The stakes for holiday entertainment are a bit different than for entertainment generally: Given that Christmas programming is generally intended to place the viewer in a cozy state of mind, the urgency of creating characters with whom one wants to spend time is paramount. This is a less apt venue for roguishness than for cuddliness. Exceptions can be made, of course — but one isn’t earned by “The Moodys,” a new Fox limited series that depicts the holidays among a Chicago family as an enmity-fueled slog.
Denis Leary and Elizabeth Perkins play the parents of a spread-out nuclear family, whose adult children reconvene for a Christmas that seems carried out by rote. The jibes play out with no sense of pleasure other than that granted by relentless repetition: One son (Francois Arnaud) is frittering away his life pursuing a creative dream, another (Jay Baruchel) is a waste of space living at home still, and the daughter (Chelsea Frei) tends to put on weight when grieving a relationship — as she is through the show’s run. The potential audience for a trio of siblings joylessly mocking each other’s metabolisms and job prospects is unclear — who wants to spend time in a Christmas this unpleasantly rife with meanness and pettiness, and at which so little happens?
That’s the thing: Nastiness is all the Moodys have. (At least the Bundys, the family at the heart of Fox’s early-days smash “Married… with Children,” which this show fitfully recalls, had some situation to their comedy.) When Perkins’s Ann takes a rifle and shoots the ornament off her own Christmas tree, it carries little weight: Though there are certain dramas foregrounded in her family’s holiday this year (a health crisis, various breakups), the fact that the Moodys aren’t doing a good job of celebrating together seems to come as little surprise. When, so dug in are the lines along which they insult one another, did they ever?
All of which adds up to a holiday watch that lacks either the uplift of a Netflix or Hallmark movie — which has its place — or the slyness and bite of more subversive Christmas fare. Even darker holiday movies end in a place where one is glad one spent the time with the family in question. At the end of time spent with the Moodys, one’s simply ready to leave.