Stuck in a Christmas Time Loop: A Review of the Hallmark Channel’s “Pete’s Christmas”

Fourteen-year-old Pete Kidder is having the “worst Christmas ever.” Why?

The middle child’s parents forgot to buy him a present; his football jock older brother blames him for mishaps he didn’t cause; he embarrasses himself in front of the pretty girl who just moved in next door; and he has to sleep with his super-genius little brother who wets the bed because his grandfather is visiting for the holiday.

It’s a day Pete simply wishes was over. But when his grandfather gives him a mysterious empty box the same night that there’s a magical meteor shower, Pete finds himself stuck in a Christmas time loop, reliving the same day over and over again, like Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day.”

At first, Pete, who is the only one who realizes the day is repeating itself, feels miserable. When he asks his grumpy grandfather what he would do if he were “cursed” to live the same day over, Grandpa’s response is surprisingly positive. He says, “That’s not a curse. It sounds to me like a gift” because you wake up every day with a clean slate.

Pete takes the advice to heart. Initially, he uses it as an excuse to mistreat others who’ve mistreated him. Eventually, he comes to see it as an opportunity for self-improvement – and to improve the lives of his loved ones.

Pete’s Christmas” (which premieres on the Hallmark Channel on Friday Nov. 8 at 8/7C) has several strengths, starting with the cast. Initially, Pete (Zachary Gordon) is such a mopey doormat that I found it aggravating. He lets himself get pushed around without even speaking up about it. He grows as a character, though, as the story progresses, developing confidence, likability and relatability.

Oscar and Emmy nominee Bruce Dern is exceptional as the Kidder’s gruff-but-lovable grandfather. At one point, Pete asks him if he was always so grumpy. He responds, “You don’t just get grumpy. You’ve got to work at it. It takes time, like making a fine wine.”

Beyond the humor, Dern also adds emotional depth to the story. He’s a widower who misses his wife and realizes he didn’t appreciate his family in their younger days when they were all together. Though he comes to develop a bond with Pete, he struggles to fit in with everyone else, especially his son (Rick Roberts), who he can’t even build a snowman with without arguing.

Actress Bailee Madison plays Katie, the new neighbor girl that Pete takes a shine to. Madison displays the natural charm and charisma she brought to her role as a young Snow White on “Once Upon a Time,” while also adding some moral and spiritual grounding to the story. She’s the one who gives Pete some holiday perspective when she tells him, “Christmas forces you to slow down and look up.”

And due to a tragic event in her past, Katie says that no material thing could make Christmas perfect for her. It’s really all about the loved ones with whom you spend it. At a time when kids and families can get carried away with materialism, it’s a welcome message for viewers.

The other great thing about “Pete’s Christmas” is the setting. A lot of TV Christmas movies are shot in the summer or fall, so you have to overlook the fake-looking snow and the trees and flowers that are still in full bloom. “Pete’s Christmas” looks like it was shot during the winter in a rural setting with genuine snow, thereby setting the mood perfectly.

“Pete’s Christmas” provides an enjoyable story that the whole family can watch together. With its inherent message of compassion and selflessness, it’s especially appropriate for kids.

(“Pete’s Christmas,” part of “Walden Family Theater,” premieres Friday Nov. 8th on the Hallmark Channel at 8/7C. It will re-air on Friday Nov. 15 at the same time. Check the Hallmark Channel website for additional airtimes.)

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