Netflix wants to have it all: prestige television dramas, Oscar-winning documentaries, and passion projects from some of the most celebrated directors of our time, just to name a few of the things the company spent approximately $13 billion on this year. But Roma aside, the real treat of using the streamer in December is luxuriating yourself in all of its new, primarily cheesy Christmas offerings.
As Netflix has continued to expand its original content arm, so too has it inflated the works that reside within the Netflix Christmas Universe. You’ve probably heard about some of these projects, or at least seen the company publicly shade their own users for their unrepentant enthusiasm for some of the holiday offerings. But for those who want to know what kind of Christmas-themed programming the streamer has embraced, here is a handy guide to the NCU (that would be the Netflix Christmas Universe—not to be confused with the Narcos Extended Universe, also on Netflix, the only commonality there being white powder).
The TV Holiday Specials
Netflix didn’t invent the television holiday special, but it has taken this longtime staple of network television and made it part of their expansive library. Technically, the first noteworthy instance of a Netflix holiday TV special came at the tail end of 2016, when enough fans clamored for closure to the cancelled sci-fi series Sense8 that the streamer eventually released a two-hour special finale. That finale, “Holiday Special,” was, as The A.V. Club wrote in their review, “the most Sense8 to ever Sense8,” which sounds like a good thing?
This year, two very different Netflix Originals got the holiday special treatment: Neo Yokio and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Neo Yokio: Pink Christmas is a follow-up for the eccentric Ezra Koenig anime that boasts an all-star voice cast, including but not limited to: Jaden Smith, Susan Sarandon, Jude Law, Jamie Foxx, Desus Nice, and The Kid Mero. With the Pink Christmas one-hour special, the series—which in its first season focused on playboy exorcist Kaz Kaan, voiced by Smith, in a metropolis that was equal parts New York and Tokyo—takes aim at Christmas consumerism in a manner that, if you’re on Koenig’s wavelength, is dryly clever and occasionally gut-bustingly hilarious. (At one point, when someone is shopping for a potential gift, it’s revealed there is a limited-edition Domino’s Pizza Rolex.) The biggest bachelors of Neo Yokio, always ranked atop an ever-shifting leaderboard in Times Square, compete in a Secret Santa gift exchange on broadcast television—complemented by overly ecstatic color commentary. Pink Christmas certainly isn’t a prototypical Christmas special—“Fuck material goods!” becomes a rallying cry halfway through the episode, even though the character who coined the phrase is just trying to promote his podcast—but as the defining (only?) satire of both capitalism and hypebeast culture, it’s worth the quirky ride.
Meanwhile, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina provides a Satanic spin on the Christmas episode with A Midwinter’s Tale. The episode—a stopgap before the second half of the first season arrives in April—mostly concerns itself with Sabrina (Kiernan Shipka) inadvertently allowing a witch’s demonic helpers into the Spellman household after trying to contact her mother’s spirit. There’s also a B-plot that focuses on a Krampus-like demon that ensnares children in wax, which is mostly fun for the perverse aesthetic of someone in a Santa getup being less than wholesome. Though Sabrina is often campy—see: literally anything Michelle Gomez’s Madame Satan did in the first season—A Midwinter’s Tale is a mostly somber watch, as Sabrina reckons with her decision to sign the Book of the Beast, the loss of her mother, and the fractured relationship formed between her normal human friends and ex-boyfriend Harvey (Ross Lynch). If it’s any consolation, the second season looks a lot more exuberant, with an early teaser that feels like a cross between Riverdale and Suspiria in the best possible way.
The Lifetime/Hallmark Emulators
For years, Lifetime and Hallmark had cornered the holiday- and Christmas-movie market. Netflix, who would like to be in every corner of every room everywhere, is now edging in, and evidently banking on people loving these silly Christmas movies in great frequency. Why else would they keep expanding the dorky-Christmas-movie production line?
The crown jewel of the Lifetime/Hallmark imitators is A Christmas Prince, the tale of an intrepid blogger who falls in love with a prince from a fictional, ostensibly Eastern European country where everyone speaks in British accents, because apparently there is no national language. (Its sequel, while not as transparently wholesome, is still committed to the virtues of blogging, which is good, and also labor strikes for some reason.)
But the Christmas Prince franchise is just one piece of Netflix’s cheesy Christmas canon. There’s also the Vanessa Hudgens–starring The Princess Switch, in which a baker who really wants you know she’s from Chicago and an identical princess from a fictional European country (yes, this is a theme!) swap places and fall in love with their true soul mates. (In true terrifying Netflix synchronicity, at one point in The Princess Switch, two characters watch A Christmas Prince on television, thereby shattering my hopes of a crossover event with these fake European countries.) There’s also Christmas Inheritance, which is yet another iteration of the “city person goes to small, charming town and falls in love” trope. (I would be remiss to mention the small town’s name is SNOW FALLS.) And then there’s The Holiday Calendar, one of those “will-they-won’t-they” romances where a woman has to choose between her perfect-in-every-way male BFF and … some other dude. You won’t believe who she chooses.
All of these Christmas-themed films are indulgent and comforting; something you can pop on the TV or tablet in the middle of doing some chores or a bit of cooking without worrying about missing some kind of major revelation or Easter egg. (I’m not willing to disclose how many times I’ve turned on A Christmas Prince, but I will say my viewing metrics could be solely responsible for the franchise becoming a quadrilogy.) Sometimes, after a few too many pourings of eggnog, a low-stress, casual Christmas watch is exactly what people are craving. Netflix, after all, would know.
Filling the Mid-Budget, Tim Allen–Santa Clause Void Except by Making Santa Hot
As Hollywood has moved away from the mid-budget movie to make way for more superhero films and franchise remakes, it’s not just rom-coms that have suffered en masse: We’ve also lost the mainstream appeal of the family Christmas comedy. The gold standard for these endeavors was Elf, but the most successful recent live-action Christmas franchise was the Tim Allen–starring Santa Clause series, which made upwards of $470 million over the course of its trilogy. Fear not, Netflix is here to fill the family Christmas comedy void, but with one key change: Santa Claus is hot now. Sorry, I don’t make the rules; take it up with the folks at Netflix.
I suppose … parents will be more interested in a silly Christmas movie?
The Christmas Chronicles is Kurt Russell’s sexy vehicle, as he arguably provides cinema’s first Santa Who Can Get It. And seriously, it’s not just the fact that Russell is a trimmer, beefier Santa: The movie leans into the man’s festive sex appeal. At one point, Hot Santa serenades an entire holding cell in a Chicago police station—Santa was arrested in the Windy City; it’s a long story—with a soulful rendition of “Santa Claus Is Back in Town” that leaves the female attendants swooning. In the final scene of the movie, Mrs. Claus (played by Russell’s actual wife, the great Goldie Hawn) tells her husband she knows he was naughty on Christmas night. The Christmas Chronicles is not exactly subtle!
Still, The Christmas Chronicles is fun for the whole family—though maybe only if the whole family is comfortable with finding Santa Claus physically attractive.
When it comes to getting in the Christmas spirit, Netflix has several avenues covered—whether that means a cheesy Hallmark-like romantic comedy, a television special from a series you wouldn’t otherwise associate with the holiday, or the world’s sexiest Santa Claus is entirely up to you. But considering Netflix is continuing to expand its original programming output, it’s entirely reasonable to expect the streamer’s 2019 Christmas library to offer more of the same—give us A Christmas Prince: The Royal Honeymoon or else!—and perhaps, even, a few more holiday-themed wrinkles. Just putting it out there: The only way to know whether a horror movie about Santa’s helpers is actually terrifying is for a multibillion-dollar streaming company to give it the green light.