25 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS REVIEW: MERRY HAPPY WHATEVER – SEASON 1

Merry Happy Whatever (2019)

Starring

Dennis Quaid (Midway)
Bridgit Mendler (Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel)
Brent Morin (Undateable)
Ashley Tisdale (Scary Movie V)
Siobhan Murphy (Murdoch Mysteries)
Adam Rose (Veronica Mars)
Elizabeth Ho (Fifty Shades of Black)
Hayes MacArthur (Super Troopers 2)

Dennis Quaid and Garcelle Beauvais in Merry Happy Whatever (2019)

Recurring / Notable Guest Cast

Garcelle Beauvais (Spider-Man: Homecoming)
Tyler Ritter (Arrow)
Dan Castellaneta (The Simpsons)
Kimberley Crossman (Power Rangers Super Samurai)

Merry Happy Whatever (2019)After following in the footsteps of the TV movie Christmas romcom, Netflix charts a new course through the seasonal snow with Merry Happy Whatever, the first scripted Christmas TV series. The format makes perfect sense, as the last weeks of December are jam-packed with situations that are just ripe for comedy. The setup is one you’ve seen in countless holiday movies and one-off sitcom episodes before: a boyfriend (Morin) travels back home with his longtime girlfriend (Mendler) to meet her intimidating dad (Dennis Quaid), all of her siblings (Ashley Tisdale, Hayes MacArthur, Siobhan Murphy), and all of her in-laws (Tyler Ritter, Elizabeth Ho, Adam Rose). While this is a concept you’ve seen before in a comfortable multi-cam format, there’s a new twist in that every episode is a Christmas episode.60d6bfce-d263-43c7-96f3-89c9eb70e562-mhw_105_unit_01435_rThere’s a reason why Merry Happy Whatever drops on Thanksgiving: it is tailor-made to be a big family binge-watch. In fact, watching Merry Happy Whatever manages to feel just like going home for Christmas–in all the cozy and some of the awkward ways.How you feel about Merry Happy Whatever will largely depend on how you feel about the multi-cam sitcom and the big personalities and set-up/punchline formula that MHW enjoys. I, for example, love their storied history and am always rooting for them to succeed. The choice to go multi-cam also makes perfect sense considering the target audience: this is a format that literally everyone in the family is familiar with, whether they never missed an episode of The Big Bang Theory or grew up watching I Love Lucy, Mary Tyler Moore, Friends, or the million kid-coms on Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel. It’s lowest-common-denominator, but honestly, that’s what wins out when you’re back home for the holidays.merry-happy-whateverBut Merry Happy Whatever also works if you’re not in unfamiliar territory, surrounded by your in-laws and a pack of toddlers and dogs. For anyone that’s moved away from home, the show manages to make you feel like you’re back where you came from. That’s largely thanks to the cast, who take the crystal clear family dynamics of Tucker Cawley’s script (himself a veteran of Everybody Loves Raymond) and bring them to life. The first episode does a solid job of setting up immensely relatable family conflict that feel worth spending a whole season unpacking. The in-laws commiserate over marrying into a family that’s a Pepsi-loving, “G-rated cult,” and patriarch Don (a perfectly stubborn Quaid) refuses to let anything wreck his family traditions, especially the arrival of his daughter’s nervous and nerdy boyfriend Matt (Morin).61faa280-10fc-11ea-a7aa-45e901af2227_800_420Morin and Quaid have a great onscreen dynamic, one (obviously) reminiscent of Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro in Meet the Parents. Morin, previously the lead of NBC’s Undateable, easily transcends the “nervous and nerdy” description I just tagged him with. The nervous outsider who keeps goofing up role is a tough one, one that so easily veers into annoying territory. That doesn’t happen with Morin, who is low-key affable throughout and whose nerves are justified because Quaid is so intimidating). But just like any family get together, there are moments in Merry Happy Whatever that’ll make the more liberal members of the audience go “Wait, what?” I’m particularly thinking of a scene where Sean (MacArthur) reacts to what he thinks is his tween son coming out of the closet. Sean’s wife, played with heartfelt snark by Elizabeth Ho, barely flinches and offers the unwavering support that we’ve come to expect from these kinds of scenes in 21st century sitcoms, but Sean’s response is tinged with the kind of discomfort, played for laughs, that was par for the course in the ’80s. It’s jarring, especially because it feels like Merry Happy Whatever thinks Sean’s flash of fear when he thinks his son may be gay is actually funny and not just the literal definition of homophobia. But y’know, what’s a trip home for the holidays without a dose of discomfort? It’s accurate!MV5BYWU3ZWJlYmMtOTFmNy00OGE2LWEyMGYtNjgwNTgyNDEzZWM2XkEyXkFqcGdeQTNwaW5nZXN0._V1_UX477_CR0,0,477,268_AL_The entire cast is a real gift, all with clearly defined personalities set up to create sparks. Of particular note is Siobhan Murphy as older sister Patsy, whose suburban cheeriness seems to hide a bit of sadness, and Ashley Tisdale’s borderline bratty little sister who’s in full-on crisis mode. But Elizabeth Ho, fresh off of Netflix’s Disjointed, gets some of the best lines in the episode, playing the blunt ringleader of the seen-it-all in-laws.8658eb90-11a2-11ea-8827-85e5c6e9935d_800_420Whether or not you’ll like Merry Happy Whatever as a solo viewing experience largely depends on your feelings about multi-cam as a format. But with a cast and creator as experienced as this, Merry Happy Whatever is definitely a STREAM IT for everyone that’s spending time with family this holiday season.