ABC’s Happy Endings is just the latest in a series of new network TV shows following the same concept. A group of friends stand in various stages of relationships, and the show follows the progression of those relationships (be they romantic or plutonic).
Happy Endings follows in the footsteps of fellow ABC show Better With You, NBC’s Perfect Couples and FOX’s Traffic Light. They all want to be the next Friends, and of those other three only Traffic Light has shown any real promise. So I had very little hope or expectation that this newest version would provide anything worth watching.
Which is why I’m surprised to say that the premiere of Happy Endings Wednesday kind of, sort of wasn’t awful. It was expectedly derivative, but it had several funny moments. From “drowning in chicksand” to satirizing the concept of stereotypical TV gay men, there were moments I was impressed with the show’s banter and one-liners.
I was expecting to give the show 10 minutes of my life, then turn it off and move on. But I found myself sitting through the entire hour of back-to-back episodes, and I didn’t feel like my time had been wasted.
I basically only tuned in because of my affection for Scrubs alum Eliza Coupe, who performs well as the snarky and egotistical Alex. Damon Wayans Jr. also performs well in a limited capacity as her husband and token black guy Brad, but it’s Adam Pally’s Max who stole the show in the first two episodes.
Max is a gay man who shows no signs of the conventional TV cliché. He acts just like any other guy, with the exception that he is a little extra self-conscious about his appearance.
Pally’s delivery made every line funnier, and his chemistry with Wayans was immediately apparent. Almost all of the best humor in both episodes came from the two of them bantering back and forth. It’s refreshing to finally see TV writers realize a gay man doesn’t have to be over-the-top flamboyant to be funny.
Wednesday’s second episode played with that concept by juxtaposing Max with a walking gay cliché. It was funny and fairly well done, and it was impressive that the show managed to introduce and then lampoon its own elements within its first hour on air.
While there were some surprisingly funny elements, there also were some warning flags for the future of the show. Coupe, Wayans and Pally’s characters are well-conceived and well-acted, but their three counterparts … not so much.
The first two episodes centered on Dave (Zachary Knighton) and Alex (Elisha Cuthbert) and the epic flameout of their long relationship. They dated for the majority of their adult lives and were about to be married when Alex left Dave at the altar.
Glossing over the fact that the “leaving the groom at the altar” bit is almost a carbon copy of where Friends’ Rachel story began, the two characters involved also are boring.
It seems like the writers thought the fact that the characters split at their wedding made them inherently interesting and decided not to give them any other defining characteristics. The result is two bland characters with actors who don’t really seem to know what to do with them.
But bland is better than outright annoying, which is what the final character Penny is. Played by Saturday Night Live’s Casey Wilson, Penny is frustrating at every turn.
She is ultra-competitive and desperate for male attention, to the point that she lied about being Jewish to get on J-Date and then lied about her age to impress her ensuing date. And this happened at her own birthday party, when she didn’t tell her friends about either lie.
And therein lies another problem. Only two episodes in, Happy Endings already has fallen on some pretty tired TV tropes. In addition to Penny’s generic “lie to one person and nobody else to create constant misunderstandings,” Dave’s storylines also showed a lack of creativity.
After being jilted at the altar, Dave predictably jumps into bed with random strangers. The first of which turns out to be barely legal, and the second becomes impossible to dump. As Dave tries to get rid of her by being an ass, she finds it refreshing and becomes increasingly attached.
Those kinds of plotlines should only be seen in a show’s fourth or fifth season, when the writers are running out of ideas. But the fact that those are the first ones the writers could come up with is worrisome, especially because there is some potential here.
According to other reviews, Penny becomes less of a romcom cliché as the first season goes on. So if the writers can manage to make Dave and Alex interesting, there is a real possibility of finding a sweet spot with at least relative quality.
But I’m worried that a more legitimate possibility is that the writing becomes frustrating. The writers already have shown a fixation on Max, which has led to him being hilarious but everybody else being tossed to the side. If that trend keeps up, the potential will be wasted.