When you’re tired of catching up with your family, and all the football games are over, Netflix has a new family sitcom for you. In “Merry Happy Whatever,” Dennis Quaid returns to television as Don Quinn, the overbearing patriarch of a close-knit family.
It has been three years since Don’s wife died and their four grown children have adjusted to life without mom quite well. Which isn’t to say that their lives are perfectly thriving now. Don is also mostly well-adjusted, save for the fact that he has little to do with his spare time besides meddle and continue working as a cop in Philadelphia.
“Merry Happy Whatever” takes place over the course of about ten days immediately before Christmas until New Years. Emmy (Bridgit Mendler) is bringing home her boyfriend, Matt (Brent Morin), to introduce him to the family’s holiday traditions. Matt plans to surprise Emmy with a Christmas morning proposal, but upon their arrival, things almost immediately start going haywire.
Over the course of eight episodes, we get to know the Quinns. Sean (Hayes MacArthur) is married to Joy (Elizabeth Ho), and they have two kids, one of whom has some devastating news for his God-fearing grandfather. Patsy (Siobhan Murphy) is married to Todd (Adam Rose) and they are trying to conceive. And Kayla’s (Ashley Tisdale) marriage to Alan (Tyler Ritter) is on the rocks. Meanwhile, Don enjoys tormenting Matt to distract his and everyone else’s attention from the fact that he has met a new woman (Garcelle Beauvais) that interests him.
The Netflix binge-watching model is ideal for a show like this one, where the premise is based on catching up with the family over the holidays. Unfortunately, this isn’t the series that is likely to find itself at the top of anyone’s holiday viewing list year after year. It’s an admirable attempt to bring back the multi-cam, laugh track-infused comedy. But if you’ve seen a family sitcom in the past twenty years, you’ll identify every trope in “Merry Happy Whatever” long before you get there. Flat and uninventive, the plots are predictable, the jokes are tired and unfunny.
Every situation is painfully contrived. Don’s overprotective-father-of-daughters vibe is irritatingly outdated. That trope isn’t even cute anymore, it’s just annoying. Save for a couple of specific characters, the cast is very white and very boring and just reopens the wound fans still feel from the streaming giant’s cancellation of “One Day at a Time.”
What’s more, unlike their notalgia-filled “Fuller House,” which relies on affinity for the thirty-year-old show that spawned it, “Merry Happy Whatever” doesn’t have a built-in fanbase to keep it alive. Dennis Quaid and Ashley Tisdale may be able to draw some viewers to check it out, but they aren’t enough to hold anyone’s attention when the story unfolding around them is as exciting as four-day-old leftovers.