What we learn from Denis Leary’s lives – his real one and his fictional one in the new “Moodys” comedy – is basic:
Marriage and family are works in progress. Occasionally, you get it right.
“Within the course of a marriage, you do have a lot of love and anger and stories and experiences to build on,” Leary told the Television Critics Association, “in dealing with, especially, adult children.”
In “Moodys,” Leary and his wife — played by Elizabeth Perkins (they’re shown here) — have three grown-up children. A mini-series in December of 2019 saw all of them return home for Christmas; now the series (debuting at 9 and 9:30 p.m. Thursday, April 1, on Fox) has them moving back in, at least temporarily.
It’s an interesting family – sort of like Leary’s real life. In 2013, novelist Ann Lembeck Leary described it in the New York Times’ “Modern Love” column.
“Our basic problem was, and is, that we are almost identical – in looks, attitudes and psychological makeup,” she wrote. “Two Leos who love children and animals, and are intensely emotional and highly sensitive and competitive with everybody, but especially with each other.”
So competitive that he insisted on playing tennis with “a complicated but curiously malleable set of rules that often appeared, to me, to change mid-game and almost always to Denis’ advantage.”
They had some difficult times. The next step was described in the column and in the “Modern Love” streaming series: After a couples-therapy session, they agreed to end the marriage. Except they stopped at a restaurant on the way home, quietly their grievances, followed by quiet apologies on both sides. Then they went to a movie; they’ve been married for 31 years.
Now Learty has plenty of background for “The Moodys” – including his own Boston-area boyhood. “We make (the Moodys) look like angels,” he said. His mother, a 93-year-old native of Ireland, “remembers everything that my older brother and I did wrong.”
Fraternal fights seem to be a theme for Leary. In “Rescue Me,” he threw a brother through a car window, sending him to the hospital. In “Moodys,” his sons have a fervent fight over a pastry.
That seems natural enough to Leary. He and his brother “shared a room for 17 or 18 years, next to a water heater in the basement.” Making up a random number, Leary says “I fought my brother 567 times and I lost 567 times, because he’s bigger than me. But I never cried and, because I’m funnier than him, I always would start the next fight by saying something funny.”
They get along well now, Leary said. And others see nothing wrong with squabbles.
“I feel like bickering is what most families do,” said Francois Arnaud, who plays Leary’s son Dan. “That’s how they show the love.”
Maria Gabriela de Faria agreed. “I’d love to be part of this family,” she said. “I’m constantly trying to get in, … to be part of the Moodys.”
She plays Cora, arriving as the girlfriend of Dan’s best friend. By the end of the mini-series, she and Dan were together, but that may not last.
Dan’s sister Bridget (Chelsea Frei) has temporarily moved home. Their brother, Sean Jr., (Jay Baruchel), has never left. While resisting pressure to work with his dad, he keeps trying schemes. The last one – sending cremated remains skyward, via fireworks – ended disastrously.
Arnaud and Baruchel have already starred in their own shows (“Midnight, Texas” and “Man Seeking Woman,” respectively), but now they may or may not learn from a comedy veteran.
They’re “definitely learning some new curse words from me,” Leary said.
Or maybe not any new ones, Arnaud said. “All I ever heard was an endless stream of the F-word.”
In some families, it’s all part of a work-in-progress life.