12/4/2020     IMPROVISED MADE-FOR-TV CHRISTMAS MOVIE       Dad’s Garage


(Bias Alert:  I have worked with writer – and Atlanta treasure – Topher Payne several times and tend to view his work through approval-tinted glasses.)


It may be pointless to write about Topher Payne’s Improvised Made-for-TV Christmas Movie.  After all, the plot changes for every performance, the characters change for every performance, and the performances (probably) change for every performance.  How can what I saw on Friday the 4th have any relevance whatsoever to what you will (or it least should) see on subsequent weekends?


But, since my writings are the dictionary definition of “pointless,” I just may be the perfect pundit to make the attempt.


Topher Payne has written several Made-for-Hallmark movies, some of them actual Christmas movies, and, although they are of a higher quality (in my humble and biased opinion) than Hallmark’s standard comfort food, they are still subject to an apparently cast-in-stone rule book, and, are therefore ripe for parody, even ridicule.  Since Mr. Payne (probably) wants to keep his place in the Hallmark writer’s stable, this parody has to walk a tightrope between affection and, well, bemused affection. 


As a preamble to your viewing, you will be asked to answer several survey questions, which may (or may not) find their way into that evening’s show.  Given this “Mad-Libs” approach – a traditional favorite of improv artists since time immemorial (I know I can’t remember when this all started), it is only appropriate that my plot summary follow a similar format.


{Trendy Female Name} is a {Trendy Occupation} in {Trendy Big City}.  Because of {Trendy Family Crisis} she must neglect her duties JUST BEFORE CHRISTMAS to return home to {Fictional Small Town}.  She encounters {Meet Cute Rom-Com Contrivance} {Trendy Male Name}, a {Childhood Friend / High School Boyfriend / Nemesis / Stranger / Prince} who works as a {Prince or Trendy Blue-collar Occupation – the only choices available}.  They each have a {Quirky Best Friend / Quirky Relative / Quirky Servant} and everything builds to a {Small Town Event} during which true love wins out, cynicism dies ignominiously, and all is made complete in a very non-denominational secular holiday celebration of joy and romance.


Because of Pandemic Protocols, each performance features pod-mates Amber Nash and Kevin Gillese, each playing multiple roles (and multiple genders), often having to “vamp” to make those costume and character changes (not always) work.  Mr. Payne sits to one side (or in another room – who can say?) setting up the plot, tossing out improv curve-balls, and being the “Voice of the Network,” a voice with which he’s no doubt grown quite familiar.


As happens with most improv pieces, there are “hits” and there are “misses,” there are costume malfunctions and there are nods-and-winks through the fourth wall (or, in this case, camera) – “Oh, I must have left my glasses in the other coat” sort of thing.  It’s all very funny, even silly, and in Friday the 4th’s case, the gags that landed far outnumbered the ones that fell flat with a smelly splut.  And, to the benefit of Mr. Payne’s future endeavors, there is an air of affection over the whole production that never comes across as ridicule {Trendy Male Name}’s occupation as a “Snowman Builder” notwithstanding.


Ms. Nash and Mr. Gillese are very adept improv artists and meet with equanimity (and some actual grace) any absurdity Mr. Payne tosses their way.  Their personal connection truly informs the romance that centers the plot and they obviously have a long and successful history of working well together.  And Mr. Payne brings all his wry wit to his role, obviously enjoying himself immensely.


So, should you try to catch one of the remaining performances of Improvised Made-for-TV Christmas Movie?  I really think you should, but I have no idea what you will actually see when you do.  Although, after proofreading all the above, I daresay I just may have an inkling or two as to what you should expect.

     -- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com    @bk_rudy   #ImprovisedMadeForTVChristmasMovie #DadsGarage)


For the record, my wife’s answer to “Name a Profession ending in -er” (Brazilian Waxer) found its way into Friday the 4th’s show.  “Name a fictional European country” was apparently not needed for this particular story, so I have no idea if my response of “Xambonia” had any traction.

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