I’m shamelessly promoting my new essay for New York Times Magazine here: How Nothingness Became Everything We Wanted, on the numbness of quarantine-era culture, including TikTok and streaming TV, and the urge to erase ourselves. Now on to regular Dirt programming.
Watch: Home for Christmas (Netflix)
Over the holidays I briefly got food poisoning. The fewer details the better. But while laying incapacitated on the couch I caught a Netflix trailer for a show called Home for Christmas. I thought there was something weird about it until I realized it was dubbed: The original was Norwegian but Netflix’s globalization strategy turned it into sitcom-y American English. The clip was enough to make me want to check it out, however, and I was very glad I did.
The plot is simple: Johanne, a 30-year-old woman living in Røros, a bucolic Norwegian town with a fairy-tale downtown center, lies to her family about having a date for their traditional Christmas Eve dinner. So she has two weeks to find a boyfriend. The result is a Nordic version of a harem anime or dating sim in which Johanne hangs out with various guys — the bossy athlete, the escape room fan, the fuckboy, the cute bartender — to test their boyfriend potential.
The rest of Johanne’s life is made up of working as a nurse, hanging out with her goofy hippie roommate, and fending off questions about her love life from her coworkers and family alike. The show’s short, episodic structure counting off the days until Christmas is apparently an established local genre with new episodes released every day of December: the “Nordic Christmas calendar.” (It’s still fun to watch after the holidays, though.)
Home for Christmas has charm in excess. Like all good ambient TV, nothing bad ever really happens, and the wintry backdrops are beautiful and exotic: watch Johanne drunkenly push her kick-sled down the main street, go reindeer sledding, or treat patients in a hospital that has all the modernist sheen of Nordic socialism (I’d live in the hospital). It’s romantic comedy without the saccharine kitsch of the American version, a la Hallmark movies or Emily in Paris. The Norwegian language — use subtitles not dubs or I will take your TV away!!! — is pleasingly different to hear and the social types fun to observe. Its overall vibe might be described as fictional Nordic Terrace House or Norwegian feminist cottagecore.
Johanne’s independence and agency in her relationships are marred only slightly by the show’s slight shock at homosexuality and belief that everyone over 30 is basically dead. There are two seasons so far and it’s not a spoiler to say that they don’t end in marriage. I watched both of them like eating bags of chips, or Christmas cookies. — By Kyle Chayka