The Christmas Setup Review: Lifetime Strikes Gold with Its First Queer Holiday Romance!

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Did Lifetime give us a near-perfect Christmas film while breaking new ground in the process?

Why yes, indeed they did. The Christmas Setup had everything you could possibly ask for, and it just so happened to be the network's first queer holiday rom-com too.

And given their successful execution of this one, while filming during a pandemic to boot, hopefully, it won't be the last.

Hugo and Patrick - The Christmas Setup

Hugo and Patrick were the actual leads, and thankfully, they avoided the traditional coming out story trope, so for those factors alone, it's likely the best queer holiday film we've seen thus far.

And if the more adorable aspects of a film appeal to you, then this one starred a real-life married couple: Arrow's Ben Lewis and Park and Rec's Blake Lee, so the chemistry was as natural as can be, and it had the queen that is mother-fudging Fran Drescher.

Apologies, I may or may not have fangirled over Fran Drescher since the days I left milk and cookies out for Santa and fretted about getting coal in my stocking for yelling at my little brother.

Everyone Loves Kate - The Christmas Setup

The Christmas Setup had all of the best tropes, and Ben Lewis nailed his performance as the lovable, single, career-oriented, dorky human disaster-child protagonist. He also had the best hair, seriously, the sheen, the waves, the little Clark Kent curl -- adorable.

As a dedicated attorney who spent years trying to climb his way up the ladder to make partner at his firm, it seemed to come down to him advocating for himself in front of his boss. And it was a scene filled with so much second-hand embarrassment and awkwardness we couldn't get past it fast enough.

What is it with law firms? You toil away, giving them your blood, sweat, and tears, saving their asses more times than you can count, and you still have to demand, plea, and threaten to get that coveted promotion you more than earned.

Hugo Makes His Case - The Christmas Setup

A much-needed break for the holidays meant Hugo got to spend Christmas with his mother for the first time in years, and with a mother like Kate, he couldn't have asked for anything better.

Kate was the absolute best, and she had a way of making everyone around her feel welcomed. In fact, there wasn't anyone under the age of 40 that she didn't treat as a child of her own.

Which relationship did you love most? She obsessed over Hugo and doted on him as any mom would, and it was precious. He brought Maddie along with him, and she treated her as family -- the daughter she never had (and probably will thanks to Maddie and Aiden).

Honestly, find a better platonic duo than Kate and Maddie during this film. You can't. They were endearingly meddlesome, unapologetic Hugo and Patrick 'shippers, and no one knew Hugo as well or got through to him as much as Kate and Maddie.

Hugo's Girls - The Christmas Setup

They often vyed for ultimate scene-stealer during the film, with Drescher edging Wong out for the simple fact that she's had decades in the making of being iconic.

Both women saw what the rest of us did from the second Hugo and Patrick shared the screen -- these two belong together, dammit.

And as far as first meet-cutes go, Patrick delivering the massive Christmas tree to the Spencer home and Hugo awkwardly bumbling about in a toolbelt as he tried to help Patrick set it up was perfect.

They were both such awkward delights, trying to maintain a chill facade the entire time, even though they were smitten with each other. And there was never a shortage of euphemisms during this film, which amused me to no end.

Tree Struggles - The Christmas Setup

But The Christmas Setup played their classic misunderstanding of one character's availability perfectly without dragging it out a second longer than necessary.

Patrick's assumption that Hugo and Maddie were married because of how affectionate they were and how they finished each other's sentences was hilarious, and Kate jumping in to clear that up bluntly and quickly -- the matchmaking wheels already spinning in her head -- even more so.

Hugo and Maddie were pretty damn close, and I appreciate it when actors sell a deep friendship so well that it seems authentic and jumps off the screen. Wong and Lewis sold that, but in a way where Hugo and Maddie's relationship wasn't intimidating.

Besties Forever - The Christmas Setup

Sure, Patrick noticed the bond and poked fun a bit, but it never discouraged him from thinking he and Hugo could have a closeness of their own -- their own specific friendship within their romantic relationship.

And Aiden did have moments where he also seemed a bit wistful about how close Maddie and Hugo were, but instead of getting jealous that someone else had a closer bond to his brother than he managed, he was grateful that his brother had someone.

The second Kate and the others cleared that misunderstanding up, Patrick wasted no time shooting his shot, and you have to appreciate a man who goes for what he wants.

And Patrick knew how to WOO. Goodness! If Hugo didn't fall for this cute, sweet, nerdy guy with the gorgeous smile, then he would've been a fool. A fool!

Patrick - The Christmas Setup

Can we talk about Patrick's dates? He made a hot cocoa date fun and sexy (still reeling from Hugo's $20 cocoa, though, whoa big spender!). He created a gorgeous, well-lit outdoor dinner date in the middle of the tree lot, with food, booze, twinkling lights, and a crackling fire.

He drove Hugo out into the middle of nowhere in his classic pickup truck, and they sat in the truck bed with blankets and watched the Northern Lights and made out beneath them.

Patrick made me swoon with his down to earth personality and dating style despite, you know, being rich. Find you a Patrick, gentlefolk. He's the best Patrick since Schitt's Creek, and it's not up for debate.

And the best part about it is that it probably had to do with pandemic restrictions, but it fit Patrick's personality so well that those restrictions never crossed the mind.

Romantic Date - The Christmas Setup

Patrick, with the help of his trusty Cassandra, put in the work to make not just make Hugo but the viewers fall in love with him, and he succeeded. And that's how you romantic lead, people.

It was also nice to hear about their respective experiences in high school. It's funny how when you're the dorky one, you never think about anyone remembering you, but Patrick, despite being out and popular was quite lonely back then, and he also took notice of Hugo.

Hugo wasn't out during those days, and he must have kept to himself, but it sounds as though his high school crush on Patrick was mutual, but he never realized it.

Northern Lights Kiss - The Christmas Setup

Hugo and Patrick felt like an inevitability. They were fated, or rather Kate'd, to be together, but Hugo's job offer interfered.

Hugo got the promotion he dreamed about, but it meant relocating to London to run the office, and he fretted about it for some time before Maddie accidentally spilled the beans to everyone.

The more time he spent at home, with Patrick, sure, but also his mother and remembered what it was like in their quaint town, the sadder he was about the promotion.

He had a well-balanced life in Milwaukee in their Carol neighborhood. He got to dust off the tools and do some woodwork again like the old days with his late father.

Woodwork - The Christmas Setup

Despite his complaints, he got to spend time with his mother and help her put together the town's Christmas events. His brother was back from his station in Europe, and it meant spending time with and getting to know him better as an adult.

He had Patrick. And as Patrick mentioned often, the town had evolved and was becoming a beautiful, inclusive, up and coming place.

Patrick spoke about the safe space they opened up for queer youth and the drag club. He took Hugo, Maddie, and Aiden to one of the pop-ups where they had a merry time with drag queens and drinks, and Hugo sang.

The town had done so much work rebuilding the place, and Patrick knew that Hugo would be a perfect addition to that. It was so much work they could still do to make the town everything Edgar Carol wanted it to be.

More Decorations - The Christmas Setup

And Hugo showed his value when he started looking into the documents and history of the train station (and Carol), so he could save it from demolishment.

The classic "must save Christmas" task was a great one, and I love how well it tied into the love story.

While doing his research, Hugo discovered that their neighborhood's founder, Edgar Carol, was gay, too.

He left almost all of his possession to a man named Ashby. Hugo found a photo of Carol and Ashby grazing pinkies with a sentimental inscription on the back.

Saving the Train Station - The Christmas Setup

Hugo had the motivation to save the beloved, historical train station anyway, but upon discovering so much about Carol, he felt connected to it in a more meaningful way.

On the one hand, the first thought to come to mind was that Carol's wishes for his estate weren't honored because of his sexuality. But on the other, it's so refreshing that the movie strayed away from homophobia altogether.

Neither Patrick nor Hugo went down a long list of prejudices they faced because of who they're attracted to, and not only were their families supportive of them, but they all were damn near pushing Hugo and Patrick together the entire film.

The only real downside was while the film alluded to the train station surviving after Hugo finding out that it belonged to the committee based on Carol's wishes, it didn't give official confirmation.

Tough News - The Christmas Setup

The same goes for Hugo's decision on whether or not he was taking the promotion and moving to London, or staying in New York City, or relocating to Milwaulkee.

He had reservations about maintaining a long-distance relationship. He didn't think he could manage it, and Patrick thought it was bullshit at first, but then later, he, too, reasoned that as a numbers guy, the odds weren't in their favor.

The math clashed with the chemistry, and it's what led Patrick to distance himself when he realized he couldn't spend the remaining time with Hugo, knowing that he would move over the pond.

Oddly enough, everyone naturally assumed Hugo took the job, even when he hadn't made his official decision or statement yet.

Aidan and Maddie - The Christmas Setup

A form of enlightenment came in the form of Aiden and Maddie.

They, too, were an adorable couple. And Kate, ever the multi-tasker, had no problem encouraging that relationship as well.

Honestly, Kate stayed winning here. Both of her sons ended up with people she adored and who were basically treated like part of the family anyway.

You already know next year, they'll all having matching pajamas on the ready for the group photo she's putting on their family Christmas card. Maddie was already calling her "mom." Kate and her kiddos; you love to see it.

The Christmas Setup Cast

Maddie and Aiden's relationship built naturally as the secondary romance, and it was precious. But ironically, the relationship that was intriguing but needed more background was Hugo and Aiden.

Hugo expressed that he always had a hard time trying to connect with Aiden. Unfortunately, he never elaborated on what that meant.

It's like they were brothers but didn't know each other well, and it made you wonder what the story was there. Typically, you'd assume it was discomfort or weirdness because of Hugo's sexuality, but they never implied that, and it was genuinely refreshing that Aiden, who was in the Air Force, compeltely accepted and loved his brother.

On Aiden's end, it sounded as though Hugo and their father were close and bonded over woodwork in the garage, and Aidan didn't feel included in that.

The Spencer Brothers - The Christmas Setup

It almost seems as though Aiden felt like the outcast, and he was thrilled to be in the garage, spending time with his brother. He also loved talking about Patrick and was eager to know more about his brother and his life.

But the film never delved into any of that any further despite the intrigue.

Also, it sounded as though Aidan knew or remembered Patrick before, and for a moment, it seemed as though he knew something about Patrick that he wasn't sharing. But then, nothing ever came of that either.

Aiden, too, was prompting Hugo to stay in Wisconsin, and he reminded Hugo that when you find a connection with someone or love them way he did with Maddie and Hugo did with Patrick, then you make it work no matter what.

Spencer Hug - The Christmas Setup

You at least put in the effort if it mattered.

Hugo needed to hear and accept that, and fortunately, the message hit him. But again, it wasn't as obvious as it should have been what the logistics of Hugo's decision meant.

He spoke about his love for his hometown, and he referred to it as his home, but he never said the official words that he gave up his job in London to stay either in New York City or there.

He expressed how much he loved Patrick, but they handwaved the rest away.

Hugo - The Christmas Setup

But it did build to that beautiful moment on the train station platform.

A century ago, Edgar Carol and Ashby stood on that same platform near each other, as the love of each other's lives, and took a photo where their only way of expressing their love for each other was the touch of their pinkies.

A pinkie promise, if you will, because of a time when homosexuality was something you hid.

And there Hugo and Patrick were 100 years later, kissing publically, in front of their friends and family, as Kate captured their sweet moment, as out and proud men who loved each other and could do so out loud.

Perfect Kiss - The Christmas Setup

No, everything isn't perfect, and society still has some ways to go. However, sometimes we have to take a moment to reflect on how far we've come, and we have to celebrate the victories.

It was the perfect, poignant ending for the film.

Over to you, Lifetime Fanatics. What are your thoughts on The Christmas Setup? Anyone else secretly rooting for a sequel? 

Hit the SHOW COMMENTS button below, and let me know what you think!


Editor Rating: 4.9 / 5.0
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Jasmine Blu is a senior staff writer for TV Fanatic. She is an insomniac who spends late nights and early mornings binge-watching way too many shows and binge-drinking way too much tea. Her eclectic taste makes her an unpredictable viewer with an appreciation for complex characters, diverse representation, dynamic duos, compelling stories, and guilty pleasures. You'll definitely find her obsessively live-tweeting, waxing poetic, and chatting up fellow Fanatics and readers. Follow her on X.

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