The Christmas tree that currently sits in my living room is fake—a tough call that I made on the fly after pricing out a real tree. She’s decorated within an inch of her life, covered in the dollar store’s finest frippery—ribbons stuffed in the gaps for fluff, gold ornaments everywhere, and two strings of lights draped haphazardly among the faux boughs. While this behavior is normal for many, for me, this is grounds for concern. Normally, I am a grinch, but it feels inappropriate this year, when everything is so terrible. I owe this pleasant change in my seasonal behavior to Holiday Home Makeover With Mr. Christmas, a delightfully schmaltzy television program on Netflix that will make a believer out of anybody.
The titular Mr. Christmas is interior designer Benjamin Bradley, a genteel man with exacting taste who has tasked himself with helping people usher in the holiday spirit. The show is four perfect episodes of holiday glitz and glam, wrapped up in a shiny sentimental bow. Each episode features one family who desperately needs Mr. Christmas’s help to re-engage with the holiday spirit— a task that this man is suited for, as long as all the families are okay with ceding complete control to an interior designer with a fetish for blow mold Santas. Before watching this program, I didn’t think there was anything new to learn about how to decorate for Christmas. A tree, some lights, those glass ornaments that break if you look at them funny, and you’re done. But what I’ve learned from Mr. Christmas is that, like anything else, the holiday season is about family, but also about control—and finally letting it go.
The episodes are pleasingly formulaic and lack any of the manufactured drama common on other home makeover shows, which was a very specific choice by Bradley, who is also an executive producer on the show. “I’m sorry, but when I sit down during the holiday season, I don’t want to see drama. I want to see feel-good [content], grab a cup of cocoa, have a good evening at home sort of thing, and enjoy,” he told Decider in an interview. “I told them, ‘Look, if you just want big lights and big ornaments, there’s plenty of people out there who do commercial installations and stuff like that. But I really want to find the heart in each one of these stories, because I want to personalize [the decorations].’”
My understanding of Christmas decorations is that people who really go in for the season are tied to their ways because of “tradition.” Clinging fiercely to tradition—and extremely low-stakes tradition, at that—even as the world evolves around you is nothing more than yet another grasp at control. Bradley’s design vision is exacting, highly-specific, and not quite everybody’s cup of tea. But maybe part of surrendering to the holiday season is throwing your hands up and giving the reins to an interior designer and his team of “elves,” all of whom know how to make bows out of wired ribbon and understand the proper way to fluff a fake tree. We don’t all have the luxury to do that, but watching the team go apeshit with the fake garland and the pinecones on a mantle inside a very nice McMansion made me feel good for a minute—like nothing really mattered except Christmas decorations and twinkling lights.
Perhaps it is a Christmas miracle, or maybe Bradley is just very good at his job, but each finished project manages to incorporate the personal while also hewing to Mr. Christmas’s exacting standards. Bradley favors vintage Christmas ornaments and decor and shies away from things like inflatable snowmen. While I’m sure there are some people who’d say covering every available inch of shrubbery with net lighting is not tasteful, I’d argue that when arranged in concert with a vintage Santa Claus decked out in firefighter gear to honor the recently-deceased fire chief of West Islip, that choice is less tacky and more genuinely heartwarming.
That personal touch is what makes the show so compelling and even eked out a few tears from me. In my defense, the holidays are a time for weeping openly to the lyrics of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” at a Sephora while holding stocking stuffers for your ungrateful siblings, but that tradition is on ice this year. Watching strangers cry on TV over Christmas decorations put together in an extremely short amount of time brings me the emotional release I crave. Much like my dollar-store tree, it’ll do.