The latest in the Hannah Swenson Mysteries series installment airs tonight on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries.
Hannah (Alison Sweeney) is again drawn into a murder investigation, and her fiancé and police detective Mike (Cameron Mathison) is right there by her side, helping the budding detective sift through evidence.
The series has been a bright spot on the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries schedule, first as Murder She Baked, as Hannah runs a thriving bakery, tickling the sweet tooth of Eden Lake's residents.
The Carrot Cake Murder brings the whole town together with a cold case in a sweeping mystery that spans several decades. It's a lot of fun from start to finish.
We had the opportunity to talk with Mathison in support of the Carrot Cake Murder, and he's as pleased as we are that the series lives on (another movie was just announced).
"We're a really fun cast. We get along really, really well. And truthfully, it was through Ali's persistence and her creative ideas of how to get this back up and going that it is."
Mathison and Sweeney make excellent partners on and off screen because, professionally, they're movers and shakers. Personally, they have similar values, putting family and fitness, for example, front and center in their lives.
"We're really lucky that we have branched out and done a lot of different mediums and things in this crazy profession. And at the same time, on set, we work very similarly,"
Mathison said, "We're quick memorizers, we quick work, we bounce things off each other. We love to improvise, we love spontaneity, and we really feel safe. We don't need to sugarcoat anything."
"We don't need to tiptoe around expressing something. We're just bing, bang, boom, let's get in there. Let's take care of it. Let's do our best."
They share ideas and move on them quickly, which is a testament to their long working relationship as well as their similar working styles.
Mathison admits that while he loves murder mysteries and plays a competent detective in the Hannah Swensen Mysteries, he's not a very good detective in his own right.
Still, he really enjoys the medium, which keeps him engaged in stories with forward-thinking curveballs and misdirects.
"I love the curveballs. Sometimes the curveballs aren't curveballs; they just look like curveballs. It's really skillful. And I admire the writers because it's not a talent of mine writing, and I really admire writers that can put this together," he said of the series.
As for his own detective heroes, it started for Mathison by reading the Hardy Boys as a boy and leaning into Sherlock Holmes, the father of all detectives, later.
"I've really enjoyed and all the different incarnations of [Sherlock Holmes] with Robert Downey Jr, etc. It's been really fun watching and reading different versions of that and different creative perspectives on it.
"And then Colombo is somebody that I really liked, too. It wasn't like I was a huge fan of watching Colombo, but maybe I was more of a fan of Peter Falk as an actor. I just loved the way that he worked, and he had this humility but also conflict.
"It was very bizarre how he was able to be so humble and seemingly unknowing but at the same time have this underlying confidence and one-up-ness on everybody. I really appreciate him as an actor, but also the Columbo series."
Columbo has qualities that appeal to Mathison, much like what he appreciates about being a part of the Hallmark family. Whether it's the Hannah Swenson Mysteries, Christmas movies, or hosting Hallmark Home & Family, he truly feels like part of a larger family, and they stand for something.
"Spreading positivity, goodness, beautiful, positive messaging out there is something that means a lot to me and has meant a lot to me, certainly more and more so as I get older.
"And being part of this particular series, I know it's necessarily not like the same virtues that you get out of the Christmas movie in a sense, but it is in a way because we've developed this family, this connection, this group of people that are making these fun mysteries and staying together.
"It connects me more with being an absolute part of this great bigger family at Hallmark. And that's probably what I love most about it. I love the cast, I love working with Ali. I think the mysteries, to your point, have always been great and engaging and tough to figure out.
"But what I like most is that it just locks me and secures me as being part of this great group of people that are trying to spread positive messages in the world. And I don't know, you can't beat that. You just can't beat it."
On social media, Mathison comes across as a caring family man eager to share what he knows about health and fitness with those who are on the social media journey with him. It makes sense he'd find what Hallmark offers to talent and its audience so appealing.
"I really feel like so much of it is very authentic to me," he shared. "And I've always said this. When I was co-hosting Home and Family, it was the most authentic job I ever had. It was just an extension of the person that I'm trying to be.
"And that is, we're not doing celebrity gossip, we're just spreading yummy recipes and positive messages with authors coming on the show and doing things, DIYs and craft and make people feel good.
"And I had meditation segments on there; I had workout segments, and I think you don't need that show to be on the air, to still have aspects of that coming through and what Hallmark's all about. It's very authentic to me in what I like to do in my life."
Yummy recipes go hand-in-hand with the Hannah Swenson Mysteries, as she baked delectable, mouthwatering treats. But the truth behind filming the series with baked goods at the forefront of the production is much different than what we see on screen.
Mathison explained, "Well, here's the deal. I'm an actor. Mike is in love and engaged to a baker. And in real life, I found out while we were shooting the last movie that I'm actually technically celiac. I've got celiac disease; I've got a real serious gluten sensitivity, and it's such a pain and so ironic. However, Mike isn't.
"If you watch some of the movies, I'm inhaling the brownies or the chocolate and cookies. And I really feel like it would be weird for the audience to watch Hannah's fiancé take a little nibble of her yummy baked goods when it's such a big part of this series of movies.
"Way back, I started making that decision, and in a way, I've paid for it."
Thankfully, now that he's on record with Celiac disease, Mathison said the team worked really hard to get him gluten-free baked goods. "But honestly, I don't even want to be that guy," he said.
"But they're really, really accommodating when they can, and they just do their best, and I do my best. But one movie, a few movies ago, I can't remember which one it was, I was doing a lot of health stuff. I was coming out of my cancer journey, and I was taking aspects of my measurements in health really seriously at the time.
"I still do, but not like that. And I was measuring my blood glucose levels every morning and monitoring them because we were really trying to get them down.
"They were elevated, even though I eat really clean and blah, blah, blah. Anyway, the morning after I had done one of these things where I was gorging on these cookies, and you do about 15 to 25 takes of these things.
"And once you establish how you eat something in a scene, you've got to match it for the most part. And I ate about, I don't know, seemingly 750,000 of these cookies.
"And the next morning, I measured my glucose level, and it was way beyond hyper-diabetic. If you know anything about glucose levels, it was 175 or something that next morning. I got a kick out of that."
That's true dedication to the craft on a set that finds him for an average of three out of the 15 days of filming, where Mike digs deep into the goodies Hannah delivers. That should give you a new perspective when watching the Hannah Swenson Mysteries.
When asked to tease a little something about the Carrot Cake Murder, Mathison didn't hold back. First and foremost, he's really enjoying the new direction of Hannah and Mike's relationship.
"There's a really new trajectory of their relationship with twists and turns that I really don't think people will see coming. I read the script, and my jaw dropped a little bit, and I was very excited with the potential."
He was also excited, knowing that the story would continue, as the latest story doesn't end all wrapped up with a pretty bow.
"There are lots of great twists and turns in this one with Hannah and Mike, and then we're going to pick it right up in the next one, which I love, so we don't have to wait tons of time. But then also the murder mystery," he said.
As noted previously, the mystery concerns a cold case, which is something Mathison said Sweeney loves. "She's a big true crime fanatic and, in particular, cold cases, so this is a crime that was several decades old."
He said putting the pieces together and how it ties to the town's past and what's happening in Eden Lake in the present is particularly fascinating.
He laughed. "I think it's a really interesting way to incorporate yet another murder in this small town without having the murder per capita rate of this small town in Minnesota be astronomical because it seems like there's a lot of murders!"
He also loves that Hannah's mom, Dolores (Barbara Niven), gets involved in the mystery. "Everybody loves when Dolores is involved," he said.
Mathison also shared that Gabriel Hogan and Norman and Tess Atkins as Hannah's sister Michelle are also featured more prominently.
"I really love how it's a real ensemble, and like I mentioned, a cold case, and that Hannah and Mike go to a really new level with twists and turns. Lots to look forward to," Mathison said.
You can see it all for yourself tonight at 7/6c only on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries!
*** This interview has been edited for length and clarity***
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on X and email her here at TV Fanatic.