If you haven’t watched Netflix’s “A Christmas Prince” yet, then you’re missing out. It’s not that the movie is really all that good. It’s OK, but we’ll get back to that in a second. What matters is that this fairy tale rom-com has helped Netflix begin its mission: to steal Christmas from cable networks.
While networks like Lifetime, Freeform, Up, and Ion have been cranking out some holiday rom-coms and programming, Hallmark is the undisputed leader of Christmas fare. The channel began its new original Christmas movies back in October, ruled over the five-day Thanksgiving weekend, and is still making a splash with yuletide movies like “The Christmas Train” and “Switched for Christmas.”
Yet despite Hallmark’s apparent dominance, Netflix’s “A Christmas Prince” is the far buzzier name this holiday season for several reasons. First, it actually bears a strong resemblance to Hallmark’s films and other rom-coms that have come before it. The plot — American woman snags the heart of a European prince — follows in the tradition of America’s obsession with becoming instant royalty (see: “The Princess Diaries,” “The Prince and Me,” et al). Grace Kelly did it! And now Meghan Markle will too, and of course the timing of that engagement couldn’t have been better for this film.
It also features white leads who are familiar enough to audiences; “iZombie” star Rose McIver knows how to elevate material that seems goofy, while Ben Lamb has been in mainly period dramas, although he did have a role in “Divergent.” It also delivers on every rom-com must: some subterfuge, cartoonish villains, a fashion montage, big outfit reveal, an 11th hour breakup, and the final happy ending. Here’s the trailer:
But it’s also kind of ridiculous and awful; perfect for hate-watching and social media mockery. Viewers’ very strong opinions about “A Christmas Prince” have not been contained. Some have knocked the prince’s looks (not hot enough, oldish-looking). It’s also accepted that everyone Amber (McIver) works with is the worst. And Prince Richard (Lamb) really should’ve ruled in favor of his sister. Also, “A Christmas Prince” isn’t Christmas-y (although, to be fair, nothing is Christmas-y enough compared to Hallmark).
And then Netflix itself decided to jump into the social media conversation for “A Christmas Prince,” which caused more than a little consternation:
To the 53 people who've watched A Christmas Prince every day for the past 18 days: Who hurt you?
— Netflix US (@netflix) December 11, 2017
The blowback from viewers who felt they were being judged and from those who were suddenly concerned about their viewing privacy only added fuel to the royal rom-com fire. “A Christmas Prince” had become part of the pop culture conversation, which could only benefit Netflix and the future of its Christmas programming, which appears to be ramping up.
While Netflix has released original Christmas programming before — 2015’s unique “A Very Murray Christmas” comes to mind — it appears that the streaming service now has a definite focus in pursuing Christmas content in a big way. Already, Netflix has followed up “A Christmas Prince” with the irreverent crime comedy “El Camino Christmas” (in the vein of “The Ref”) and the newly released “Christmas Inheritance,” which follows the more traditional rom-com mold. Check out trailer for “El Camino Christmas” below:
In recent weeks, the streaming service also announced its plans for Christmas 2018. Yes, next year. It will reteam with “El Camino Christmas” director David E. Talbert for a holiday musical called “Jingle Jangle,” which Talbert will write, direct, and produce. This has all the markings of bonafide Christmas event TV that the whole family can watch. Here’s the official synopsis:
A cobblestone world comes to life in the event holiday musical tale of an embattled toymaker, his precocious granddaughter, and a magical invention, that if they can get it to work in time for the holidays, could change their lives forever.
Netflix also gave the green light to an untitled Christmas movie starring Kurt Russell (as Santa Claus), Judah Lewis (Netflix’s “The Babysitter”), and Darby Camp (“The Leftovers”). Scheduled to start production in January for a late 2018 release, the Christopher Columbus-produced film focuses on two kids who accidentally get stuck on Santa’s sleigh while trying to prove he’s real.
Such early announcements are the primary indication that Netflix is looking to corner the market on Christmas content, since the streaming service notoriously does not release viewership numbers or discuss content strategy. But this feels similar to its original films strategy, a la the Adam Sandler model. And what’s not to love if you are Netflix? It’s low cost, crowd pleasers, and has the potential for international appeal.
Also, given the range of the films so far, Netflix isn’t tying itself down to any one aesthetic. Therefore, it can safely poach the Hallmark audience, but maybe we’ll see something akin to “Bad Santa” or holiday horror in the future for less saccharine tastes. This looseness could bode well for more inclusive storytelling as well with its casting and other holidays. (“A Hannukah Prince,” anyone?)
As of this time though, it seems that the main focus is on movies. Who’s to say, though, that Netflix wouldn’t try to break into holiday series, slow programming (like Hulu’s “Streaming Wonderland”), or live events such as Amazon’s upcoming “The 2018 Rose Parade Hosted by Cord and Tish”? Nothing seems off limits, but Netflix may not need to dip its toes into those streaming waters just yet.
With Disney owning Fox now, that’s meant an exodus of Fox properties from Netflix. It’s no coincidence that Netflix had already been focused on more original content. After all, why rely on others when your own stuff is working out well? Even with “House of Cards” ending, shows like “Stranger Things” and “The Crown” are the new mainstays, with new show such as “13 Reasons Why,” “American Vandal,” and “Big Mouth” proving that original programming is still as vibrant as ever.
No, Netflix viewers aren’t going anywhere quite yet, especially if someday it delivers “A Christmas Prince” sequel. Maybe a gift for next Christmas.
“A Christmas Prince,” “El Camino Christmas,” and “Christmas Inheritance” (trailer below) are all currently streaming on Netflix.