Monday, December 2, 2019

TV REVIEW: FOX's 'The Moodys'

FOX will premiere its original holiday event series The Moodys on Wednesday, December 4 at 9/8c. following a new episode of The Masked Singer. The series stars Denis Leary, Elizabeth Perkins, Jay Baruchel, Chelsea Frei and Francois Arnaud.

Read on for my thoughts on the holiday series after screening its entire six episode season.

The holiday season has been increasingly commercialized over the past generation. Some media companies and brands go all in on the celebration because it has been proven as a huge profit earner. It now defines several months of the year. Hallmark and Lifetime begin airing weekly holiday-themed movies the weekend before Halloween. On November 1 every year, numerous stores already have their Christmas decorations up. It has become a months-long celebration that may no longer recognize the sacred holiday at the center of it all. It may have grown too intense too fast. And yet, the profits continue to fuel the market. More networks are getting in on holiday movies. This year some outlets are even trying their hands at holiday-themed scripted series. The market has already been saturated with unscripted hits that take place during the holiday months. Food Network is successful in that genre. Netflix is as well. When it comes to scripted programming though, it's largely relegated to the TV movie format. That's what drives most of Hallmark and Lifetime's business during this time of the year. Last week though, Netflix launched Merry Happy Whatever, a Dennis Quaid-led sitcom centering on a family coming together to celebrate their traditions during Christmastime. This week FOX also tries to elongate the success of holiday programming with the special event series The Moodys. Airing in three hourlong blocks on December 4, 9 and 10, the series also features a specific family coming together to celebrate Christmas and all the traditions that they keep together. It's a similar ambition to what has been successful in the market so far. However, no outlet has really found a way to be inventive with the format in a way that encourages more episodes and time spent with some of these characters.

FOX's The Moodys opens with family matriarch, Ann (Elizabeth Perkins), using a BB gun to destroy the various holiday decorations in her living room. That sets the tone immediately for this being an outrageous and dysfunctional series where everything seemingly goes wildly out of control no matter how hard the family tries to have a normal Christmas. That is genuinely what the show is trying to achieve. The execution is just incredibly wonky. The tone is a mess. At times, it is trying to be an outrageous comedy. Other times, it wants to be a family drama where every member of the Moody family is disastrous in their personal relationships. Other times still, it wants to be a sweet and charming romance highlighting the inevitability of two people being together. This clashing of tones prevents the audience from truly feeling engaged with everything that is happening. It's questionable if the audience should genuinely be charmed by what these characters are doing. It also lacks some of the conviction to actually go all out in any particular direction. All of this could probably be fixed with a little more development behind-the-scenes. The show is based on an Australian format that has successfully launched a franchise. That ambition is clearly the intent of this series as well. The six episode season does try to tell a complete story. However, there are plenty of plot beats that get lip service only to never amount to much. Meanwhile, other things end in a way that suggests all of this is simply building up to more time spent in this universe with these characters. As such, it doesn't really feel like a complete story. There is only one storyline that has a firm sense of conclusion to itself. It just happens to be the more cringe-inducing one throughout the season. Youngest Moody sibling, Dan (Francois Arnaud), has just gotten dumped by his girlfriend in New York and immediately clicks with his cousin's girlfriend, Cora (Maria Gabriela de Faria), upon visiting his family in Chicago for Christmas. It's a potential romance the show keeps having to explain why it could work over and over again. That's a lot of effort without it truly being charming or inevitable. The audience can probably see the twists coming. It's unfortunate and really sucks a lot of intrigue from the proceedings.

And yet, that's the way the majority of the stories come across. Everything is agreeable and controlled in the end. Even Ann's outburst that sets the tone for the series right away feels like a calculated move to simply increase the tension of the proceedings at that particular point in time. It's not an effective buildup of energy until it combusts. It simply feels like something that has to happen in order to keep things explosive and intense. It's the biggest moment that Perkins gets to do in the series. Meanwhile, Denis Leary gets to play somewhat against type as family patriarch, Sean Moody. He has made a career out of playing scoundrels who serve as paternal figures. Here, Sean is a recovering addict facing a health scare who simply loves too much. That's his biggest character flaw that disrupts the simple traditions Ann wants to embrace. He opens his heart to everyone he meets no matter how unfortunate some of the consequences ultimately become. It's a different use of Leary in a series. It's not all that effective though. It's clear that he wants to get back to being an intimidating figure who is flailing around doing a bunch of crazy things. Those moments are present in this series. Eldest Moody sibling, Sean Jr. (Jay Baruchel), is a lackluster man-child always prone to stealing things in order to seemingly send a message. That's his core instinct. It may eventually work for him as well. It inspires his family to take action alongside him because they all must rally together at certain points. That impulse is always clear. This has to be a dysfunctional family that gets along and cares about each other. It's hard to feel that way though. Instead, it may be easier to see these people as doing nothing more than tolerating those who have similar reactions to the various twists and turns of life. They are all destructive and disastrous. That doesn't prevent good things from coming their way. It just doesn't quite feel earned. There is always the sense that the holidays should bring families together with good will always coming their way. That's the overall message that wants to be delivered during this time of the year. It can just be difficult to finish with that message when the overall series highlights the dysfunctional nature of relationships. It's clear The Moodys aspires to be a broadcast network version of Showtime's Shameless set during the holidays. It simply doesn't have the conviction to actually follow through on that ambition in ways that are intriguing but still heartwarming for the specific format.