Even though it’s still November, FOX already has Christmas all wrapped up with The Moodys — coming to our screens early next month.
This spirited six-episode remake starring Denis Leary and Elizabeth Perkins follows The Moodys, a slightly dysfunctional family of five (plus a few extras), who come together to assemble for the holidays with some unexpected challenges.
Adapted by writers Bob Fisher, Rob Greenberg and Tad Quill from the Australian series of the same name, the premise revolves around Sean Sr. and Ann Moody’s kids who — apart from one failure-to-launch son who still lives at home — come back to their hometown of Chicago to have a “perfect” holiday break.
Think love, loyalty and unintended chaos laced with sibling rivalries, coveted girlfriends, tinsel, wine, maybe a few tears, some missing presents and a whole ‘lotta mirth.
But we all know there is no “perfect,” and the subsequent comedy, as well as some poignant moments, develop as the cracks in everyone’s veneers expose their reality.
The catalyst here is Leary and Perkins’ astute comedic timing and genuine chemistry which is added to by a stellar cast of their grown “kids” and extended family.
Monsters and Critics traveled to Montreal (which substitutes on the show for leafy suburban Chicago) to see one scene in action between the eldest son Sean Jr (Jay Baruchel) and his dad (Leary) hiding in a van as they case a couple of competing plumbers in their “little league baseball sponsored turf.”
Amidst discussions about life and what ingredient cuts the fat in a good roast beef sandwich (jalapenos), they wind up in an unplanned duck mascot heist against rival plumbers, the Dukakis Brothers, who are caught dead to rights poaching one of their valued clients.
Baruchel and Leary are genuinely a comedic goldmine in front of the camera together. And yes, a few clever Massachusetts-inspired insider jokes make it in the mix (Dukakis was the failed 1988 Democratic presidential hopeful from MA.) Not to mention that most of the core cast — Chelsea Frei, Leary and Perkins — hail from the Bay State with Baruchel and Francois Arnaud being the hometown Quebecois boys.
The supporting cast includes The Moodys’ extended family, with Josh Segarra as cousin Marco and his girl Cora played by Maria Gabriela de Faría.
Monsters and Critics spoke to them all about what will without doubt be one of the highlights of the festive viewing calendar.
The Moodys’ parents speak
In FOX’s The Moodys, Leary plays the paternal figure, a middle-class, blue collar guy named Sean Moody, Sr.. Both he and wife Ann (Perkins) care very much for their family. But they are also hiding a big secret from the kids.
Leary credits producer and writer Bob Fisher for pulling him into this project. He says, “I knew it was going to be smart. I knew it was going to be funny. And then once I got those first three scripts, they [the writers] kind of knew where the story was going after that. But I was hooked halfway through the first script…it was already smart.”
The show highlights how the holiday season can be fraught with emotional subtext. Perkins says, “I think there’s a lot of expectation for people to have a perfect Christmas — and no one ever has a perfect Christmas. [Moodys] is sort of the humorous version of dysfunction and what that looks like. And I think most people can relate to that.”
The notion of having a favorite child comes up too, but Leary and Perkins had nothing but effusive praise for their co-star “kids.”
In the cast, actor Chelsea Frei plays the sole daughter and high achiever, Bridget. Of his middle child, Leary says, “Bridget is clearly my favorite, but the sick relationship that I have with Sean Jr (Baruchel) — which is constantly badgering him to get a job and go out into the world — it’s clear that I really don’t want him to leave. When we talk about it, it’s about getting him out. But there’s the psychological flip side to that [which is] it’s clear to me that [my character] doesn’t want him out of the house.”
This can be a very real scenario, as many parents know. Perkins says, “I have four children and by the time they were in their early twenties we were like, okay, they have to move out now…and then the minute they left, I missed them so terribly!”
Leary described kids coming back for the holidays as a “double edged sword”. He said, “You love them and they’re gone and then they come back and you’re like, ‘Oh my God, they’re here.'”
The Moodys’ ‘kids’ talk back
Chelsea Frei plays Bridget, the overachiever and self-described “star of the siblings.” She says of her character, “She’s a lawyer. She’s very put together. She’s married. No children. And I think she has taken on this role of being the perfect one and is so scared to tell anybody about the cracks and what’s simmering beneath it. I think this holiday season, it all comes out that her life isn’t as perfect as she wanted it to be.”
The baby is Arnaud, who plays Dan, the artistic one who’s quietly struggling. He says, “Dan very much wanted an escape from that world, and that’s partly why he left for New York. He wants to be a photographer, but he’s not artistically as much of a success as he would like to be.
“He puts a lot of pressure on himself. It’s a different kind of pressure from Bridget, who has visible success, whereas I don’t, but I feel like there’s this similar desire to come home and have something to show for it… and that I don’t, really.”
The two each play siblings who are quietly trying to hold lives together.
Arnaud says of one of the storylines involving his on-screen parents Sean and Ann, “They were very thrilled to welcome my girlfriend…I’ve never introduced a serious girlfriend to the family. They hung up this huge banner for [my character] Dan and Allie and…Allie is [now] not coming.
“So now I’m bracing myself to face these judgments that are like constant microaggressions on who you are, who you’ve become, who you said you wanted to be. But none of it is ill-intentioned or mean spirited.”
As for working with Denis Leary, his on-screen “kids” have nothing but love for him.
Frei says of Leary, “[He has a] lot of heart. A lot of gruff exterior, but a lot of heart. It was such a lesson for me, but he’s so somebody who loves to joke around. He shows his love by being mean and pushing buttons, and he’s the best person ever. He’s so grounded and still cares about the work so deeply. I was like, wow, I want to be that actor forever. I want to be that person.”
Arnaud also learned a great deal from observing how Leary worked on set. “I feel like what surprises me constantly is how broad he can be in tone and in this humor. He can take the joke so far and it’s still absolutely natural and real because it’s so grounded. He’s so confident in who he is and his presence on screen and in real life. Humor never gets in the way of a real dramatic connection.”
Recalling a particular scene, he says, “We just had this lovely father and son moment where he’s telling me a story about his hopes as a youth. It sort of starts off with a joke and then develops into this really, like, heartfelt confession.
“It was just me listening to him and we had such a strong connection that, by the end of the scene, he took me right to the edge. What feeling came to me was to go in for a hug, right? And then, in character, he breaks it off. He takes me right there and then says, ‘don’t be a wuss about it.’ That’s exactly, for me, who Denis is.”
And the eldest son who is still living at home, Sean Jr.? A complete hockey nut like Leary in real life, Baruchel described his complex relationship with his on-screen dad: “I would say my relationship with my dad Sean Sr. is a great deal of love and a great lack of patience. Like anybody that’s close with their parents, you would die for them, but also nobody makes you want to die quicker than your own parents.
“Half of him doesn’t want to be his old man, and the other half hopes for nothing more than to be his old man.”
Between takes on set, Baruchel was overheard talking hockey with Leary and also appreciated his time filming with the man who is into year 25 with the Cam Neely Foundation, raising huge amounts of money every year for cancer treatment and families.
Baruchel says, “It’s fun getting to see everything that is Denis Leary up close. Everything about him is iconic, I grew up in a house where my parents adored his film The Ref, so it was on a lot. And it’s neat to see him channel that type of energy into a character [Sean Sr.] that is potentially softer than what people are used to seeing.
“He’s still very much Denis Leary. It is exactly what you want to see, but I think people are going to be caught off guard in a good way by it. Because I think you get to see he’s a softer touch than he lets on.”
The extended Moodys family reflects
Rounding out the chaotic homecoming are cousin Marco (Josh Segurra), a hotshot commodities broker, the son of Uncle Eugenio and Aunt Kathy. He brings to the holiday mix his lovely girl Cora (Maria Gabriela de Faria) who winds up being pure catnip to Dan Moody.
Maria made a huge leap from being a child star in her native Caracas, moving to Columbia and then to Mexico before finally arriving as a very young woman in Los Angeles.
Sharing that the feelings of longing for your family at the holidays are universal, she says, “No matter how much I run away from them, no matter how much I tried to be different from them, they are a part of me, and they will be forever. So there’s no questioning, there’s no reason for us to try to be something else. It’s all about embracing that.
“I think when you don’t, when you try to create those differences, is when the craziness happens. When everything goes sideways. Whatever you see in your mom or your siblings that you say you hate, it’s [also] a part of you. I think that’s something that happens in The Moodys as well.”
Also a father, Segurra was reflective, sharing a story about his son and that he had another child on the way. “I was driving back from a Christmas Eve party last year and my boy was sleeping in his car seat. My wife was asleep in the passenger seat, my best buddy was asleep and sister was asleep and I was driving home.
“It was the first time I thought about my dad driving home all those nights after Christmas parties where I was asleep in the car. It was the first time I thought about it like that. It was like just a moment where you knew that your role has changed.”
The excitement about Christmas and the familial connections lured the Arrow star to the Moodys project. “At the holidays, I’m just super excited to just see my son’s eyes light up. Now I get to see the excitement my parents got from getting me a certain thing that I wanted.
“I think about my mom shopping on Black Friday at five o’clock in the morning because she did it for us. And at the time you don’t realize why your parents do those things, and they do them because they’ll do anything for your eyes to light up on Christmas morning.”
The Moodys will air across three nights on Wednesday, Dec. 4, Monday, Dec. 9 and Tuesday, Dec. 10, airing back-to-back half-hour episodes each night starting at 9/8c.