I watched Christmas on Ice so you don’t have to

The Lifetime movie that sort of nails the goofiness of the the “renaissance” narrative

So Lifetime made a movie set in and very much about Worcester and let’s just say the whole thing is cringe. It’s called Christmas On Ice and it gives us a very surface level “city on the rise” portrait of our gilded toilet and they do it in a ham-fisted way. You’ve seen a Lifetime movie before. It’s like all of them but the Worcester stuff makes it so much worse and better at the same time. It accidentally strikes gold a couple times real good.

A friend and I sat down to watch it last night. Since I’m not a millionaire and don’t have cable it was sort of difficult to find, but we ended up renting it for a few bucks on this weird app called Vudu so you can do that if you want but you don’t want to or maybe you do.

Quick plot synopsis, spoiler alerts obviously: Our protagonist is a young white urban go-getter living with her quirky roommate in a nice loft apartment with exposed brick and a spiral staircase in downtown Worcester where people do that apparently. She works at the ice rink behind City Hall, renting out skates and giving lessons. When the mayor tells her the rink has to close due to budget constraints, she embarks on a quest to save a city treasure. But she’s up against the new ice rink in the Canal District, where everything she does could easily be done much better but at a cost. The owner of the new flashy rink switches bewilderingly between being the villain of the story and her love interest—she figure skates, and this guy plays hockey, and that’s how you’re supposed to know they’re at odds—and eventually together they convince the mayor to save the rink by using the death of his daughter as political leverage.

It’s a trip.

So some guy named John Stimpson allegedly wrote this, and this is how he explained his decision to make it a movie expressly about Worcester, per MassLive.

“We’re showing the common. We’re showing City Hall. We’re showing all these landmarks in downtown Worcester and we’re shining such a lovely and positive light on the city, we just figured, why not, let’s just call it Worcester,” filmmaker John Stimpson said. “So we are.”

But there are certain lines that could only have come straight from City Hall and I’m low-key working on a conspiracy theory that Ed Augustus or Tim Murray personally wrote this.

At one point early in the movie our protagonist says this to the mayor: “With all due respect I think you’re making a mistake. The kids aside, the skating oval represents a commitment to revitalizing downtown, to make this city more accessible and family friendly. If it closes that would be a major step backward.”

And then this one a little later. “It’s the centerpiece of Worcester’s recreational offerings and it’s right downtown.”

She says that when she’s first brought inside the new and soon-to-open Worcester Ice Center and she also goes “wow this place is amazing there’s a restaurant and a coffee shop inside” like she’s in a straight up advertisement for the real Worcester Ice Center. Like come ooooooon. The DCU Center, Fidelity Bank, the Worcester Ice Center, MassLive, the Telegram and Gazette, the Worcester Railers and BirchTree Bread receive some serious screen time in this movie, as well as thank yous in the credits, begging the obvious question of who paid for this movie to be made and why. The product placement is hyper-local and it’s on another level. It’s the Worcester version of that scene from Wayne’s World.

It’s like people only do things because they get paid, and that’s just really sad.

That it was made through the Massachusetts Film Office, which offers generous tax incentives for filming in Massachusetts, raises more questions. Did Lifetime come away from this movie with cash in hand before it ever ran? Entirely possible.

So back to the movie. Our protagonist is working with her weird villain-turned-love-interest to put together a proposal to come up with enough money to make the rink revenue neutral, thus sparing it the ax at the hands of the cold-hearted City Council. Earlier in the movie the mayor told her the rink needs to make money or it can’t continue to function, which is accidentally a pretty good indictment of the mentality of neoliberal city government here in Worcester, but I digress. While she’s going over the business plan with this rink owner guy, he says this: “[The mayor] looks at my facility like a shining star in the revitalization of the city. It’s an economic engine that provides jobs and adds to the tax base.” There we go again with that R word. Does a Christmas movie need to focus so heavily, and tacitly promote, the economic development strategy of the city it’s based in? Absolutely not. It does not add to the plot, the tension between characters, or the development of any particular character. But it is exactly something someone in charge of the city would want to hear, and these lines I’ve pulled out read very much like they were plunked in there for hmmmm just some strange reason. They sound awfully familiar if you’ve ever had to cover a grand opening or a ribbon cutting event in Worcester like I have. Again, questions, questions.

The movie jumps the shark, in my opinion, at the end of this scene, when our protagonist comes up with the brilliant idea of appealing to the mayor’s emotional side with a coordinated campaign to mail him Christmas cards in support of the oval.

Does this sound familiar to you? If you followed the lead-up to the disastrous decision to bring the PawSox here, you might remember that it all started with a very similar letter-mailing campaign. Led by the Canal District Alliance, folks in Worcester sent the PawSox thousands of letters begging the team to come to Worcester. At the ceremony announcing the move, PawSox leaders unveiled all the letters in a grand collage. You did this, they said. These letters convinced us to move.

So now we have this movie about Worcester where the protagonist is going to try the same exact tactic to save her precious oval. Weird! Who wrote this, again?

The Christmas card arc of this movie is advanced, hilariously, by fictional Telegram and Gazette reporter Rena Blackstone, who approaches the mayor on the oval issue outside his office, and then the next day slams him with a front page story headlined “Mayor Scrooge.” I’m not kidding, by the way. Look.

She’s one of only two people of color to be featured in this movie, a problem my friend quickly pointed out in our viewing.

“What bothers me is they completely whitewash the city,” she said. “There’s so much they could have done with this to make it a positive thing but like look the only place they show is fuckin BirchTree Bread and that’s not even how it really be looking.”

Also the hilarious line: “No one in Worcester looks like this! They look like us. They look like shit.”

In the background of one of the oval scenes you can see some people laying down on the steps of City Hall and that’s about as close as the movie gets to accurately representing the common. It already stretches credulity to see Worcester as a winter wonderland, but to add the veneer of near complete whiteness is a bit insulting. Not even the kids using the rink—the kids our protagonist desperately pleads for, you know they need the oval because they can’t afford to skate at the fancy new rink—are all white. I mean, Lifetime is not where anyone would turn for good identity politics but come on, at least try a little.

Now I want to take us to the main attraction—what I’m most excited to write about above all else—the most bizarre and somehow the most truly Worcester thing about this movie.

The Mayor’s dead daughter.

I’ll set the scene: Our protagonist is back from her first trip to her love interest/the rink owner’s house, where she notices a picture of a girl on the wall that looks awfully familiar to one in the Mayor’s office. Her friend, who works in the Mayor’s office, confirms this. Now, why would this rink owner and the mayor have the same picture of this same girl? They do some research and they find out that the rink owner was married to the mayor’s daughter before the mayor’s daughter died, making the rink owner the mayor’s son in law. I don’t know how they tried to make this some big twist reveal because obviously everyone in this story would have already known this. But that’s the reveal.

And now our protagonist has found her political leverage. In the next scene, she approaches the mayor with her condolences, and says she’s seen the same picture of his daughter in the rink owner’s house.

The mayor then goes: “what, are you going to sic your reporter friend on me? Call it rampant nepotism?”

No, she assures him, no. But hey… your daughter was an ice skater, huh? Wouldn’t it be nice if you, you know, saved the oval by dedicating it to her? I’ve studied the city budget, she said, and you can take the rink out of the Parks and Rec line item and put it in the line item for statues and memorials. This way, you can get it past City Council, Mr. Mayor.

Well, I can’t do that because it’s in my daughter’s name, the mayor says, and that can be misconstrued, so you do it instead.

Right on, she says. And then the next scene is the City Council watching on as she gives a heartfelt speech and it’s all gravy, baby, the rink is saved. This is also where we get our Joe Petty cameo, for what it’s worth.

What I like so much about this ending is it accidentally captures Worcester extremely well. Up until the introduction of the Mayor’s dead daughter into the plot, the vision of Worcester we were offered is one that Worcester’s leaders would have us believe. Young attractive white people working in the city and living in cute lofts downtown and doing the best they can to contribute to the revitalization of a city that sorely needs it. Think of the children! But we get to the scene where our protagonist confronts the mayor, and it’s revealed that the man given the green light to build the skating rink in the Canal District is his son-in-law and rather than confront the nepotism—he even says it!—our protagonist uses it as political leverage to get what she wants: to save her oval and, lest we forget, her job. A classic Worcester backroom deal dressed up as a cute come-to-Jesus moment. The mayor was the Grinch who wanted to take the oval away, but now that our protagonist offered him a way to keep it which he personally benefits from by way of honoring his dead daughter, he can make it happen.

That’s Worcester, baby, gotta love it.

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This was a lighthearted one and I hope you enjoyed it. It’s nice to take a break from the heavy stuff. If you like what you read, consider subscribing and if you already subscribe maybe convince a friend to subscribe too? Word of mouth is how this newsletter has been growing and it’s been growing pretty good honestly I’m very nearly living off it. I love you all.

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Pastor Richie and company over at Net of Compassion have acquired a trailer hitch shower unit for unhoused people in the city. It’s over at 44 Vernon St, in front of the Edmond Tinsley Center. Net of Compassion does so, so, so much righteous work for desperate people in this city and they deserve all the love and support they can get. Here’s their page.

I’m thinking about making shirts, stickers, and a zine-style physical copy of Worcester Sucks and I Love It. Would you be interested in any of these things? Send me a line. I have a few design ideas that I think could be really cool. Do you do graphic design and do you want to make a little bit of quick money? Hit me up.

That’s all for now folks buhbyeeee.