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Things I Hate About TV: Workaholics in Christmas specials

by Jay Black, posted Dec 22nd 2006 7:05PM
Thanks, Mr. Dickens for spawning 9 million hacks of your Christmas creation.I had trouble sleeping the other night (there were sugar plums dancing through my head – angry, murderous sugar plums), so I turned to the best TV option I had available to me: TNT HD's replay of A Perfect Day starring Rob Lowe.

Here's the plot: lower middle class guy writes a book that becomes a best seller. As he climbs the economic ladder, he becomes a workaholic and is thus estranged from his family. A mysterious stranger then appears and helps him to realize that true happiness doesn't come from work and success, but rather from spending time with his wife and his improbably named daughter, Carson.

I watched the whole thing for the same reason I play with hangnails and follow Philadelphia sports teams – I secretly hate myself.

This movie was horrible not because I expected it to be good -- come on, it's Rob Lowe in a Hallmark Holiday Movie, looking for quality here is kind of like looking for a philosophy professor at a Larry the Cable Guy concert -- it was horrible because it served up a rotten mix of hacky romanticism and upper-middle class guilt.

Every holiday season we get hammered with the same message: America Works Too Hard. We're so devoted to our cell phones and Blackberries, says the brain-dead TV movie teleplay writer, that we forget about the Norman Rockwell painting hiding right beneath our noses. Our children are performing in school plays, for God's sake! How dare we work on our new advertising campaign/book publicity tour/big lawyer-type case.

So far this year, we've had A Perfect Day and Santa Baby. We've also seen this plot used in A Mom For Christmas, The Christmas Shoes (also starring Rob Lowe - maybe this guy is paying off a debt to the Ghost of Christmas Future or something), and The Christmas Box. On the big screen, we've seen it in The Santa Clause, Jingle all the Way, Elf, and just about every other Christmas release since the invention of talkies. If you haven't seen them, don't worry, you will next year. And the year after that. And the year after that.

Whenever my Rush Limbaugh-listening, liberal-hating father tries to attack Hollywood for being out of touch with the "average American", I tend to go on the defensive. Alec Baldwin and his ilk might be pompous, over-inflated members of the Film Actors Guild, I'll say, but they make good TV.

But when it comes to this holiday tripe, I have to agree with my father and his drug-addled hero. Hollywood is ridiculous. Sure, there might be some workaholics out there that are filling their McMansions with expensive toys when all their children want from them is some quality time, but the vast majority of Americans work as hard as they do because they NEED THAT MONEY TO LIVE.

(Seriously, where are the angels that show up Christmas Eve morning at the parking lot of the Home Depot to ask the day laborers "Why are you working so hard? These foolish dreams that you're chasing... you know, food, and, uh, heat... that's not what Christmas is all about. Go back and spend some quality time with your children.")

The fact of the matter is that most of the successful people in television got that way by ignoring their families and selling out every last shred of dignity to claw their way to the top. I know this because I'm currently trying to get a foothold in the industry and I'm in the process of ignoring my family and selling out my dignity. It's the nature of the business.

What I think happens is that when TV execs finally get to the top and their sixteen hour days are no longer a hardscrabble, but just something they do out of habit, they begin to feel a sense of guilt that their blessed little ones, like Taylor (or maybe it's Tyler, or whatever their third wife decided to name the kid) have grown up with an illegal immigrant nanny and a tennis court, but without parents. The penance they pay is to greenlight every single "stop working so hard and start paying attention to the really important things in life" screenplay that falls on their rich mahogany desk.

It's a tremendous insult, though, to the people whose piece of the American dream is growing ever smaller -- namely, all of us not in the top 1%. We put our nose to the grindstone and work hard FOR our children. I'm not working 'till my eyeballs bleed because I want to make sure that my son's BMW has the spinniest rims on the block, I'm doing it because, like my parents and their parents, I want to provide a good life for my child. And while I'd like to live a Noman Rockwell, Hummel figure existence where I spend every moment of every day teaching my kid to fish or explaining to him the true meaning of winter, it's not practical. When my father said to me, "I have to work", I never took it as a rejection of me, I took it for what it was: a sacrifice he was making to try and provide a better life for me.

So please, TV executives, stop with the sap. Get back to what you do well: beautiful people running in slow motion, mindless action that panders to the lowest common denominator, and talent show train wrecks.

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I watched about 15 minutes of A Perfect Day before I determined that sticking my fingers in hot candle wax would be more entertaining than sitting through this movie.

I had to work weekends and/or holidays the first 20 years of my working life and a few years ago finally got myself to a position where I don't have to do that anymore and no sappy, crappy Hallmark is going to make me feel guilty for the times I had to work nor guilty for enjoying my days off now and in the future.

December 26 2006 at 11:44 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Dan S.

Damn Jay,
Im with u, cuz. Caught A Perfect Day the other night and it blowed hard. I watched it because I know Paget Brewster (who played Lowe's ungrateful, whiney wife), but this flick wasn't her best work (for her best work, see under-appreciate indie gem THE BIG BAD SWIM.)
I think its time family's took responsibility for being less pleasurable to be around than work.
Happy Holidays, My Brother. The Hand Job Bit is still killing everybody in the flick. Ur the hardest working man in show business, but don't forget what's REALLY important during this holiday season... getting famous so people will be jealous of you and spouses will feel they deserve u less and put out more.

December 25 2006 at 6:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Oh dear Lord, Jay! Your stand-up routine I saw on YouTube nearly made me piss my pants, although at my age that's not the feat it used to be. Everyone should check it out.

People, it's about 19 minutes, but don't be turned off by the length of the video. It's worth every second and the time flies by because you're laughing so hard. Jay should be a headliner, not an opener, check this funny shit out.


December 23 2006 at 1:06 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I know just how you feel regarding the workaholic status. I used to work a job that would keep me away from my family for a minimum of 11 hours a day, 2 of those being a 1-hour commute each way. When I got home I was so tired and overstretched that I had nothing left to give to my wife and kids except the paycheck.
One day I simply had enough and spent a very long time trying to find employment that fit what I felt was a better balance in my life. It took me nearly 18 months, but now I work less than 1/2 mile from my house for a small company owned by a generous man who allows for the fact that there's life outside the office. When I have work to do and can't make it in to
the office because of a sick kid, I can telecommute from home (I know, 1/2 mile's not much "tele" in the commute!). I no longer miss anything in my children's lives, and even though they're getting older they appreciate that I don't have to bypass their personal
milestones just to provide a better life for them. In this regard I'm as fortunate as a man can be.

These characters in the movies you're writing about always remind me of those days and I get a sick
and guilty feeling even now about the years I spent living at the office and only sleeping at the house. I'm tired of them, too, and just want some good-old escapist fun.

P.S. - Did you just *have* to stick in that little dig and link about Limbaugh? You're beating a dead horse with old news. Please don't turn out to be another Bob Sassone, one's enough, nay, too much. I agree with a lot of things Limbaugh says and enjoy the shit out of Alec Baldwin's performances. Both are possible without forcing a point. Thanks.

December 23 2006 at 3:12 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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