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Lifetime’s first-ever LGBTQ Christmas film will star a real-life gay couple, married actors Blake Lee (Parks and Recreation) and Ben Lewis (Arrow).
Touted as a feel-good LGBTQ holiday romance, The Christmas Setup was announced last month, after rival Hallmark announced its own Christmas film with LGBTQ leads.
According to Lifetime, the movie’s plot will center around Hugo (Lewis), a New York corporate lawyer, who heads back home to Milwaukee, with his best friend Madelyn (Ellen Wong, GLOW) in tow, to spend time with his meddlesome matchmaking mom, Kate — who, in a dream bit of casting, will be played by The Nanny‘s Fran Drescher.
Given this is a holiday film, and they all invariably revolve around people going back home and meeting old acquaintances (and, presumably, falling in love), Kate arranges for Hugo to run into Patrick, his high school friend and secret crush, who has recently returned to the Midwest after working in Silicon Valley for years.
But just as Patrick and Hugo seem ready to become a couple, Hugo is offered a big promotion that would require him to move to London, leaving him with a difficult decision to pursue his career or a newfound love.
TVLine reports that Lifetime worked with LGBTQ media advocacy organization GLAAD on The Christmas Setup, to ensure that it portrays its lead characters accurately and sensitively.
The film comes as part of a push for more diversity in Lifetime’s Christmas films, and will debut this holiday season alongside A Sugar & Spice Holiday, the network’s first holiday film led by Asian-American characters.
“We are thrilled to continue our legacy of creating a holiday destination that is welcoming to all at Lifetime,” Lifetime and Lifetime Movie Network programming Executive Vice President Amy Winter said last month. “With more new movies than any one cable network for streamer, I couldn’t be prouder of the incredible talent joining us in front of, and behind the camera, on these new holiday movies.”
Hallmark Channel announced casting earlier this month for its first-ever LGBTQ-focused Christmas film, The Christmas House, led by Mean Girls star Jonathan Bennet.
Both Hallmark and Lifetime have previously been criticized for a lack of LGBTQ representation in their annual holiday line-ups.
Hallmark Channel has also received criticism from right-wing groups such as the American Family Association’s “One Million Moms” project, which famously called for a boycott after the channel aired a commercial from the online wedding registry Zola featuring a lesbian couple (the company also had two other ads featuring heterosexual couples airing at the same time).
Caving to pressure from One Million Moms and similar groups, Hallmark Channel pulled the ad, apologizing for being “divisive,” only to later reverse course after Zola pulled all of its advertisements from the channel in protest. Soon after the controversy, the channel’s president and chief executive of 11 years tendered his resignation.
More recently, after the channel’s announcement that it was considering developing LGBTQ storylines, One Million Moms launched a new petition slamming the channel — which some social conservatives had previously embraced because it was one of the few television channels with “wholesome content” that was appropriate for family viewing — and reigniting its calls for a boycott.
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