Thanksgiving Day this year brought a new, Philly-set sitcom from Netflix, but mostly, you’d be hard-pressed to realize that by watching it.
Merry Happy Whatever stars Dennis Quaid as overbearing father Don Quinn, a Bucks County sheriff’s deputy who welcomes his children back home for Christmas. The farthest-flung sibling, Emmy (Bridgit Mendler), is back in town from Los Angeles with boyfriend Matt (Brent Morin), who works as a musician much to the disapproval of the exceedingly traditional Don.
At eight episodes long, there are a few Philly references — not one of which, perhaps to the show’s credit — is about cheesesteaks or Rocky, so at least there’s that. But Boy Meets World, the beloved ’90s sitcom also ostensibly set in the Philly burbs, this is not.
Merry Happy Whatever gets across its “Philly-ness” by making the Quinn men — dad Don and his son Sean (Hayes MacArthur) — rabid Eagles fans. The pair, eldest daughter Patsy (Siobhan Murphy) explains, have a tradition of watching the Eagles game the Sunday before Christmas as the Quinn women (a group that includes High School Musical actress Ashley Tisdale as daughter Kayla) decorate the family’s Christmas tree. Sean and Don, meanwhile, celebrate touchdowns with something they call the “big Eagles slap-and-snack,” in which they high-five and shove handfuls of snack foods into their mouths.
They wear Eagles jerseys (Carson Wentz and DeSean Jackson, specifically), do the E-A-G-L-E-S chant, and own a whole lot of other Eagles memorabilia (mugs, T-shirts, hoodies). Son Sean even settles on starting a business, Eagles Eggies, serving egg sandwiches stamped with an Eagles logo on the bread after he finds himself out of work.
Otherwise, hints that the show takes place in the Philadelphia area are evident only in the occasional use of the word “Philadelphia,” and the phrase “Bucks County Sheriff’s Office” appearing on Quaid’s character’s uniform. There is also a somewhat out-of-place reference to the Philly indie rock band Hop Along thanks to Matt snagging a gig as an opening act, though it ultimately never materializes. At one point, Quaid’s character makes a reference to Wawa, but it’s done to bolster a lie he’s embroiled in, so we’re docking them for besmirching such a revered local institution.
Philly itself, meanwhile, doesn’t appear in the show a single time, save for Emmy and Matt arriving and departing the area at what appears to be Philadelphia International Airport. But that hardly counts.
Overall, Merry Happy Whatever appears to be receiving a lukewarm response from critics. NPR, for example, calls the show “dismal” and “painfully flat,” while the Hollywood Reporter indicates the series’ first season “has its heart in the right place” but is somehow “vaguely unnerving” and “festively mediocre.” Cosmopolitan, however, calls the show a “sitcom with a lot to say” thanks to the evolution of father Don’s values throughout the first season.
While it hasn’t yet been renewed for a second season, perhaps the show could make better use of its Philly setting in the future. As star Quaid recently told the AV Club, he is game to return to the show, and supports the idea of focusing on holidays other than Christmas — including one that has a bonafide connection to Pennsylvania.