Judge Patrick Bromley always ends with a cliffhanger.
Our reviews of Happy Endings (published November 29th, 2005), Happy Endings: The Complete Second Season (published October 6th, 2012), and Happy Endings: The Complete Third Season (published December 12th, 2013) are also available.
Was it good for you?
On paper, the ABC sitcom Happy Endings is exactly what TV doesn't need any more of. It's another show about young, attractive, urban white people with no real problems to speak of except getting dates—and, of course, the silly problems they create for themselves. In many ways, it's a Friends clone that's nearly 10 years too late, and the fact that it feels like nothing else that's current or relevant on TV while still seeming like every show you've ever watched should be a crippling strike against it. The fact that it airs on ABC—a network that hasn't known what to do with a sitcom in years, save for Modern Family (the series that single-handedly saved the 30-minute network comedy)—ought to be the nail in the coffin. This was a series destined for cancellation after just a handful of airings.
And, yet, if you're a fan of sitcoms, there's a lot to like about Happy Endings. Like, a lot. While there's a tendency to too-often embrace sitcom clichés and the whole enterprise feels a little overly familiar, it expresses a point of view that's just different enough to make the show fresh and interesting. The series takes on topics that are ripe for satire but aren't being picked up on by other shows; there's an episode-long takedown of hipsterism ("She writes a blog about zines, and he won the mustache contest three years in a row…") that alone makes the season worth checking out. Another episode deals with the group's desire to relive their younger days by going to see a lame mid-'90s sandal-rock band; it's a funny commentary both on that entire era in popular music and a particular generation's (mine) inability to let go of their youth. It's hardly reinventing the situation comedy, but it's smart and relatable in a way that quickly-canceled garbage like Perfect Couples (which aired around the same time) never was.
After being left at the alter by his fiancé Alex (Elisha Cuthbert, The Girl Next Door) twentysomething Chicagoan Dave Rose (Zachary Knighton, The Hitcher) is crushed; what's worse is that the split wreaks havoc on the couple's group of friends, which includes husband and wife Brad (Damon Wayans Jr., The Other Guys) and Jane (Eliza Coupe, Scrubs), slobby gay slacker Max (Adam Pally, Solitary Man) and perpetually single would-be party girl Penny (Casey Wilson, Killers). The first truncated season of the show (it was a midseason replacement on ABC) exists to essentially introduce all of the characters and introduce this dynamic, though even the breakup and its ramifications have pretty much been worked out by the end of these 13 episodes. Nothing really significant happens to any of the characters—they go on dates, get new jobs, work out family issues—but that's part of the show's charm. Like another ABC sitcom, Cougar Town, Happy Endings is mostly about hanging out with your friends and seeing what kind of trouble you can get into. It's in the moments when the characters are just making up things to keep them busy, like trying to shoot a neighbor with rubber darts from a toy gun or betting on who would fare better in a zombie apocalypse, that the series is at its best.
While the writing is often fast and funny, the cast is still finding their footing throughout the first season. Eliza Coupe is good as control freak yuppie Jane, but goes a little broad, while Knighton and Cuthbert are the blandest members of the ensemble. It's telling that the show starts out with them at the center but very quickly develops into much more of a group-oriented comedy—that's where its strengths are. Casey Wilson, who was wasted on Saturday Night Live for a couple of years, finally gets the chance to show how funny she can be (and, if nothing else, I can watch Happy Endings because it's an excuse to look at Casey Wilson for 20 minutes at a time), and Adam Pally creates a character that's like no one else on TV. He's a gay character not defined by his sexuality, and the disinterest that Happy Endings shows in stereotyping him is one of my favorite things about it. Plus, he gets all the best lines.
If you were a fan of Happy Endings when it aired, watching it on DVD will be like a tiny revelation. Not because it looks or sounds so amazing—it's fine, and as good or better than during its broadcast—but because ABC murdered the show by airing the episodes completely out of order and messing with its continuity. It's the kind of thing networks do sometimes, trying to air the "best" episodes of a given series first to give it a chance at survival, but it can wreak havoc on any sort of throughline the show is trying to develop. Things got tossed around a lot, so Dave could be seen running his own sandwich truck, and then weeks later there would be an entire episode devoted to him buying a sandwich truck. It really hurt the Dave and Alex story, too, because one week they would be back to being friends and then tense and fighting again a few shows later. One episode never even ran until the summer, months after the season finale had already aired. ABC made a mess of Happy Endings' first season, but it's been restored here on DVD, where the shows are put in the correct order and not the broadcast order.
The 1.85:1 image looks solid and clean, and the 5.1 audio track does a good job with the dialogue (this being a single-camera sitcom, there's thankfully no laugh track to try and balance out). Extras are pretty sparse: an amusing but brief blooper reel is the best thing here, if that tells you anything. There's an odd "remix" of dialogue and scenes covering the whole season; a lame fake opening theme; a short, fake interview with stars Pally and Wilson (both the best characters and the best performers on the show) and two terrible featurettes covering the costume design, sponsored by Banana Republic. Because what every walks away from Happy Endings talking about is the clothes.
I'm glad ABC has decided to renew Happy Endings for another season. It's a show that deserves to find an audience, an I'm confident that as time goes on, the writers will continue to embrace what's best about it while shedding away the more formulaic elements. Here's hoping the show just keeps improving.
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