Christmas and romance … Christmas and romance … go together like, well, nothing rhymes satisfactorily with “romance” so let’s just say that falling in love during the festive season is seen as pretty much the most perfect time of the year to give your heart away to someone special. (Unless, you’re the person in the George Michael song, “Last Christmas”, in which case maybe skip that part, huh?)
But while the rhyme may elude capture, what makes it presence well and truly felt in Home For Christmas (Hjem til jul) Netflix’s first Norwegian original series, now in its second lovelorn season, is the fact that romantic comedies and Christmas are a match made in escapist viewing heaven.
But not all festive romantic comedies are created equal, and while some creators think it’s enough to put two attractive people in photogenic jumpers, surround them with snow, Christmas trees and carols wafting through the air, the truth is you need a great deal more than that.
You need huge helpings of actual humanity, flawed people who mean well but whose best intentions don’t always add up to tinsel-draped love and a sense that something real and important are at stake.
In other words, while lightweight sentimentality might sound attractive in principle, it rarely has the emotional heft to take you through a season of TV show and you find yourself not caring overly much, despite all the confected romantic possibility, if the protagonist gets their guy or girl.
But in Home For Christmas you care, and care very deeply for Johanne (Isa Elise Broch), a nurse in her early 30s who, after a number of near misses in season 1, has arrived at Christmas Eve still single, very much alone and loveless, so she believes, in a family of very happily paired parents and siblings.
Season 2 kicks off at that same Christmas Eve where we finally get to see who was at the door, someone so special it made Johanne break into a great big grin, mere seconds before everything faded to black and we were left to ponder for an entire year whether love had indeed found its way to her.
Turns out, it had … and hadn’t.
It turns out – SPOILER ALERT! – that what was waiting at the door was a delivery man with an enormous bunch of 100 red roses, a grand romantic gesture of the highest order that should spell happily-ever-after, right?
Not so fast, for the card attached bore no name, and so Johanne was left wondering who it was cared enough to go all out like that.
For much of series 2, we are none the wiser.
While you might expect Johanne to just drop everything and go on some impulsive Cinderella-esque search for her Prince Charming, things take a decidedly different turn when hunky Dr Henrik (Eric Curtis Johnson) turns up at her door to give her some bad news about a patient – he rather sensitively didn’t want her to hear about it the next day at work on Christmas Day – they kiss, and well, fall into a relationship.
What, what?! Not Henrik. He is lovely, of course, but there is a lingering stench of douchebag around him, and while he seems to be making all the right noises at first, the truth is he is a self-serving, control freak who Johanne emotionally leaves way before the doomed relationship runs its natural course.
So who is it that claims her heart by series’ end?
Ah ah ah! Nope, that is a massive spoiler too far; suffice to say, that the ghosts of romances past greet her everywhere she goes in the lead-up to Christmas, which all takes place in the winter wonderland village she lives in where lights blink in profusion, people sled to the shops and you can buy yarn at cosy wooden stalls while you sip mulled wine and choose your Insta-worthy tree.
Through the course of six perfectly judged episodes, Johannes finds herself in the company of Stein (Mads Sjøgård Pettersen), briefly and painfully, Jonas (Felix Sandman), who at 19 is the youngest of her suitors and the one who dumped her just before Christmas last year and old flame, Christian (Stian Blipp), who is happily married … or is he?
In the midst of all this romantic nostalgia, some parts more potent than others, strides loveable, curly-haired Knut (Hermann Sabado), on paper the perfect guy who has everything Johanne thinks she needs.
But the course of true love never did run smooth, right, Shakespeare, and so while there is an apparent embarrassment of romantic riches to choose from, Johanne never quite finds her Mr. Right; well, not until Christmas Eve dinner when her family encourage to go and find the guy she really likes but thinks she shouldn’t have.
It’s all very aaaaah-worthy and swoon heavy but in her march to happy-ever-after, Johanne also has to contend with her parents splitting up, her best friend falling in love and moving away, and her life failing to fire on any or all cylinders.
Love never takes place in a vacuum, and so while Johanne’s heart hurts for the right man to walk into her life, she has to contend with big sister Maria’s (Helga Guren) marriage looking a little shaky, the aforementioned parental marriage issues, and helping her new sweet neighbour Nick (Edward Schultheiss) find love at speed dating.
Her life is full of things good and bad, and Home For Christmas manages to pack a lot into six episodes, portraying Johanne as a person with a life full of family and friends, a satisfying career with much fulfillment and lovely colleagues such as Eira (Line Verndal) and someone you really end up caring for a great deal.
Which is important because when the finale comes and Johanne flies into someone special’s arms (nope, still not saying), it really means something because we know Johanne in all her lovely, flawed complexity and we want her to be happy.
Accompanied by a brilliantly affecting soundtrack, which features a pleasing amount of Norwegian singer Astrid S and lush Christmas visuals which are like a Scandinavian postcard sprung magically to luminously festive life, Home For Christmas is an effervescent Christmas romantic comedy of real substances and emotional resonance that captures your heart and reminds that while Christmas this year made not be a lot of things thanks to COVID, it is still ripe with the possibility for romance, the kind that feels right whatever the season.