“I’ve got to be more careful about who I let into this family,” is not something you want to hear from your future father-in-law.
In Netflix’s eight-episode comedy Merry Happy Whatever (premiering Thursday, Nov. 28), Dennis Quaid stars as Don Quinn, a widower, cop and patriarch of a close-knit Philadelphia family. As the eclectic Quinn clan comes together in the days before Christmas, Don’s youngest daughter, Emmy (Bridgit Mendler), arrives from Los Angeles with her new boyfriend, Matt (Brent Morin), a struggling musician. Matt goes to extreme and embarrassing lengths to impress Don, who has set an impossibly high price of admission into his tribe.
“I think there’s something for everybody to connect with,” Quaid says. “Everyone has their own dysfunctional part that they play in the family. That’s what makes it funny. It’s very sweet, but at the same time, it’s real. People can identify with it. You go back to visit your family at Christmas or Thanksgiving, there’s always that warmth, and there’s also the problems that go with that.”
If all goes well, Quaid could spend more time with the Quinns. “We might be covering different holidays or events like the Super Bowl, or Fourth of July or Thanksgiving — anytime families get together,” he says. Quaid spent some more time with us, talking about Christmas and, you know, Whatever.
On Don’s relationship status:
“He’s recently widowed, and that’s been very tough for him,” Quaid says of Don, who clings to his late wife’s memory and has been unable to move on in his personal life. His oldest daughter, Patsy (Siobhan Murphy), tries her hardest to fill the void. “She lives basically across the street,” Quaid says. “She cleans his place and cooks and all that stuff. He’s a little stuck. He hasn’t even dated since. He has a crush on a nurse, Nancy [Garcelle Beauvais]. He’s a cop and he goes to the emergency room a lot. He strikes up a relationship, and that’s a big deal for him.”
On his first sitcom gig:
Quaid has been acting onscreen since the mid 1970s, but this role was a first for him. “Being on a sitcom, what they used to call a ‘three-camera,’ it was a new experience for me,” he says. “It was the first time in my career that I’ve done one. I’ve never even been a guest on one, going way back. So there was a learning curve for me, especially the first couple of episodes, the whole pace of working and the tempo. The cast was incredibly fantastic in buoying me up until I got my legs. But once I did, I loved it. I really love working that way.”
On shooting a Christmas show during the summer in Los Angeles:
“It was about 115 degrees over there in the Valley this summer, and we’re celebrating Christmas,” Quaid says. “I feel like I’ve already had my Christmas.”
On the Big Eagles Slap & Snack celebration:
The Quinns are diehard Philadelphia Eagles fans, and they have many sacred game-watching traditions. One of them is the elaborately choreographed Big Eagles Slap & Snack touchdown celebration, which looks like it required considerable rehearsal time. “It took about four days,” Quaid says. “It was like a dance routine, man. We got it down to where we didn’t even have to think about it. The whole thing about the Philadelphia Eagles is great, with their allegiance to their team.”
On hosting Saturday Night Live’s 1990 Christmas episode:
“That was amazing,” Quaid says of hosting SNL on Dec. 15, 1990. Among his parts was a European Santa Claus on Mike Myers’ “Sprockets” German talk show sketch. “The only regret I have was not being in the ‘Dysfunctional Family Christmas’ skit in that one, where they took carols and they twisted them. That was really good,” he recalls.
On playing reindeer games:
Quaid is also a musician, touring and recording with his rock ’n’ roll band, the Sharks. So what Christmas tune does he like to perform the most? Turns out he has a familial connection to “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” famously recorded by the Singing Cowboy. “Gene Autry is my third cousin,” Quaid says. “I met him in ’94 when we did Wyatt Earp. It’s the only time I met him.”