wilson gets to see that process up close as Brady tries to dissect a Jets defense that has yielded 29.9 points per game this season, the most in the NFL.

That puts an added onus on Wilson to produce on the other side of the ball, because he knows Brady is going to get his. Wilson will likely need to produce four TDs — any way he can — for the Jets to simply remain competitive with the Super Bowl champs.

That’s a lot to ask of a 22-year-old kid who’s produced just 11 TDs in his 11 starts, up against Brady, who’s thrown 618 TD passes and for 83,784 yards in his remarkable career.

It, too, is a lot to ask playing against an aggressive Tampa Bay defense that’s ranked No. 9 in the NFL in points allowed (20.8 per game) and is led by former Jets head coach Todd Bowles, who’d surely like to send a holiday message to his former employer.

If you don’t think Bowles will be blitzing the bejesus out of Wilson, then you probably think Antonio Brown is a living saint.

The good news for the Jets is that Wilson has shown incremental improvements, particularly when it comes to his decision-making and quicker releases on his throws.

“He’s coming along, he’s getting more comfortable, he’s calmer back there,’’ Jets coach Robert Saleh said Monday. “He’s in a great headspace and it’s going to be fun to watch him grow, continue to grow.’’

A big part of that growth will take place this Sunday as he watches the GOAT operate from the opposite sideline at MetLife.

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