Entertainment

Do All of Netflix’s Holiday Movies Exist in the Same Universe?

christmas chronicles
Daddy has some questions. | Netflix
Daddy has some questions. | Netflix

With its boatload of original programming and jealous secrecy regarding its viewership numbers, the next logical step for Netflix would be to build a cinematic universe out of its own content. All the other production companies are doing it! The people love self-referential stories filled with little winks and Easter eggs, so it stands to reason that some of Netflix's shows and movies would start to overlap. While binging my way through the streaming service's newest holiday offerings the weekend after a long Thanksgiving journey, I began noticing something strange. Here and there, subtle signs began popping up that all of these movies exist in the same universe -- or, at least, a self-contained universe separate from our own.

Netflix becoming self-aware is not a brand-new phenomenon: Characters in BoJack Horseman and Big Mouth have made comments alluding to the fact that they're creations in a binge-able TV show, and both seasons of American Vandal reference getting acquired by their parent company as if it were a real docuseries. But something new is afoot in Netflix’s crop of 2018 holiday content, which seem, at first glance, to be building a cinematic universe of sorts around themselves. (After all, in Neo Yokio's Christmas special, there's a running, self-aware bit about loving "original content.") Except, it’s a little more complicated than that.

I first noticed something interesting going on when, in The Christmas Chronicles starring Kurt Russell as a gonzo daddy Santa, there is a scene during which our three heroes -- a teenage boy, his younger sister, and previously described Santa Claus -- sneak by a valet attendant watching Stranger Things on his iPad.

the christmas chronicles stranger things
It's Dustin! | Netflix

Then, the first A Christmas Prince showed up right in the middle of The Princess Switch when one of the doppelgänger Vanessa Hudgenses has a literal "Netflix and chill" night with her crush. He flips on the TV and scrolls to her favorite Christmas movie… which came out on Netflix last year.

the princess switch christmas prince
Cool self-promotion, Netflix. | Netflix

Nothing about either of these shots is subtle. In The Christmas Chronicles, the camera lingers on the security guard far longer than any movie has any right to linger on a nameless character we'll never meet again. This is Netflix taking your grubby little face in its perfect, digital hands and pressing it to the screen: Look. Look at this. Notice this. Do they think their viewers are so stupid they have to shove their own allusions into our eyes? Or is something bigger going on? 

This is where things get tricky.

We can actually measure (we can't actually measure, but I'm going to do it anyway) how close these universes are to our own using their respective modes of self-referentiality. The Christmas Chronicles featuring a nameless side character watching Stranger Things, one Netflix's most popular series in reality, would suggest that the movie exists in the real world, or at least a world close enough to our own to work more or less the same as ours does -- and it means that an alternate-universe Netflix also exists in this universe. Presumably, that would mean that The Princess Switch and both Christmas Princes are also movies in this universe -- except for the fact that The Princess Switch contains its own version of Netflix as well.

Neither A Christmas Prince, nor A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding feature anything untoward other than a striking degree of self-referentiality to their own ridiculousness. When the father of our protagonist is recast in the sequel, he walks out of an airport feeling like "a brand-new person." There's even a moment that suggests the writers of the sequel had read -- and enjoyed -- nitpicky criticisms of the first movie and the badly designed brand logo of its fake magazine.

So, whose universe is whose? The Princess Switch's mood is too fantastical to be a representation of the real world, and it's also an amalgamation of a bunch of other movie tropes rolled into one. It's already aware enough that it's a movie, whereas the more grounded tone and the appearance of something other than Netflix holiday content in The Christmas Chronicles indicates its universe must be the prime universe. The Christmas Chronicles was also produced by big Hollywood folks, including Chris Columbus, the guy who directed the first two Harry Potters, Home Alone, and Mrs. Doubtfire. That means A Christmas Prince and A Christmas Prince 2 are movies in The Princess Switch's universe, which is itself a movie in The Christmas Chronicles' universe.

But then how do we take into account the characters of A Christmas Prince being able to watch the royal wedding -- the REAL royal wedding, the royal wedding of OUR world -- on their TV in a short teaser video posted a few weeks before the sequel dropped?

We asked Netflix to comment on this great big headspinning mess and they never responded, which either means I'm galaxy braining to death or that I'm about to blow this whole thing wide open. There are a few damning details, including the fact that A Christmas Prince, A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding, and The Princess Switch were all produced by the Christmas cabal of Amy Krell, Eric Jarboe, Brad Krevoy, Amanda Phillips Atkins, and Jimmy Townsend, plus the fact that the fake kingdoms of all three of those movies were filmed on location in Romania -- no doubt somewhere nearby the Netflix Illuminati's icy mountain stronghold. 

At the end of all this, we're left with more questions than answers. How could characters two parallel worlds deep into a cinematic universe look out of their TV sets and see all of us milling about in reality? Can you journey far enough into these pocket universes to come out the other side? Or, maybe, the real world is just TV to a universe inside a universe inside a universe. Maybe we're all ants under the boot of A Christmas Prince. Maybe this is Netflix’s world, and we’re all just living in it.

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Emma Stefansky is a staff entertainment writer and conspiracy theorist at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @stefabsky.