Understanding that nothing says making merry and bright more than than a solid binge watch, Netflix has created several Christmas-themed limited series. Most of them I haven’t watched. (Or I should say, I haven’t watched them yet, because the holiday season has only just begun, and it’s always binge-watch season on my fainting couch). There’s a sitcom-style series (complete with laugh track) called Merry Happy Whatever where Dennis Quaid plays a tough cop dad who hates his daughter’s boyfriend. It looks less than good, but I’ve both been wrong before and watched (and liked) lots of less than good television. Another series from Spain is called Three Days of Christmas. The trailer has a whispering voice-over, haunting music, and hints of big dramatic secrets that will Change Everything Forever. (Fine, you are probably right that I’ll eventually watch that one. It also has some actresses I really like.) There is also a German one called Holiday Secrets that seems to involve a lot of anger followed by wistful stares at the seashore. Maybe that one is to make you feel better about your own family dramas? The trailer was intense. I bailed partway through it. Anyway, this time around, I went for the Norwegian mini-series Home for Christmas, which was pretty delightful and left me with all sorts of warm feelings.
Home for Christmas starts with a pretty tried and true premise: Johanne (Ida Elise Broch), a thirty-year-old single nurse who is mostly happy with her life and her job, starts finding that everything—from raffle prizes to pajamas to better work schedules—is designed with couples in mind. On top of that, she’s being pressured by her family to finally find a boyfriend and settle down. And they still talk ecstatically about her ex-boyfriend, who dumped her four years ago and is now married and has a baby. At dinner with her family on the first night of Advent, she’s forced to sit between her brother’s baby twin sons, and it’s implied that she’ll be stuck at the kids’ end of the table until she finds a man.
I mean, those babies are freaking adorable and pretty handy with a spoon, so it doesn’t seem like the end of the world to me. But Johanne is tired of feeling left out and different and pressured, so she lies and says she has a boyfriend she’ll bring to Christmas. At this point, if you’re like me, you might think you’re in for a generic kind of rom-com story built on a lie and stretched over six half-hour episodes, which, there are worse things in life, but the story becomes much more about self-acceptance, love, and valuing relationships.
Before we get to that part though, obviously Johanne is going to go on some really awful dates. Her roommate Jørgunn (Gabrielle Leithaug), who is quirky without it being annoying, convinces her to participate in a Speed Dating event. It goes as horribly as you’re probably hoping it will with Johanne meeting, among others, a coffee importer whose nose whistles, a performance artist, a guy who talks about having sex with video game dragons, a very materialistic guy, a scary guy, and a guy who cannot stop talking about musical theater.
On the way out of the event, she runs into a seemingly normal guy, but their date is awful because he’s a total ass, doesn’t listen to her, and overanalyzes Love Actually, which is Johanne’s favorite movie. (Oh, for sure, I see the irony in me calling him an ass while I make a weekly habit of over analyzing shows and movies that are likely someone’s favorite—I even talked smack about parts of Love Actually—but he really is a jerk, whereas I’m just snarky, which, I’m pretty certain, some people find endearing.) Side note: There are live reindeer in this movie!
Johanne is discouraged, but there will be no giving up!! Jørgunn—who makes pottery and adds things like balsamic vinegar to mulled wine and cares deeply for Johanne—insists she try an app called Love Match on which Johanne meets a plumber who has anger management issues, a very athletic and outdoorsy guy who is nice, but who also offers advice on how to tone her body, and a nineteen-year-old who is a prodigy in the sack and also makes her fresh baked bread (not, as far as I know, a euphemism, but we should probably make it one).
The parts when she’s trying to turn unpromising men into boyfriends in twenty-four days or less are fun, but much of the depth and heart of the show come from the scenes when she is at work. Here Johanne is not just a sad-sack single lady who needs advice and encouragement (though her passive aggressive boss does make a point of mentioning how Johanne always works Christmas Eve because she doesn’t have a boyfriend). In the hospital she is a dedicated and incredibly capable nurse who recognizes the individual humanity of each of her patients. She believes strongly in Norway’s healthcare system serving everyone. It’s clear that people in the hospital admire her, and some of them are perhaps a little in love with her, none of which she really realizes, of course. I especially loved watching her relationships with her patients. There’s a young heroin addict with whom she forms a bond, an aging politician who she tells off about his policies, and, best of all, an older Danish woman who talks about sex, the joys of being alone, and how every cigarette could be her last, which is what makes it so exciting. I especially liked when she tells Johanne, “You’re a good person. And good people deserve a good fuck.” (I am predictable when it comes to loving snarky, sweary, and blunt older women, aren’t I?)
My other favorite character, since you didn’t ask, is Johanne’s roommate Jørgunn. As I said before, she lives by her own culinary rules (and also her fashion rules). We only get hints of Jørgunn’s life outside of the apartment, but it’s clear she is independent and entirely devoted to her friendship with Johanne. Her pep talks, cajoling, and silliness make the show much funnier but, honestly, I just want to conjure her into real life and have her make me some bizarre food concoction, light some candles, and tell me things like, “You need to take control.” And “find your inner beast” And “behind every dick pic there’s a heart that longs for love.” Okay, that last one is obviously categorically untrue, but it’s also so endearing when she says it. Come to tea sometime, Jørgunn!
The story moves back and forth between Johanne’s family, her roommate, her dates, her friends, and her work—sometimes with them accidentally crashing into each other with funny and emotional results. In the end, people come together in ways I didn’t entirely foresee and some I did, both of which were gratifying to watch.
There were some parts that I found confusing, but I think that’s mostly because my brain starts to think it can understand Norwegian (enough of the words sound understandable that I trick myself) and my eyes drift away from the subtitles just long enough for me to miss a key point or two. And I will say that I was troubled when (mild spoiler) the date who displayed some scary issues with boundaries and anger ends up with Johanne’s friend and she doesn’t at least give her a heads up. It left me with the impression that his actions should be taken as harmless, which they really weren’t. But maybe this was somehow an homage to the part of Love Actually that I’ve previously made clear I don’t like? I don’t know. Watch and let me know what you think.
Anyway, if you’re looking for a cozy, manageable Christmas-infused binge watch, Home for Christmas might just do the trick. Can you really argue with a show that brings together fun rom-com devices, a diverse cast, and an inclusive message of appreciating the people who make your life better? I mean, maybe you can, in which case, may I suggest the “Haunted Holiday” selections that Hulu insists on recommending even though I will never, ever, ever watch them?