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‘The Moodys’ a warm holiday homecoming for a Chicago family

Perfectly cast Denis Leary heads the ensemble on Fox’s amusing, occasionally touching miniseries.

Denis Leary (from left), Jay Baruchel, Francois Arnaud, Chelsea Frei and Elizabeth Perkins play the key family members on “The Moodys.”
Fox

Ho ho HA.

As a lifelong Chicago area resident, I feel like I’ve known “The Moodys” even though I’ve just met them via the Fox Broadcasting three-night Christmas event of the same name.

Why, there might even be some recognizable elements of certain members of the Roepers in the Moodys.

Adapted from an Australian series, “The Moodys” is divided into six shows, with back-to-back episodes airing Wednesday, Monday and Tuesday night. It’s a sharp, breezy, insightful, mildly cynical but ultimately warmhearted family comedy/drama set during the holidays, when emotions run high and the ratio of Heartfelt Group Hugs to the Annual Airing of Grievances Old & New is about 1:1.

Denis Leary, who has carved out a solid niche as an edgy but still likable (or at least eminently watchable) persona on shows such as “The Job” and “Rescue Me,” is perfectly cast and does some of his finest TV work ever as family patriarch Sean Moody, who runs a heating/air conditioning business and is happily married to Ann, played by the wonderful Elizabeth Perkins. (If Perkins’ Joan Hunter from the Chicago-set “About Last Night…” had changed her name and softened some of her more caustic instincts, one could see her having this very life.)

The Moodys have three adult children: youngest son Dan (Francois Arnaud), who has moved to New York in hopes of igniting his nascent career as a photographer and has just split up with his latest girlfriend after backing away from making a serious commitment; Bridget (Chelsea Frei), the middle child who has always been the shining star of the trio but now has to figure out a way to tell the family she might be getting divorced after she had a one-night tryst during a business trip, and oldest son Sean Jr. (Jay Baruchel), a perpetual dreamer/schemer and screw-up who’s deep in debt, still living at home and desperate to avoid his seemingly inevitable fate of donning the workman’s coveralls and joining Pops on his daily rounds.

As Sean and Ann prepare to host the tight-knit family (which includes not only their children but uncles and cousins as well as “Big Stan,” Sean’s friend from AA), they’re dealing with a variety of problems, from a never-ending remodeling of the master bathroom to the family business facing a threat from some Greek interlopers who don’t follow the “unwritten rules” to Sean facing a health crisis they’d like to keep secret, at least through Christmas.

Leary and Perkins immediately establish a comfortable, warm and funny rapport; we believe them as a Chicago couple who have been married for a quarter-century and have had their ups and downs but have never stopped loving one another. Arnaud, Frei and Baruchel are equally effective as grown siblings who still fall back into the dynamic they had as kids whenever they get together. The writing is crisp and strong in all six episodes, and the ensemble cast kills it with impeccable timing.

Still reeling from his breakup, Dan is hardly expecting to fall for anyone new — but he’s struck speechless by the gorgeous and funny and quirky Cora (Maria Gabriela De Faria) when she shows up at the Moodys’ doorstep.

One slight hitch: Cora is dating Dan’s cousin Marco (Josh Segarra), a classic “bro” who would be insufferable if not for the fact he knows he’s a bro and he’s a good guy deep down.

The newly separated Bridget finds an unlikely new friend and confidante (and possible love interest) in the local high school wrestling coach (Kevin Bigley), who went through his own marital breakup a few years back and has been smitten with Bridget since middle school, not that she ever really noticed him until now.

Kudos to veteran writers Bob Fisher, Rob Greenberg and Tad Quill (and the actors) for creating fully realized, likable characters out of potentially sitcom-cliché types such as the bro-cousin and the wrestling coach. They have fun with these characters without MAKING fun of them. It’s a real treat to see such a deep roster of authentic, funny, human characters on a traditional broadcast sitcom type of show.

Just last week, Netflix premiered the eight-week, holiday comedy series “Merry Happy Whatever,” also about a working-class family with grown siblings gathering for Christmas. The similarities in theme and even individual scenes are striking.

But “Merry Happy Whatever” is a shrill, clunky, curiously dated-looking show with cheesy dialogue, cheap sets and a hokey laugh track, whereas “The Moodys” is a well-crafted, consistently amusing, occasionally touching confection, as warm and welcoming as a cup of hot chocolate after a friendly family snowball fight in the backyard.