The new Netflix sitcom ‘Merry Happy Whatever’ lived up to its name as a so-so Christmas special

Emma Ingledew

Whether it be baking, decorating, caroling, meeting the parents, playing football or eating cookies, the new Netflix sitcom “Merry Happy Whatever” doesn’t miss a single one of these holiday traditions in the eight-episode series. While the Quinn family follows strict Christmas traditions, the youngest daughter, Emmy Quinn (Bridget Mendler), disrupts the most wonderful time of the year by bringing her boyfriend, Matt (Brent Morin), home to meet the family in Philadelphia. The storyline focuses on awkward encounters, family arguments and the pressure to impress the father that ensue, but the execution and quality of the comedy make this another cheesy sitcom that is difficult to watch.  

The plot revolves mostly around the lengths that Emmy and Matt (mostly Matt) go through in hopes of winning over Emmy’s hard-to-impress dad, Don (Dennis Quaid). At first, Matt’s nervousness toward Don was entertaining, but after a while it became repetitive. If the script was slightly more creative or the acting was less cheesy, this idea may have been more impactful. Don, being a widowed father of four kids and working in law enforcement, has extremely high standards for his precious daughter Emmy. Don’s expectations reinforce the traditionality of the family, which didn’t detract from the series, but it seemed that everything executed in this show was supposed to be funny. However, due to the corny acting, I could never tell whether something was supposed to be serious or not. The constant effort that Matt puts in is occasionally comical, but most of the time it comes off as cliché, undermining the original intent of the director. Nevetheless, the relationship between the three of these characters is just one of the many storylines seen throughout the show. 

Emmy Quinn (Bridget Mendler) tries to lighten the mood after having to take her father to the emergency room.

The three other children of the Quinn family also importantly contribute to the plot. Kayla (Ashley Tisdale), who seems to be closest in age to Emmy, gets asked for a divorce by her husband, Alan (Tyler Ritter), on the season premiere. At first, I was confused as to why this suddenly took place within the first 10 minutes of the season, but it helps characterize her miserable outlook for the majority of the series as she must spend the holiday season alone. Being her bossy and unfiltered self, she finds ways to take charge in family events to not only distract herself from loneliness but to also find a purpose for herself. I found this to be one of the only humorous aspects of the show. Her outwardly rude comments and negativity contrasted with the Christmas spirit that the rest of the family was trying to possess. Her character helped make the family seem a little less perfect which gave the show some originality.  

The eldest sister of the family, Patsy (Siobhan Murphy), likes to be the mother figure of the family by cooking eggs and Christmas cookies, just like their mother used to. She has a “can-do” attitude and is generally the one to lighten the mood when a family fight breaks out. I was very intrigued by Patsy’s character because not only was she unique, but her character subtly incorporated the relationship most of the kids had with their mom. 

Lastly, there is Sean Quinn (Hayes MacArthur), who shares similar interests as his father but still fears his father’s disappointment in him. It was interesting to see Sean, who seemed to be the “tough guy,” open up about certain issues in his life to Don and break down the pressure he felt his dad put on him. This relationship reflects how the stereotypes attached to being a man in that family were finally starting to fade away. In the show, Sean felt pathetic after losing his job at the beginning of the series, but after speaking to his father, Sean and Don both understood that being a man doesn’t mean being the breadwinner for the family. However, this wasn’t the only part of the film that pointed a finger at sexual stereotypes. A Quinn family tradition is for the men to go out and get a tree, or watch the big Eagles football game while the women decorate the house. At first, I thought that was incredibly sexist, but later in the episode, Patsy makes passive-aggressive comments about the expectations society has for her as a woman. As the series continued, I started to recognize that the Quinns were facing challenges with conforming to the traditional ways that the family had always followed. I appreciated the way this idea developed throughout the series, but I felt the message of “familiar traditionality” has been overplayed. 

After a long day of decorating, the Quinn family admires the dazzling Christmas tree.

While this show attempts to use humor and drama to stir up a reaction from the audience, it comes across as unoriginal. Even the variety of quirks and holiday mayhem that takes place seems to be overshadowed by the mediocre acting and laugh track that consistently follows a poor joke. Going into the series, my expectations weren’t high, keeping in mind that it was among the plethora of holiday shows and movies available on Netflix. But even with these low expectations, I found it challenging to watch every episode. There was nothing jaw-dropping or outwardly hilarious, but it did cause me to become more excited about upcoming traditions and reuniting with my family members. This show is full of holiday cheer, but if you’re looking for something to truly satisfy your holiday craze and stimulate some sort of emotion, I’d spend my time watching a classic like “Elf” which is not only funny, but original.