Once upon a time, in 2018, I declared the Hallmark Hall of Fame title, Back When We Were Grownups, as the worst Hallmark movie I had ever seen. Since publishing that list, I honestly didn’t think any movie would dethrone the 2004 film. That all changed when I saw Francesca Quinn, PI. At the end of 2022, when I released my list of the worst movies I watched, the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries film was placed at number one. While I explained why the film earned the top spot on my list, I didn’t discuss why Francesca Quinn, PI is now the worst Hallmark movie I’ve ever seen. As a Christmas present, J-Dub, from Dubsism, nominated me for The Pick My Movie Tag. My mission was to write about a movie I couldn’t stand. This gave me the perfect opportunity to explain why I don’t like Francesca Quinn, PI. Since this editorial is solely based on my opinion, I need to make it clear that everything I say is not meant to be mean-spirited or disrespectful. Examples from the movie will be used to support my intended points. I’d also like to thank J-Dub for the nomination! Because of this tag, I’m now publishing my first editorial of 2023! This editorial is written for a tag, so all tag rules will be posted below.
The Tag’s Rules
- Nominate one or more people to review the film or films of your choice. Or you can request they review something from a certain year, genre, or star. Everyone can review the same thing, or you can request each person cover something different. As long as it’s something they haven’t written about yet, you’re good.
- Nominees are allowed to request a different pick for whatever reason no more than five times. Stuff happens. We all know it.
- Nominees must thank the person who nominated them and provide a link their blog.
- Nominees may nominate others to keep the tag going. Picking the person who nominated them is allowed, or they can nominate someone else. Maybe both.
- All participants need to include these rules in their post, whether they’re nominees or picking nominees.
- All participants should use the “Pick My Movie” banner or something similar in their posts.
- Have fun!
Exposition is an important storytelling component in any story, whether it’s a stand-alone tale or a chapter in an established franchise. This component provides the audience with necessary information about the characters, setting, and overarching conflict. The best way for the audience to absorb this information is, in my opinion, to spread it out throughout the story. That’s not what happened in Francesca Quinn, PI. Within the first six minutes of the movie, the following characters are introduced:
Francesca (the protagonist)
Jim (Francesca’s dad)
Bill (Jim’s friend)
Wynton (Francesca’s childhood friend and detective partner)
Megan (Francesca’s ex-stepmom)
Carl (Francesca’s high school sweetheart and fiancé)
In just one scene, Francesca, Jim, Bill, and Wynton are rapidly introduced to the audience. Within those same first six minutes, Francesca, through a voice over, discusses the six murders Megan committed over the span of four years. Because the audience is receiving so much information in such a short amount of time, they aren’t given the opportunity to truly get to know the characters. They also aren’t given enough time to decide for themselves if they want to care about a particular character. The first movie in a potential series is intended to serve as a first impression for the audience, an indication of what they could expect from the story. With Francesca Quinn, PI’s creative team choosing to dump exposition onto their audience’s plates, that will cause viewers to feel overwhelmed.
Since coming to fruition in 2001, Hallmark Channel has created several mystery series that would eventually lead to the rebranding of Hallmark’s second network. In these series, the audience follows a central protagonist who comes across as likable. This likability has worked in some series’ favor, expanding a story beyond three films. In the case of Francesca Quinn, PI, there are some factors working against the protagonist. Throughout the movie, Francesca speaks with a monotone voice, using very little emotional inflection. Most of the time, her face carries a blank, serious expression. With the material given, Mallory Jansen tries her best to give her character a wider range of emotion, smiling every once in a while. However, this attempt isn’t enough to make a good first impression on the audience.
Francesca’s limited expressions lead me to my next point; her weaker personality. When beginning a series, a protagonist’s personality could determine that story’s longevity. If the protagonist is presented as friendly, approachable, and even relatable, that could attract more viewers to follow the protagonist’s adventures. Showing a protagonist in various environments is a good way to showcase their personality. In the Aurora Teagarden series, the audience witnesses Aurora in both a professional and nonprofessional setting. Whether she’s trying to get along with her co-worker, Lillian, or interacting with the members of the Real Murders Club, viewers receive a more well-rounded glimpse into Aurora’s personality. Because Francesca’s story primarily revolves around her profession, the audience doesn’t get a strong idea of what her personality is really like. The fact Francesca does not have friends or hobbies outside of her occupation prevents her personality from shining. Another element Francesca’s personality is missing is charisma.
The most well-known detectives in pop culture have a “quirk”, something that sets them apart from other fictional detectives. A great example is Columbo, who is recognized for saying “and one more thing”. With Francesca Quinn, there are no “quirks” that help her stand out among Hallmark’s other detectives. As I previously mentioned, she doesn’t have any interests outside of her profession. She does not have a catchphrase that viewers could easily remember and quote. This missing ingredient is another reason why Francesca is not a likable and memorable protagonist.
An Unprofessional Investigator
In Hallmark’s various mystery series, there is a mix of professional and amateur detectives. This provides mystery fans with diverse perspectives, showing how different characters approach a mystery. For protagonists who are professional detectives, their critical thinking and problem-solving skills should give the impression they know what they’re doing. Yet, in Francesca Quinn, PI, Francesca makes several mistakes an amateur detective would likely make. When visiting a potential suspect, Francesca spots the security guard who happens to work at the prison Megan resides in. She, as well as Ella (the lead detective of the Minneapolis police department), chase after the security guard. As the chase continues, the security guard throws a set of fish at Francesca, in an effort to slow her down. Her disgust distracts her from the pursuit, with the security guard getting away. After the security guard trips and falls to the ground, Francesca pulls her gun on him. When Ella tries to calm Francesca down, Francesca tells her, “He threw a fish at me”, justifying her reason for pulling her weapon on the security guard.
The scene I described is just one example of Francesca’s poor decision-making skills. Yet Francesca Quinn, PI’s creative team wants the audience to believe Francesca is a professional investigator with years of experience. The story also establishes how Francesca has her own private investigation firm. Detectives in mystery stories are human, capable of making mistakes and experiencing obstacles. But Francesca crosses the line between human error and appearing incompetent at her job. Toward the beginning of her investigation to figure out who killed Carl, Wynton and Beatrice (a detective who works alongside Wynton) pays Francesca a visit. As Beatrice shares the alibis of the case’s prime suspects, Francesca believes a hit man murdered her fiancé. She is so convinced in her belief, she becomes defensive and argumentative with Beatrice and Wynton. Instead of looking at every possible avenue for a resolution to the mystery, Francesca chooses to be close-minded in her approach to figuring out “whodunit”.
Mystery stories will typically provide explanations when it comes to specific parts of the story. Whether it’s medical terminology or pieces of historical information, these explanations can help the audience better understand the story they are consuming. But Francesca Quinn, PI includes so many explanations, the protagonist ends up explaining things that don’t need to be explained. In the first minute of the movie, Francesca explains what a “murder board” is, saying “a murder board, we call it. Lots of pieces of evidence that hopefully bring you to a conclusion”. This explanation is presented as a voice over, with a “murder board” shown on screen. Speaking for myself, I’ve seen enough mystery programs, especially from Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, to know what the aforementioned board is and how it is used.
While voice overs were a way to provide unnecessary explanations, Francesca Quinn, PI’s creative team used other methods to keep this flaw consistent. When Francesca and Wynton visit Megan in prison, Wynton tells Megan the police “do things by the book”. The inclusion of this pun acknowledged Megan’s English teaching career and her request to receive books in prison. Shortly after Wynton made this pun, Francesca explains to Megan, as well as the audience, that not only is “by the book” a pun, she also explains the meaning behind the pun. In my list of the top ten worst movies I saw in 2022, I said Francesca Quinn, PI gave me the impression the film’s creative team didn’t want me to solve the mystery alongside the protagonist. I also said one of the worst things a film-maker can do is disrespect their audience’s intelligence. With all the unnecessary explanations the creative team gave, the opportunity for the viewers to interact with the story was unavailable.
As of the publication of this editorial, there are no announced plans to grow Francesca Quinn, PI into a series. If I’m being honest, though, I hope that doesn’t happen. This is because I truly believe there are mystery stories that are better than this one. A decade ago, Hallmark Movies & Mysteries housed several mystery series that achieved viewership success. Hallmark’s second network would never have boasted the name, Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, had it not been for the popularity of these mystery films. Now, in the 2020s, it seems like Hallmark’s priorities no longer lie with the mystery genre. In early March, 2023, only three of Hallmark Movies & Mysteries’ movies are mystery titles. Out of the ten newer mystery titles to premiere this decade so far, just two of them have received at least one sequel: Martha’s Vineyard Mysteries and Curious Caterer. Looking back on Francesca Quinn, PI, Hallmark’s lack of care and respect for the mystery genre shined brighter than a typical neon sign.
Flapper Dame from The Flapper Dame
Ari from The Classic Movie Muse
Maddy from Classic Film and TV Corner
Ruth from Silver Screenings
Hamlette from Hamlette’s Soliloquy
As I mentioned in the introduction, I wrote this editorial for The Pick My Movie Tag. Because I wrote about the worst Hallmark movie I’d ever seen, I will give my nominees the mission to write about a Hallmark movie featured in my worst movies of the year lists. To make it easier for the nominees, I will list those titles below:
One Winter Weekend
Frozen in Love
Love at Sea
Pride, Prejudice, and Mistletoe
Mingle All the Way
Marrying Mr. Darcy
Yes, I Do
Our Christmas Love Song
My One and Only
Over the Moon in Love
Last Vermont Christmas
A Feeling of Home
Christmas at Graceland: Home for the Holidays
Christmas Scavenger Hunt
A Cheerful Christmas
Thicker Than Water
Jane Doe: Yes, I Remember It Well
JL Family Ranch: The Wedding Gift
Jane Doe: Vanishing Act
Out of the Woods
Mystery Woman: At First Sight
I’m Not Ready for Christmas
Country at Heart
Jane Doe: Ties That Bind
Hallmark Hall of Fame’s Durango
Signed, Sealed, Delivered: The Vows We Have Made
Hallmark Hall of Fame’s A Place for Annie
Nikki & Nora: Sister Sleuths
Hallmark Hall of Fame’s The Corsican Brothers
Hallmark Hall of Fame’s Journey
A Boyfriend for Christmas
Francesca Quinn, PI
Have fun at the movies!