It was originally a Danish Julekalender that ran in 1991, but a Norwegian and a Finnish versionnote were broadcasted in, respectively, 1994 and 1997.
A long time ago, the Nisses lived happily in their caves in Denmark/Norway/Finland. Then the Nåsåere came. They drove the Nisses out of their caves because they tried to find "The Big Book", which would allow them to Take Over the World. However, the Nåsåere never found the book.
Today, the leader of the Nisses, Good Old Gammel Nok, is dying because the music box that plays the melody of his life is about to stop. There is only one key that can wind it up, but he forgot it when he was forced to flee from his cave. He gathers three of the remaining Nisses, Hansi, Günther, and Fritz, and tells them to find the cave and the key. He gives them The Big Book and warns them that it must never fall into the hands of a Nåså. The Nisses find the cave and the key, but when they flew to the cave, their plane ran out of fuel and crashed. The propeller was broken and they can't return before they get a new one.
Meanwhile, a mysterious stranger visits a nearby farm...
Especially in Denmark, The Julekalender has become ridiculously popular, and almost all of the lines have become Memetic Mutations among Danish people. It is probably also the only Julekalender that has really managed to appeal to both children and adults (though the demographic are actually adults) - children will like the cosy Christmas atmosphere and the colorful characters with their funny dialects, and adults will like the jokes that the kids don't get and satire elements.
In fact, it has become so popular that recently, it was decided that The Julekalender will be sent every single December, and it has been since 2010. It is the first Julekalender to get that honor, which has more or less made it the Danish equivalent of It's a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol (but much longer, with 24 episodes of each 10 minutes). So yeah, it's pretty well-loved.
It isn't entirely timeless though; the terrible English of the Nisses and the country bumpkin dialects of Gertrud and Oluf may sound funny, but in 1991 it was typical of provincial Danes to speak mediocre English and have thick dialects which were almost incomprehensible to Copenhageners (people living in the capital; Benny has a Copenhagen dialect for measure). Nowadays, this may still be true for Danes over 50 years, but the younger ones often speak fluent English, and dialects are not as thick and obvious as they used to be, which may make it hard for today's teenagers to understand the satirical elements of the series.
This Julekalender provides examples of:
- Adaptational Attractiveness: Inverted; the Danish actors are on the whole notably better-looking than the Norwegian and Finnish actors. Compare, say, the Danish and Norwegian Hansi — the Danish Hansi is downright handsome, while his Norwegian counterpart... is less so. (He's a great singer, though.)
- Adaptation Name Change:
- In the Norwegian version, Oluf has been renamed Olaf, likely because "Oluf" is the name of a very popular Norwegian character. This is given a Shout-Out in the episode where Olaf is trying to call the hospital and the operator for some reason keeps mishearing his name as "Oluf."
- In the Finnish version, all the characters have been renamed.
- The farm dog has a different name in all versions.
- Alien Blood: In the Norwegian/Finnish versions, Nisses apparently have green blood, as shown in one episode, when Günther accidentally cuts himself.
- All Dogs Are Purebred: Averted. In episode 5, Oluf says his and Gertrud's dog is mixed-breed.
- The Alleged Car: Discussed. Benny says his car randomly broke down, and he later claims it must have been stolen. He's likely lying.
- Alliterative Name: In the Finnish remake, Gammel Nok's name is Iki-Iäkäs.
- Animal Reaction Shot: Sometimes, especially during news, short clips of Oluf and Gertrud's dog are shown at appropriate places, so the viewer could see how the dog reacts to things that happen or (more commonly) are said.
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: When the narrator asks what will happen in the next episode, the last question is usually something silly that doesn't affect the plot.
- Bad Liar: Benny keeps making up bad explanations for why he has to stay with the farmers, and for why he acts so oddly. For instance, he first claims that his car broke down in multiple ways at once. When Oluf tries to help him look for it and is unable to find it, he suddenly claims that it must have been stolen. He also refuses to go to the police because he thinks the mafia is behind it (with no evidence). The farmers are naive enough to let him stay with them anyway.
- Berserk Button: Losing the Nisses' book is one for Benny.
- Beware the Nice Ones: Günther is the sweetest, kindest and most mild-mannered of the Nisses — but he's the most gung-ho about confronting and beating up the Nåså. The other two have to physically restrain him to keep him from charging a drunk and sleeping Benny.
- The Big Damn Kiss: Inverted/parodied. When Oluf finally agrees to kiss Gertrud, their lips barely touch, then the picture freezes.
- Bilingual Bonus: As well as the numerous cases of the Nisses' terrible English causing them to say something completely different from what they tried to say, there are also a couple episodes in which Günther thinks he's a German tracker dog that only speaks German. He then says silly things such as "I am a Wiener Schnitzel.".
- Bilingual Dialogue: Zig-Zagged because the nisses constantly alternate between English, Danish/Norwegian/Finnish, and sometimes German.
- Black Magic: Benny wants to steal The Big Book and use its magic to perform "tax terror". After stealing it, he uses it to explode a coffee pot, raise taxes and torture one of the Nisses.
- Blame Game: In episode 24, the Nisses return to Gammel Nok, only to find him lying there motionless. They try to wind up the music box, but nothing happens. They then blame each other for his death: Fritz first blames Gynter for forgetting the fuel to the plane. Both Gynter and Hansi deny that they were supposed to do that. Then Fritz yells at Gynter for taking too long to carve the propeller, even ripping off the medal he had recently awarded Gynter. He then complains that Hansi spent too much time dreaming about the "potato woman". Hansi tells him not to bring her into that, and calls him out for spending most of the julekalender sitting on his butt, drinking and telling Hansi to do everything. Fritz claims he saved them from being killed by the Nåsåer, which Hansi doesn't buy. Hansi claims it was Fritz who forgot the fuel.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: The Nisses all the time. "We could use that line in another episode". "You can't use violence in a Julekalender". "We've spent 24 episodes on this"... On the other hand, Gertrud and Oluf, who are actually a fairly realistic, if quite caricatured depiction of a Danish provincial married couple, don't seem to be aware that they are fictional characters (although sometimes they seem to look at the viewer). Neither does Benny even though he regularly moves between the human world and the Nisse world.
- The Norwegian version has the newscaster mention that the band Travellin' Strawberries was offered to play at the opening ceremony of the World Ski Championship, but declined as they were in the middle of doing The Julekalender.
- Brick Joke: When Fritz heard a phrase that he likes, he writes it down in a book. In the last episode, the Nisses read the book and repeat the phrases.
- Cannot Tell a Joke: Benny, who rambles, forgets where he was in the story, and ends up just telling Non Sequiturs.
- Catchphrase: The major characters have several each.
- Chewing the Scenery: Knokkel Pukkel Man is this in music form. Truly, it's a miracle there wasn't a cave-in.
- Comic Trio: Fritz comes up with an overly simple and undetailed plan, Günther supports it right away, and Hansi criticizes it. Becomes subverted, as the plan eventually works.
- Cover Version: In the sixth episode, the Nisses present a song named "Long Time Ago In Bethlehem" which is a cover version of Jester Hairston's "Mary's Boy Child". In the Finnish remake, the song is a Translated Cover Version and even its name is translated from English.
- Crosscast Role: Gertrud is played by a male actor in all three versions.
- Department of Redundancy Department: The nisses sometimes say the same thing in English and Danish/Norwegian/Finnish.
- Diegetic Soundtrack Usage: The melody of Gammel Nok's life, which a music box plays, is the same as the melody of the series theme.
- Disney Death: In the last episode. Gammel Nok is motionless when the Nisses arrive. They try to wind up the music box anyway, but nothing happens. They then blame each other for his apparent death... until it turns out that winding up the music box had a delayed effect, and he wakes up.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: Episode 18. Things are going pretty badly for the Nisses. (The Nåså has stolen The Big Book, which was the worst thing that could happen. Gynter struggles to carve the propeller, and eventually becomes too depressed to keep whittling. Fritz has been thinking and thinking, but can't come up with any sort of plan.) They plan to fetch the guitar and play "The Blues", but talk about it in a way that makes it sound like they're contemplating suicide and decide that Fritz has to kill them all. The defeated tone of both Fritz and Hansi doesn't help.Fritz: Then there is only one thing to do. Will you go get it, Hansi?
Hansi: Is there no other way?
Fritz: No, Hansi. Go get it.
Hansi: Who will do it? I can't do it.
Gynter: (almost in tears) I can't do it either.
Fritz: Well, then let me.
- Easy Amnesia: When Günther believes he's a German tracking dog.
- The Eeyore: Hansi, who's usually depressed or in a plain bad mood. The Norwegian version especially is a borderline Perpetual Frowner who hardly ever smiles.
- Embarrassing First Name: Benny doesn't like his real first name which is Brian, so he goes with Benny.
- End-of-Series Awareness: In the final episode, Gammel Nok insists he must read his lines from the script. The rest of the Nisses say it's too late for that since The Julekalender is almost over.
- Everybody Laughs Ending: The series ends with all on-screen characters Fritz, Günther, Hansi, and Gammel Nok laughing.
- Evil-Detecting Dog: Subverted. The dog may initially look at Benny in a suspecting way, but the two will soon get along and even end up sharing the bed.
- Fake Shemp: Oluf and Gertrud's dog in the Norwegian and Finnish versions is actually Stock Footage from the Danish one.
- Fangs Are Evil: The Nåsåers have fangs, even though they are able to hide them when they are wearing their Game Face.
- Find Out Next Time: Parodied.
- The narrator will often ask a few serious questions followed by a silly one like "Is this a julekalender?", "Can the Nisses sing, or is it playback?", and "Is it advisable to drink Christmas beer this early in a julekalender?".
- In the end of episode 12, the narrator asks "What book has Benny got? Where is the Nisses' book? How is this connected?" as if nobody has figured it out.
- Find the Cure!: The main plot revolves around finding the key to the music box that keeps Gammel Nok alive. The main trio finds the key quickly, but returning to Gammel Nok in time to save him turns out to be much harder.
- In episode 9, when Benny sees a map Oluf found, he makes a creepy face and some unsettling music is played. He makes a similar face and the same music is played a few episodes later when his true form is shown.
- Already in the first episode, it's strongly hinted that Oluf intends to gift Gertrud a food processor, but wants to keep it a secret. He says to her that they cannot afford a food processor because of taxes, and soon after a customer calls Oluf, ordering a bulk of potatoes. Oluf asks him to pay with black money, and when Gertrud asks who Oluf talked to on the phone, Oluf evasively says that it was a guy who got the wrong number.
- Four Eyes, Zero Soul: Nåsåers can be identified by the fact that they all, for some reason, wear thick-rimmed glasses.
- Game Face: The Nåsåers are normally easy to recognize has they all have fangs and (for some inexplicable reason) are obligated to wear thick-rimmed glasses. The Nåsåers have, however, learned to hide these traits in everyday life and can appear like normal, if a little eccentric humans, but whenever they consume alcohol they cannot hold them back.
- Glad I Thought of It: A variation with Fritz; whenever Hansi or Günther has a good idea, he'll claim "that's just what I was about to say!"
- Gratuitous German: When Günther thinks he's a German-speaking tracking dog.
- Great Big Book of Everything: "The Big Book," which has the answers to almost everything — though occasionally the answers it gives aren't very helpful. For instance, the entry for what to do when you run out of gas is simply "get a petrol can and go look for some more gas." At one point the Nisses hear a noise from outside (which is Benny trying to get in), wonder what that was and decide to look in the book under "what was that?" The book says: "That was nothing. If you hear it again, see entry for 'There it was again.'" That said, it does have detailed instructions on how to destroy the world economy and perform strange magics, so it's extremely dangerous in the wrong hands.
- Greed: Benny wants to raise taxes to ridiculous levels.
- Hypocritical Humor:
- In the last episode, Fritz and Hansi call out a fellow Nisse for his bad English even though they all speak Intentional Engrish for Funny.
- Fritz likes to tell Hansi to perform random tasks for the flimsy reason that "[he is] the one with the biggest teeth and ugliest clothes". But when Fritz actually has to do something, expect him to whine about "having to do everything" and/or accusing the others of being lazy.
- Insignia Rip-Off Ritual: In episode 23, Fritz awards Gynter a medal for finally finishing the propeller. In the next episode, he rips it off after yelling at Gynter for taking too long to make the propeller.
- Intentional Engrish for Funny: The Nisses speak a combination of English and Danish/Norwegian/Finnish. In the Danish/Norwegian versions, they sound like Danes/Norwegians with a poor grasp of English — they're prone to using Danish/Norwegian grammar and sentence structure, misusing English words and making up English words by giving the eqiuvalent Danish/Norwegian word an English-like pronunciation. This is 100% intentional, and meant to make fun of bad English. In fact, the de facto Danish term for bad English with included Danish words/grammar/sentence structure has become "The Julekalender English" after the series' first couple of runs. And in Norway, it's popularly called Norwenglish.
- It Was a Dark and Stormy Night: All the episodes start with that exact phrase; except for episode 20. In Danish and Norwegian versions, that one starts with "it was a dark and stormy morning" whereas the line or any variation thereof is completely omitted from said episode of the Finnish version.
- Lampshade Hanging
- In the end of episode 4, the narrator asks if we ever find out who the mysterious stranger in the dark is. The stranger is revealed in the next episode. note
- Oluf references the excessive decorating in his and Gertrud's house:Gertrud: Oluf! Have you seen Benny?
Oluf: I guess he's somewhere in the middle of all those Christmas decorations!
- Large Ham: The narrator, who really tries to sell the drama in everything... even when he says the most absurd things.
- Leitmotif: The music played when the Nisses are in the cave.
- Mars Needs Women: Played for Laughs. Hansi the Nisse is infatuated with Gertrud the human. Note that Gertrud is 52 years old (and looks a bit older), while Hansi appears much younger. Additionally, the two are played by the same actor in the Norwegian version.
- Medium Awareness: Gammel Nok in the last episode demands to read his lines and says he's a famous actor who hasn't come to the series just to lie in bed for 24 episodes.
- Mood Dissonance: The ending sequences feature creepy footage and music, the narrator asks what will happen next... then he proceeds to say something silly.
- Motor Mouth: Gertrud is a minor example. She doesn't speak that quickly, but she does speak for fairly long periods at a time.
- Newscaster Cameo: In the Finnish version, the newscaster is played by Kaj Lindén who actually had been a newscaster before the production of the remake.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: In the Norwegian and Finnish versions, the plane crashes and the propeller is broken because it ran out of fuel. It might have something to do with the fact that the Nisses took a massive unnecessary detour.
- The '90s: All versions are made in the 1990s and they have Shout-Outs to things that happened during the decade. In one episode, one of the Nisses says the exact date, including the year (1991, 1994 or 1997 depending on the version).
- No Name Given: Gertrud's sister.
- Opposites Attract: The silent and grumpy Oluf and the talkative and happy Gertrud love each other and have lived together for decades.
- Over The Top Christmas Decorations: Oluf and Gertrud's house in the end of the series.
- Plot Threads: Played very straight; the Nisse storyline is obviously the main arc, and the Sand family one is the B plot.
- Power Trio: Fritz, Günther and Hansi.
- Previously On : Except for the first episode, which begins with a prologue, all of the episodes open with this.
- Product Placement: Parodied/Played for laughs in the end of episode 10 of the Finnish version, where the narrator asks, "Have you already bought Trio Saletti's new CD?" (The CD is the soundtrack of the remake.)
- Punny Name: The name of the Nåsåer race is pronounced very much like "Nosser", which is Danish slang for testicles.
- Rage Breaking Point: After 22 episodes of being pushed around by Fritz, Hansi gets so fed up that he start singing a song, so hammy and epic, that Fritz can't say shit in return.
- Running Gag; Quite a few:
- Gertrud looking for her lost box of Christmas ornaments.
- Someone says a phrase that Fritz likes, and Fritz writes it down, suggesting that they can use it in another episode. They never really do — Hansi tries to re-use one phrase in an episode, but by then Fritz has forgotten that he'd written it down in the first place and goes to write it down again. In the last episode, Fritz does take out his notebook and the Nisses fondly remember some of the phrases they've said in the series.
- Fritz telling Hansi to do something, Hansi asking why he always has to do it, Fritz justifying it with saying "because you are the one with the biggest teeth and ugliest clothes", and Hansi doing it reluctantly.
- Oluf playing Solitaire.
- Gertrud making constant references to the food processor she wishes for a Christmas present.
- In the first six episodes of the Finnish version, the dog quickly raises and turns its head sometimes when Brussels is mentioned in news.
- And in the Norwegian version, said dog reacts in the same way to the word "money."
- Oluf and Gertrud have almost the same discussion every time after listening to the radio.
- In the news of the Danish version, someone usually says they have "never seen/heard/experienced anything like that".
- Fritz telling Günther to look in the book for answers/solutions for problems/questions, Günther being unable to read it because the book is written in Danish/Norwegian/Finnish, and Fritz then reading the book himself.
- Scare Chord: The dramatic music played in the end of all episodes except the last one and when Benny's true form is revealed begins with this.
- Scenery Porn: When Hansi sings about his girlfriend in episode 21.
- Setting Update: Almost all events of the Danish version take place on the peninsula of Jutland. In the Norwegian version, this location has been replaced with the Trøndelag region, and in the Finnish version, the primary setting is Keuruu, a small town in Central Finland.
- Shadow Discretion Shot: When Günther is knocked unconscious by Benny.
- Small Name, Big Ego: Fritz, who fancies himself the leader of the Nisse trio, but is without doubt the most useless of them.
- Something Blues: One of the songs is called "The Dæjlig News Blues". The title is in the show's usual Intentional Engrish for Funny, and sounds like "The Daily News Blues" even though it's a mistranslation of something that meant "The Good News Blues" in the original Danish.
- Source Music: Oluf and Gertrud listen to radio quite a lot, mostly the song "De kære minder" that they have on a cassette.
- Speaks Fluent Animal: Günther, who in one episode has a conversation with the farm dog and understands it perfectly. Whether this is a shared Nisse trait or whether Günther is a special case (possibly thanks to believing he was a dog for a few episodes) isn't really made clear.
- Stock Footage
- The opening and closing scenes showing the music box. Both remakes use the material from the Danish version.
- There are only a few video clips of the dog, and they are played over and over again. The norwegian and finnish versions used the same stock footages, as the dog died pre-production.
- Benny walking in the darkness.
- Stock Phrases; The narrator uses a few:
- Take That!: In the Finnish version, the news about the European Union's new Christmas directives can be thought of as a satirical poke at said union and its bureaucracy.
- Tap on the Head: In one episode, Gynter gets knocked out by Benny. When he wakes up, he believes he's a German tracking dog. Later, Hansi accidentally hits Gynter in the head with a log, knocking him out. When he wakes up, he's back to his usual self
- That's What She Said:
- This line is said by the newscaster in episode 14 of the Danish version.
- In the Norwegian version, the punchline of the joke Benny tries to tell is the Norwegian equivalent of "that's what she said". However, it ends up being a Non Sequitur because Benny kept rambling and forgetting where he was in the story. However, even though the story makes no sense at all, Gertrud has a good laugh and proudly proclaims that she gets it.
- Travel Montage: The flight of the Nisses from the faraway place to Denmark/Norway/Finland and vice versa in the first and last episodes, respectively.
- Triumphant Reprise: The song "It's hard to be a nissemand" is played a lot in the series. Its lyrics consists of the Nisses complaining about how much they have to work and that they never get any free time. When Gammel Nok is saved, a remix of the song, "It's good to be a nissemand" is played. The lyrics now describe a nice Christmas night and how great it is to have some time off.
- Unusually Uninteresting Sight: Gertrud and Oluf's standard reaction when something weird happens. Peaks in Episode 14, when the coffee pot spontaneously explodes due to Benny practicing some dark magic:Oluf: (with a mild "huh, that's weird" expression) The coffee pot just exploded.
Gertrud: (hasn't even noticed the explosion three feet away) Should I make some more?
Oluf: Yes, of course you should — the coffee pot just exploded.
Gertrud: (cheerfully walks to the kitchen) I'll go do that then.
- Verbal Tic: Most of Benny's lines end with a short phrase which is different in all versions.
- Villainous Breakdown: Exaggerated in the final episode, when Benny notices he took a wrong book and completely loses his temper as a result.
- The Voice: The newscaster and the narrator are never seen onscreen.
- Vomit Discretion Shot: A hungover Benny gets a couple of these in episode 16.
- Voodoo Doll: Benny uses a Christmas gnome doll as one to cause headache to Günther.
- Work Info Title: The title of the series is its genre.
- Younger Than They Look: Gertrud in the Finnish version looks like she's in her 60s (or late 50s, at least), but she's really 46note .