It has been a strange and stressful year for most of us and I have not been watching as many Christmas films as of late but I have been watching and re-watching some Christmas TV shows. Before Christmas 2019, I did not think that television shows dedicated to Christmas were a genre but they have been popping up on Netflix and I have been watching. It’s a great way to get a short half-hour burst of festive content without dedicating 90 minutes or more to a film.
Merry Happy Whatever (2019)
This was the first and only series I saw in 2019 and kicked off the genre on Netflix for me. If you’re looking to watch something comforting and family-orientated, then Merry Happy Whatever should definitely be on your bucket list. It centres around the Quinn family and their family celebrations over the Christmas period. The main focus of the clan is Emmy who is the only sibling to have moved away from under her father’s thumb. She is also the youngest and this year is bringing her boyfriend, Matt to Christmas in Philadelphia from their home in Los Angeles. While there are some ups and downs during the get together, nothing terrible happens so this is also suitable for kids, especially those with short attention spans as every episode comes in around the 30 minute mark.
The show does have some Disney Channel vibes as there is no swearing or violence and although the dialogue is a little cheesy I think the show has real heart; a great diverse cast showing how American families truly are. Each of the siblings go on their own journey through the show and Emmy (played by Bridgit Mendler, a Disney Channel alum) gets to see that her family aren’t as picture perfect as she once thought and her father sees that he should not try and control his adult kids.
There are a couple of other familiar faces including another Disney alum, Ashley Tisdale and Dennis Quaid as Don Quinn, the patriarch of the family. It’s a nice change of pace to see a show set in a lesser shown city in America but you don’t get to see much of Philadelphia as the show is all shot on a stage or using only half a room to create the impression that it is all staged. Think of other US comedies like Friends or How I Met Your Mother and you get the idea.
Overall, I think the show did a great job at being one of the first shows to focus solely on Christmas and you never get caught up around the festivities too much as there are so many other plotlines that the holiday is more of a backdrop with an excuse for activities and the family gathering together. I watched this show last year and then again this year. It’s an easy watch and all of the actors make you feel relaxed and at home with just enough Christmas spirit.
Home for Christmas (2019-)
This show actually premiered in 2019 but I didn’t notice it until this year. With a second season dropping this December, Netflix must have been promoting it more. This show is a Norwegian original, set in Oslo, although this is never explicitly stated. I watched with subtitles as I’m sure most people will but it didn’t distract me from the humour or heart of the show. There are some genuinely laugh out loud moments in both series of the show along with romance and joy.
The show centres around Johanne, a 30-year-old nurse. She attends her family’s annual December 1st celebrations and when receiving many questions about her love life and lack of boyfriend, Johanne invents a boyfriend and has until Christmas Eve to find one. I think this premise works really well in Norway as December 1st is not a traditional family gathering in the UK or US so there would have to be another reason for the family to get together.
Johanne with the help of her friends and roommate starts actively looking for a boyfriend and has a few adventures along the way. She tries speed dating, online dating, dating older and younger men with a mix of results and in between finds time to celebrate December with her friends, family and colleagues. Every episode shows a few days in December leading up to Christmas Eve and Johanne’s big reveal. The setting of a snow-covered high street with lots of Christmas village-esque shops creates the perfect Christmas setting. By watching the show, you learn a lot about Scandi or Norwegian traditions and rituals and you get to see a lot of the city with the various dates Johanne goes on.
I won’t give away the ending but in the second season, it is a year later and Johanne is hosting Christmas this year and still looking for a boyfriend or possibly her true love. There are a lot of characters to balance in the show but I think it does it well. There could be a little more diversity in terms of LGBT characters but there are a couple in there. Norwegian is such a lovely language and I definitely picked up a few phrases while reading the subtitles. I used to not like foreign shows or films as much as I struggled to keep up with the subtitles but having watched more and with many foreign films gaining better international recognition, I have become more familiar with subtitles.
I don’t personally recognise any of the actors but having looked at their profiles on IMDb, there are some actors that have been in a lot of projects even some English-speaking ones. The cast is great with the actress playing Johanne as a stand-out. She is able to navigate all her relationships and emotions perfectly and you can always tell what she is thinking by a look or gesture. I watched the first series at the start of December and then the second shortly after it came out. Both series were really strong and having most of the characters come back again helped to unite the story from one year to the next.
Dash & Lily (2020)
The only new Christmas show on Netflix this year is based on a book by David Leviathan and Rachel Cohn who have also had their two other joint works made into films. I think this story needed to be a television show as there is a lot to show and the nature of a back and forth works well in this format.
Dash and Lily are both teenagers in New York City at Christmas time and they are both alone. Dash by choice and Lily by circumstance. Dash is a cynic and the Grinch of the pair whereas Lily loves Christmas and takes every chance to celebrate. The story starts with Dash finding a mysterious notebook in his favourite second-hand book store and follows the dares inside. He begins a back and forth between himself and Lily who started the book. They trade dares and secrets about each other and gradually come out of their shells. Lily is shy and never ventures far out of her comfort zone or area in New York and Dash believes that joy is dead after his girlfriend left town and his parents divorced. He tells them both he is with the other and plans to spend the holidays alone at his dad’s apartment.
Dash and Lily are each helped in the dares by their friends or family and they both gradually become more well-rounded people. Setting the story in New York City at Christmas creates many opportunities to show the hidden places in the city as well as many iconic locations such as Macy’s, Grand Central Station and Central Park. There are many spots that are not normally used in New York for filming so it is not just the same scenery you have seen a thousand times. There are a lot of emotions in the show with humour and festive cheer included as well as darker emotions. The show is certainly not shielding any realities but there is not any real threats or bad language so suitable for a family watch with older kids.
One of the best parts of the story is showing New York how it really is in terms of its residents and realities. The cast felt naturally diverse as New York has many different people living there with a secondary character having a gay relationship that was relevant and real. David Leviathan has written many books starring gay characters so I would expect nothing less and I am glad it translated over to the screen.
This show will help bring out your festive cheer and show you that there’s more to life than your neighbourhood.