Political dynasties may find no love from Americans these days, but that doesn’t mean we don’t love our comedy dynasties. Fans of David Sedaris and Amy Sedaris will agree a little nepotism isn’t always a bad thing, as well as those who ate crow when Abby Elliott proved herself worthy of the strings (real or rumored) pulled by her father, “Saturday Night Live” alum Chris Elliott, to get her an audition for the show that started his career. Now, two great comedic families finally join forces as Amy Sedaris and Chris Elliott play the world’s worst parents in “Thanksgiving,” a loopy family comedy that — like its target audience — could use an Adderall.
The short form comedy series takes place on Thanksgiving day in a town called Libertyville, where the town motto is: “If you’re from here, you’re home.” Told in real-time, the eight episodes follow the dysfunctional Morgan family throughout the holiday, beginning in the afternoon with a touch football game. A healthy neighborhood rivalry unfolds on the field as Don (Elliott) and his many sons engage, or rather disengage, in a game so unruly even this football neophyte could follow it.
Sitting in a cab just off the field is Don’s daughter, Olive (Elliott’s real-life daughter, Bridey Elliott), who is killing time before seeing her family, attempting to delay revealing that she has quit medical school. “That’s not so bad,” says her chatty cab driver (Shannon O’Neill), prompting Olive to explain that it’s been two years and she’s been spending the tuition checks on partying and rent. “Oh, that is bad.”
Back at the homestead, the pièce de résistance is not the turkey she douses in Budweiser but Kathy Morgan herself (the incomparable Sedaris), serving over the top Midwestern Mom realness with a side dish of crazy gravy. Sedaris is such a force all she needs for a straight man is her precocious granddaughter Harper (Arica Himmel), and a free rein to improvise songs about drinking wine and feeling fine. The rhyming motif becomes a character trait only Sedaris could pull off, and watching her go ham (or in this case, turkey) is one of the show’s major selling points.
This unfettered playfulness works well for Sedaris, but causes confusion in the show’s large group scenes, such as an asthma attack that sends the huge clan into a frenzied search for an inhaler. In the first three episodes, the five Morgan brothers are distinguishable, but only by very broad character traits: There’s the fat one, the gay one, the coke-addicted one, the nerdy one, and the one on his third marriage. Of the six adult children, only Olive stands out, not just because she is the girl but because she is the only one given a high stakes conflict. Add in four partners and “Thanksgiving” is practically a lesson in sloppy script writing.
However, some rules were meant to be broken. If the Morgan family seems unwieldy, it is an understandable oversight by creators Daniel Powell and Bethany Hall, who likely saw the streaming project as a chance to write parts for friends and collaborators they’ve met throughout their careers.
Hall makes regular appearances on “The Chris Gethard Show,” and Powell is Executive Producer for “Inside Amy Schumer.” Though not a sketch show, “Thanksgiving” could have benefitted from sticking more closely to tried and true comedic formulas that “Inside Amy Schumer” is known for embracing. This is the first collaboration between the two, and the first larger-scale writing credit for Hall.
“Thanksgiving” is the first scripted narrative series from Seriously.tv, which bills itself as “a comedy news site that features smart, funny, millennial takes on the news.” Known for satirical news segments that lean firmly left, viewers will recognize them as the platform used by Dylan Marron, whose series “Sitting In Bathrooms With Trans People” recently received a Gotham Award nomination for “Breakthrough Series Short Form.” For a first attempt at a new form, Seriously.tv hits a lot closer to the mark with “Thanksgiving” than studios that have been in the mix a lot longer.
The fast and loose nature of the script may make the show a bit uneven, but it gives the most freedom to the considerable talent, who must have seen enough to like in the script. Sedaris and Elliott are the draw, but Sedaris is the true star that keeps the whole thing afloat. As her character might say, she totes floats the boat.
Watch “Thanksgiving” on go90.