Happy Endings aired as one of like, forty-five mid-season "relationship comedies" this past winter. The one thing to distinguish this series from the rest of the litter is that it's hilarious. Happy Endings follows a sextet of friends dealing with a strain on the group after Primary Female Friend Alex (Elisha Cuthbert) leaves Primary Male Friend Dave (Zachary Knighton) at the altar. The rest of the group, high-strung Jane (Eliza Coupe), easygoing Brad (Damon Wayans, Jr.), sardonic Max (Adam Pally) and basket-case Penny (Casey Wilson), try and salvage the group while dealing with their own low-stakes romantic issues. It's a calm watch; nothing much seems to happen. But the material is enough to keep us more than satisfied.
Why You're Not Watching
You’ve Never Heard of It
You may be familiar with some of its castmembers: Jack Bauer's daughter, one of Scrubs' eighth-season interns, Damon Wayans' son. But there clearly isn't enough star power to get this show in the headlines. Despite their talent, none of the actors have that much "pull" yet to command viewers to a series (especially one that is tucked away to a Wednesday 10 p.m. spot). But now that you're reading this, this tribulation is conquered. It's called Happy Endings. It's on ABC. You no longer have this as an excuse.
It’s Exactly Like Friends, A Decade Later
One of the criticisms Happy Endings initially endured was that it was just another relationship sitcom among a bunch that debuted in the same season. Critics eventually came to understand it was much smarter and more original than its cohorts (Perfect Couples, Traffic Light). Still, it does have a pretty familiar formula. If you were a fan of Friends (as we all were), you might notice some similarities in the character descriptions:
The Leads: A pretty, somewhat spoiled blond who runs out on her wedding in the pilotA hapless, good-hearted schlub who is in love with her
Their Friends: The intelligent, relationship-affixed high-maintenance and hyper-competitive control freakThe spirited, promiscuous, super-flaky girl who seems a bit out of place everywhereThe cynical, sarcastic guy whose homosexuality is frequently a topic of discussionThe dapper but goofy dude (this one is the biggest stretch, but five out of six ain’t bad)The Stakes are Lower than Low
The strain on the friendship group is admittedly not as big a focus as the show (or my introduction) advertises. If it were, the show would take a step up in quality. But as it is, the plots generally center on minor marital issues between Jane and Brad, one-off romances for Penny and Max, and Alex's and Dave's congenial steps to get over one another, and to help the other do the same. Not much carries over from episode to episode—but how on Earth can you really take issue with a TV show that referred to the movie Showgirls as Jesse Spano's Boobs?
The Episodes Aired Out of Order
It's difficult to get attached to a story when you are exposed to it in non-chronological fragments. This formula only works if the story is about hit men, suitcases, and hamburgers. So Happy Endings got the short end of the stick when ABC aired its second episode, the one that was supposed to establish the primary conflict of the series (a group of friends having to deal with two members' recent breakup) as the last episode of the season. Because of this, it was hard to really anchor into what the characters were supposed to be feeling or thinking in any given episode.
What You're Missing
Honest Stereotype Deconstruction
There are two wrong ways to handle stereotypes in television: embrace them as if they are reality, and ignore them as if they don’t exist. Last season alone, I saw so many pilots that I couldn’t believe were doing the same old shtick: the most notable example came from Fox's Breaking In, which slathered Alphonso McAuley's character so heavily in "1990s Black Guy" stereotypes that I felt physically ill.
Happy Endings takes an interesting approach, specifically with the character Max. Max is openly gay and is often ridiculed by his friends for embodying none of the characteristics of the gay stereotype—Happy Endings does not simply carry on as if they're not "up to something." The show acknowledges that Max's love of football and his fleshy physique come across as odd to people (which is really saying more about the public conscious than it is about stereotypes, actually). Happy Endings devotes storylines to the dichotomy between the stereotype (represented by another gay man, Derrick, who is regarded by Max and the others as offensively flamboyant) and its antithesis (as represented by Max), assigning ridiculousness to both under the maxim that people should not and, realistically, cannot be defined by stereotypes in either direction.
The show’s got a Bill Lawrence-y, Dan Harmon-y feel—and for those of you who have never seen Scrubs or Community, what I mean by that is there's a lot of humor being built organically onset. Canon characterization and running jokes seem like they're being built from the actors' ad libs. You can tell the creators are letting the stars influence their characters, which I’m always a fan of (especially when the actors are as comically adept as this cast is). Wilson plays Penny Hartz to relentless perfection, fluttering through sentences and shoving “amahzings” down everyone’s throats. Pally’s languid Max is so natural that you wonder just how much of the character is performance.
Banter is a modern comedy staple. Shows try and pass off their groups as friends by having them riff off one another, toss around idiosyncratic conversations, and share inside jokes. This is generally a hit-or-miss; a lot of shows come across as trying way too hard. But Happy Endings, more than any other positive quality it might have, is masterful when it comes to banter. One episode alone had an in-depth discussion about which of the six friends would best survive a zombie apocalypse (this discussion was actually the episode's B-Story) and Max relinquishing unto Penny an analytical catalog of everything that defines a hipster. To be fair, both these things were slightly too late to be timely, but nonetheless entertaining.
The Bottom Line It'll make you laugh. Out loud. Regularly. Happy Endings might still need to sort out its driving forces, but it is, above all, a hilarious, clever, well-written and incredibly affable sitcom. The characters are exceptionally fun to watch, because it seems like the show is exceptionally fun to write and perform. So for those of you who enjoy laughing, check out Happy Endings. It's nothing short of a-mah-zing. Happy Endings premieres tonight at 9:30 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.
"Hey Hey Hey--it's Fat Albert!" From the very first introductory line--voiced by Albert (Kenan Thompson) himself--you cringe just a little. It's like watching a good friend attempt a tough impersonation you hope he can pull off. The story hews close to what the cartoon
Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids was always all about--a goofy gaggle of African-American kids making the best of growing up in a rough neighborhood in Philadelphia. No matter what the trouble--runaways drug use juvenile delinquency--they managed to find a way to solve everyone's problems and bookend each episode with the contagiously upbeat "Na na na--gonna have a good time! Hey hey hey!" The same goes here--only in a modern twist the problem to solve happens to be in the "real world." Doris (Kyla Pratt) a shy and lonely teenager has a rough day at school where she learned she wasn't invited to a big party. She comes home to watch Fat Albert on TV Land and a stray teardrop hits the remote control creating a magical portal through which the animated Fat Albert and gang decide to jump. Scaring the heck out of the bewildered Doris the guys stumble out of the television set and take to their realistic surroundings and mission quite quickly. In short order they set about trying to find Doris some new friends much to her embarrassed chagrin and along the way they try to make sense of modern day life with its perplexing cell phones pull-top cans and rap music. Yet the more time they spend in the real world the more they fade away their clothes becomes more washed out and eventually they even seem transparent.
Thompson (Saturday Night Live) does as good a job as could be expected embodying a classic cartoon character that has been etched into our minds for decades known mainly for the booming voice pounding footsteps and wide red-shirted girth. He also has the unenviable task of imbuing the character within the actual storyline (not to mention sharing screen time with Bill Cosby himself who quickly but effectively intones the classic phrase in a standout cameo). In the real world Fat Albert falls in love; not with Doris the girl he's helping but her older sister Lauri (Dania Ramirez) who in turn has taken a shine to this selfless big lug. Thompson is also required to sing and dance and try his hand at rap (but we'll skip the part in which Albert races a malevolent track star who's jealous of his appeal--it's so out of place and unnecessarily fake-looking that it's best forgotten). Kyla Pratt also does a good job holding her own playing the young Doris as one part hopeful one part incredulous. The rest of the "Cosby kids" blend in with one another if not for their single quirk or two: Jermaine Williams as the unintelligible Mushmouth; Keith D. Robinson as Bill the level-headed one (essentially the young Bill Cosby); Alphonso McAuley as Bucky with his protruding big teeth; Aaron A. Frazier as Old Weird Harold tall with the big 'fro and Marques B. Houston; as Dumb Donald most of his face covered by a pulled down ski-cap with eye holes.
Already a lot has been said about Fat Albert's sitcom-like feel which may in fact be appropriate given the source material but meandering between the two plotlines the story nevertheless feels as padded as Thompson's suit. Director Joel Zwick's (My Big
Fat Greek Wedding) staging style and attitude are clearly geared toward kids who likely won't miss the lack of real wit in the bickering exchanges between the gang but who may not get the references including the opening animation styled just like the mid-1970s show. This movie's target audience has barely even heard of Theo and Rudy Huxtable let alone Weird Harold Mush Mouth and Dumb Donald. In the cartoon Albert and the Cosby kids populated an urban world of fire hydrants streetlamps and garbage dumps that wasn't without a certain charm. The problem is that charm of the original doesn't work within the context of life today. Just slapping this colorful cast of characters into music video dance scenes doesn't do the job. One notable exception to the often unengaging quality of the movie is a brief visit Fat Albert makes to the real Bill Cosby. The legendary performer softens his curmudgeonly ways and puts forth a possible explanation for Albert's manifestation in reality tying it in with the character's origin in his own head. It's an interesting tidbit with a small payoff at the end.