Every year, the networks try to recapture the “magic” of Friends with a flaccid sitcom about a handful of twenty/thirty-somethings and their romantic hijinks. There have been a rash of these lately, a phenomenon reduced to chart form by Vulture. The results are, as expected, uninspiring; the shows last for a few episodes before being thrown on the trash heap, with good reason. Do you remember Romantically Challenged? Do you miss the recently-cancelled Perfect Couples? Didn’t think so.
At first glance, it’s easy to add Happy Endings to that list, with it’s mix of six zany friends and a premise right out of the Friends pilot. I almost made the same mistake, before another Vulture post persuaded me to reconsider the show.
Happy Endings opens at the wedding of Dave (Zachary Knighton) and Alex (24‘s Elisha Cuthbert). After a not-quite-The Graduate-interruption, Alex leaves Dave at the altar, sending him into depression and their social circle into chaos.
Said social circle includes married couple Jane (the very funny Eliza Coupe, last seen as the brutish Denish on the final season of Scrubs) and Brad (Damon Wayans, Jr.), painfully single Penny (SNL vet Casey Wilson) and “chubby gay guy” Max (Adam Palley). By the end of the pilot, Alex and Dave have patched things up enough to be civil, thus saving the group from going outside of their comfort zone.
In just four episodes since then, the single-camera show has established its tone and style, placing it somewhere between Cougar Town and Scrubs. Flashback jokes have been perfectly timed and not over-leveraged (a la Family Guy). Like Cougar Town, the characters live in their own world, coining phrases (“the peter out,” “chicksand”) and crafting dance routines. The dialogue is quick, and one-liners have been just dark enough to give the sunny sitcom a subversive edge. A couple of early favorites:
- You know what sounds like more fun? Being in wet clothes and watching Schindler’s List.
- I knew it! I’m parent heroin. They have got a Jane addiction, and it’s bad. I’m talking ‘shaking at a bus stop, willing to do downstairs stuff for a nickel bag of me’ bad.
For the most part, the characters are interesting and quirky. In a post-Glee TV world, Max is a realistic “straight dude who likes dudes” who refuses to be a stereotype. Damon Wayans, Jr. lives up to his family name and makes beta male Brad the perfect compliment to the overbearing Jane (if I had to make a Friends comparison, she’d be Monica).
At times, the plots have been very sitcom-y: Dave dates a clingy girl, Alex gets a roommate, Brad and Jane look for couple-friends. For each of those tropes, though, there has been a “Penny dates Doug Hitler” or “there’s a painter living in the attic” story. There have been sweet moments, too: Max struggles with coming out to his parents (using Jane and Alex as beards), and Brad works on his relationship with his straight-laced father (played by his namesake).
Far from a Friends rip-off, Happy Endings is definitely on to something: it has been gaining a following and ABC is doubling-up on new episodes to strike while the iron is hot. Check out a full hour of Happy Endings at 10pm on Wednesdays for the next three weeks (and catch up on Hulu).