Patricia Heaton, the best thing about “Everybody Loves Raymond,” would be fun to watch just reading the Baseball Encyclopedia, for crying out loud.
Unfortunately, on Sunday night she stars in “A Town Without Christmas” (9 p.m. CBS), one of those television movies that tries hard but in vain to recapture the magic of holiday classics like “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Miracle on 34th Street.”
Heaton plays M.J. Jensen, a sour, big-city TV news reporter dispatched to Seacliff, Wash.–your typical movie-land small town where none of the public officials is too bright–on the trail of a mysterious, alienated child called Chris whose disturbing letter to Santa has gripped the nation. En route she meets Rick Roberts as struggling fiction writer David Reynolds, whose path seems to be guided by a badly groomed and unlikely angel named Max, played by Peter Falk. Naturally, Max nudges M.J. and David toward not only Chris, but also each other and the holiday spirit. Heaton makes a likable curmudgeon, and Falk can still crank up the raspy, disheveled charm, but they get little help from Roberts, whose character has all the pizazz of a tall drink of water, or from a stiff Ernie Hudson as her editor.
The romance that inevitably sparks between Jensen and Reynolds is meant to be uplifting, but uplifting from what? Jensen has turned workaholic since getting dumped by her fiance three years ago, and Reynolds is rejected by publishers and fired from his day job writing greeting cards, but the script by Michael J. Murray never creates any sense of true despair.