If Christmas is still considered to be a religious holiday in 2019, then capitalism is the faith it follows. Bright red Starbucks cups runneth over with $5 peppermint mochas, devout followers congregate outside of Canada Goose storefronts, and streaming behemoths race to the Christmas tree to claim the holiday titles guaranteed to keep subscribers in their matching tartan pajamas for hours on end.
While Netflix surely checked off some of the wishes at the top of its list—Christmas with the Kranks (2004), How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000), The Grinch (2018)—much of its holiday strategy is focused on creating new content. It’s no secret the streaming frontrunner has struggled in the holiday department in years past—Twitter had a field day with last year’s A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding thanks to its shoddy editing, and Vanessa Hudgens has curiously signed on to play three dopplëgangers in the upcoming Princess Switch sequel.
Merry Happy Whatever, an eight-episode series—yes, series—only adds another name to Netflix’s naughty list. Starring Bridgit Mendler (Good Luck Charlie), Ashley Tisdale (High School Musical), and Dennis Quaid (The Parent Trap, among other things), the show packs empty one-liners and garish plotlines into utterly forgettable 25-minute episodes.
The premise is relatively mundane for the first five minutes: Emmy Quinn (Mendler) and her typecast slacker boyfriend (Brent Morin) are picked up at the airport by her sheriff father Don (Quaid). The boyfriend sweats in the backseat of Don’s patrol car, the dad brings up serving during Desert Storm, and Emmy earnestly tries to convince her dad she doesn’t need to move closer to home—your typical American family interactions. Thankfully, a laugh track plays every three lines to remind you that the writers intended for this to be funny.
And then the dead moms and divorces come up. We find out that Don’s wife died when his eldest daughter (Siobhan Murphy) keeps shoving “mom’s eggy”—a dish that closely resembles a standard Egg McMuffin—in people’s faces when they arrive at the house. Kayla (Tisdale), Emmy’s extremely type-A sister, enters with her husband (Tyler Ritter) in tow. A mere 30 seconds after arriving, he turns down an eggy and asks for a divorce instead.
Kayla doesn’t even muster up a glossy-eyed response, but rather quips, “When you die—that’s when you leave, Alan. Til death do us part.” “Death, Alan, not Christmas,” Don adds. Cue the laugh track. And somehow, this all happens in the first seven minutes. Strap in.
In later episodes, the show tackles atheism, feminism, and racism with the grace of a tonedeaf Christmas caroler, of which there are many in the second episode. Aside from its mind-boggling plot and dialogue, the show was obviously shot on a sterile Hollywood set devoid of any distinctive qualities. The eight episodes take place in Philadelphia, where it apparently is always sunny: Neon-green plastic grass gleams through the windows despite it being December. Imagine taking the already low budget of a Hallmark movie and stretching it across eight episodes—such is the plight of Merry Happy Whatever, a show that is as simplistic and inauthentic in set design as it is in plot and character development.
In creating Merry Happy Whatever, however, Netflix forgets the simplest axiom of all: Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Merry Happy Whatever is a clear byproduct of the streaming era. Prior to the advent of Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime, a Christmas series would be impossible to sustain because it would require viewers to tune in over a number of weeks. Netflix is well aware that we now watch in blocks of multiple episodes in one sitting, and TV shows are afforded the luxury of reading more like movies with complicated plots that require continuous recall as a result.
Orange Is the New Black and House of Cards, both Netflix originals, are shining examples of how the binge-watching era created higher standards for television. Subplots are sustained over multiple episodes, and characters have fuller arcs across seasons. Christmas movies are a different breed of movie, however. Expectations are never really all that high going into a Hallmark movie, and complexity generally isn’t a desired ingredient.
Merry Happy Whatever is what happens when executives forget that the show has to be binge-worthy for anyone to binge it. Clocking in at just around four hours, Merry Happy Whatever is a show that could easily be watched in one sitting. But remember, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
Featured Image by Netflix