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A Rare Occurrence – Worthy New TV in December
December 4, 2019  | By Mike Hughes

Each December, our TV expectations become lower or looser.

We expect a few specks of greatness – Charlie Brown and the Grinch, mostly – and lots of pleasantly adequate shows. So this is a surprise: In a five-day stretch, three terrific shows will arrive. 

One of those – the much-honored Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon Prime Video)– was expected; the others weren't.

The Moodys is a comedy-drama mini-series, on a network (Fox) that's been comedy-deprived lately while Work in Progress (Showtime) is a low-budget series with high-IQ scripts. Let's view all three chronologically:

The Moodys, 9 and 9:30 p.m. ET, Wednesday (Dec. 4), Fox; then Dec. 9-10

This seemed predictable enough. Charlie Collier, the Fox chief, called this a "dysfunctional family comedy," sort of "anti-holiday." He said a Fox-style Christmas would be different than the others. 

It could be. Back in Fox's early days, Homey D. Clown (In Living Color) was a grumpy mall Santa; so was Homer Simpson, because all the Christmas money had gone to remove Bart's tattoo. And in a Wonderful Life take-off, Al Bundy (Married With Children) learned that everyone would be better off if they'd never known him.

Would Moodys be like that, with lots of dark humor? Actually, it turns out to be deeper and better.

Yes, this family has lots of troubles. Sean and Ann Moody (Denis Leary and Elizabeth Perkins) have a medical secret. Sean Jr. (Jay Baruchel) still lives at home, chasing a lousy scheme and worse instincts.  

His siblings – Dan (Francois Arnaud, the Midnight, Texas star) and Bridget (Chelsea Frei) – arrive for the holidays. Each has a secret and a life in chaos.

Things do get messy for a while; the opening flash-forward even has Ann wielding a BB gun.

But there's more to it than that. These are good-hearted people who love their family members and others. Dan and his new friend, Cora (Maria Gabriela de Faria), in particular, are immensely likable.

The Moodys includes burglary, lies, marital cheating, Zamboni theft, and reckless use of a firearm. Throughout it all, we enjoy knowing these folks and their messy lives.

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Season 3, Friday (Dec. 6), Amazon Prime Video

When this began, Midge Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan) was a switchboard operator, trying to pierce the 1950s world of stand-up comedy. Other comics were male, her parents were disinterested, and her manager (Alex Borstein) was clueless.

The result scored instantly. In the first two seasons, Mrs. Maisel has won 16 Emmys, including two for Borstein, one for Brosnahan, and one for best comedy series.

It keeps evolving. Now the 1960s have started, and Midge is thriving; she's opening for a top singer (in the Johnny Mathis mode), first at a military base and then at nightclubs in Las Vegas and Miami.

There are vibrant visuals, plus soaring music. But Mrs. Maisel is still at its best when it has its zip-paced dialog. Two of the best scenes include Midge's husband – first, their divorce, then an unexpected detour. At moments like this, Mrs. Maisel really is marvelous.

Work in Progress debut, 11 p.m. ET, Sunday (Dec. 8), Showtime

Now for the exact opposite.

Mrs. Maisel is big and flashy; Progress is quiet and basic, with a handheld, handmade feel. Mrs. Maisel has optimism; Progress has a character who plans to kill herself in 180 days.

That's Abby (Abby McEnany, who co-created the series). At 45, Abby, who is a lesbian, considers herself unattractive to either sex. Then, well, something happens during therapy that many people will find hilarious. It's often mentioned here; so is Julia Sweeney and Pat – her Saturday Night Live character of uncertain gender.

Sweeney plays herself, providing some of the surprises in a quietly engaging show.

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