‘Tis the season for a gluttony of holiday movies. From Lifetime to Hallmark to Netflix, your television and streaming platforms are chock full of holiday clichés about finding love underneath the mistletoe while sipping hot chocolate, baking gingerbread and wrapping yourself in a cozy plaid blanket.
Let’s be honest: these movies are ripe for spoofing, and Rachel Dratch and Ana Gasteyer are here for you. The former Saturday Night Live co-stars write, executive produce and star in A Clüsterfünke Christmas, which premieres Dec. 4 on Comedy Central. In the movie, Holly (Vella Lovell) is a high powered real estate executive (of course she is) who travels to the quaint (obviously) Clüsterfünke Inn in Maine with hopes of buying the financially struggling property from two spinster sisters (are there any other kind?) played by Dratch and Gasteyer. While in this charming winter wonderland, Holly meets hunky but daft woodsman Frank (Cheyenne Jackson) and confides in her new and maybe gay best friend Percy (Nils Hognestad).
To ensure they captured the very essence of the beloved genre, Dratch and Gasteyer collaborated with holiday movie veterans Danielle von Zerneck, who executive produced last season’s The Christmas Setup and this season’s An Ice Wine Christmas, and Michael Murray, who has written so many Christmas movies, including this season’s Under the Christmas Tree, that Gasteyer refers to him as “the Christmas guru.”
“The goal is to be able to laugh at it while still having it be a holiday movie. Rachel and I both sort of have the same approach to parody,” Gasteyer said in a video interview. “We like it to be as accurate as possible. Meaning I want my commercial parodies to feel like they would be commercials on TV.”
They wanted their movie to be like the holiday version of Airplane. “As much as Airplane is absurdist, the performances are incredibly serious,” Gasteyer said. “It was really important to us that we could find performers who could do that. Performers like Cheyenne Jackson and Vella Lovell who understand comedy but who are trained actors and are extremely comfortable leaning into the most ridiculous language seriously. There’s always a lot of stirring speeches in these movies and Cheyenne handled them so hilariously and gracefully even with maple syrup buckets on his shoulders.”
The list of tropes they wanted to hit was vast. “We picked the plot we’ve seen so many times,” Dratch said. “A big city executive gets sent to a small town and finds Christmas and love. We had that as the framework but any goofy idea on top of it we would lay it on like the frosting.” So there are the obvious jokes about things like the lack of diversity in these movies, how they’re almost exclusively about Christmas and how a lot of characters have Canadian accents. But there are also the subtler nods that true fans of the genre will appreciate. “There’s super meta things like there’s always literally 14 extras because nobody can ever afford [more] or there’s just a square of snow that stops,” Gasteyer said. “The gay best friend trope is something I was really excited to tackle. Especially in the Hallmark genre which was traditionally much more conservative. It’s clearly a gay man but nobody ever references his sexuality. We just had a really good time playing with that.”
They also had a lot of fun with product placement—an often necessary evil in terms of getting your movie funded. They wrote fake products into the script and then went out to try to get sponsorship. “Product placement is always super intrusive. It’s a conundrum,” Gasteyer said. “We did sort of manage to have this sort of hyper meta where Kraft did sponsor us and Philadelphia cream cheese became our hero brand but we did have a really good time playing with how to integrate those Kraft products.” In other words look for exaggerated excitement over Maxwell House coffee and Cool Whip.
Although Gasteyer and Dratch have been collaborating since their days on Saturday Night Live in the late 1990s and early 2000s, this is the first thing they’ve written together. “There is a shorthand for anyone who sort of comes from our background especially as you sort of leave SNL and go off into the world,” Gasteyer says. “We’ve learned that there’s a speed and a common language that was so enormously helpful. As a collaborator it was a fantastic experience-where I get stuck, Rachel has freedom. Where Rachel gets stuck, I have freedom. Where she gets lazy, I get busy. When I get lazy, she gets busy. We’re a very good team that way.”
But as much fun as they had, writing is hard work. “We make each other laugh a lot in real life. This felt like an extension of that,” Dratch said. “It was all the fun that we have together plus the gnashing of teeth.”
The best part may have been donning the wigs and frumpy outfits to play Hildy and Marga, two kindly old women who love to bake but aren’t much for modernization or accounting. “We rarely get the freedom anymore to play ladies in wigs and glasses,” Gasteyer said. “Which is really what all sketch performers really want to do in their heart of hearts.”
A Clüsterfünke Christmas premieres December 4 at 7 p.m. on Comedy Central.
Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer and a member of the Television Critics Association. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal).