Dolly Parton's Netflix Christmas Special Is Almost Incomprehensible

Look… we tried.

dolly parton, christmas on the square
Netflix

There are a few things every Christmas special needs: It must be in some way about Christmas; it must feature a nice message about the holidays; and usually there's gotta be some supernatural presence to tie all the loose ends together. If there are songs, they don't need to be good, but they should be hum-able, and if there's a plot it should be simple, inoffensive, and, at most, background noise for the rest of the action. The problem with Netflix's latest one, Dolly Parton's Christmas on the Square, is it has the whole thing backwards: The songs are utterly forgettable—and at times simply begging to be skipped—while the story is unusually compelling. 

The movie is set in a small town that is the size of a soundstage, because that is entirely where it was filmed. The citizens of the town, including Dolly Parton dressed as a sparkly homeless person, are gathered in the square to celebrate Christmas, when here comes Christine Baranski handing out eviction notices for everyone to vacate their homes by Christmas Eve, dammit. She owns the plot of land the town was built on and is selling it to build a huge shopping mall. Oh no! 

Baranski's character feels no nostalgia for the small town wherein she grew up, due to some mysterious sad circumstances in her past having to do with the owner of a general store (Treat Williams) and her father. Parton, along with Roswell's Jeanine Mason, play an angel and an angel-in-training, respectively, who were sent to thaw Baranski's icy heart and save the town by nudging her in the direction of good rather than greed. Also there is a pastor and his wife who are trying to have a baby and sing a song about fertility treatments. 

christine baranski, christmas on the square
Netflix

If you can believe it, these two narratives do eventually come together in a big twist at the very end, but there's a lot of noise to get through first. The songs in Christmas on the Square are no "Magic Man G," that's for sure, and after the first couple of numbers, featuring a phalanx of backup dancers who are obviously shooting an Old Navy fall fashions commercial at the same time, you start to wonder what you're doing here. Why am I watching this? Did I want to watch this, or did Netflix's algorithm pick it for me? Was it one of those trailers that autoplays immediately after you finish a movie but then it turns out instead of a trailer it's the whole movie? Are these people singing, or begging to be released from their tinsel-strewn prison? 

I was expecting at least some weird dumb fun, but there's barely any of that in here, apart from Baranski singing, "Gotta get out of this town" like an emo teen in a coming-of-age indie movie. But, look, if you're just dying to watch a movie that features Christine Baranski vamping and singing, just watch Mamma Mia!, and if you're dying to watch a Dolly Parton Christmas special, watch one of Parton's innumerable other ones! (This isn't her first, excuse me, rodeo, which makes the phoned-in-ness of this one so much more jarring.) You could do worse for yourself this holiday season than flipping on Christmas on the Square in the background while you sort through some old clothes you haven't worn since college, but it seems to be simply another piece of throwaway content Netflix has manufactured just to have something to debut on a Sunday night. 

Need help finding something to watch? Sign up here for our weekly Streamail newsletter to get streaming recommendations delivered straight to your inbox.

Emma Stefansky is a staff entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @stefabsky.