Why ‘Happy Endings’ Was the Best Comedy of the 2011-2012 Season
Wrapping up this season, we asked some of our contributors to write about some of their favorite comedies that have aired since the fall. Instead of handing out accolades to just one show, we’re looking at a number of shows that all deserve to be called the best comedy of the season.
Happy Endings was not the best comedic show on television this season. But it was the funniest.
The show’s premise is nothing special: A couple break up on their wedding day, forcing their four mutual friends to navigate their way through the subsequent mess. And hilarity ensues? Describing what happens during an average episode in one sentence doesn’t help either: six friends hang out and say funny things and get into funny situations and it is not called Friends. Being able to write a few more sentences helps: Brad is a black, somewhat effeminate lawyer who is married to Jane, a control freak sex addict. Jane’s sister Alex is kind of dumb but energetic, Penny constantly fails at dating men and Max is a sloven gay guy who does things like try to sell “certified” pre-owned food. Alex was supposed to marry Dave, a guy who owns his own steak truck and always thinks he’s cool but isn’t. And hilarity ensues.
Happy Endings doesn’t focus (yet) on developing long term or even three episode story arcs, trying very hard instead at simply writing jokes; no other show on television averages as many one liners per episode. After a rough start where the left at the altar premise dragged entire scripts down, executive producer David Caspe and the infamous Russo Brothers learned to stop worrying about the plot and love the zingers. None of that would be any good if the jokes weren’t funny, but they were, and by the end of the first seasons critics came around. The second season, where Endings was consistently on after ABC’s most popular comedy Modern Family, was when everything clicked. They had discovered a winning formula that The Ramones figured out in 1975: Keep it simple. Do it fast. Do it great.
Some of the stories aren’t exactly original. Inappropriate sex dreams have been sitcom fodder for a long time, but Damon Wayans Jr. and Eliza Coupe’s bed talk and the use of music made it uniquely funny and the new high standard for comedic inappropriate sexual fantasy.
Happy Endings isn’t afraid of laying some heavy pop culture down on us. Adam Pally and Casey Wilson had a funny exchange with a real life movie star/valet.
They aren’t afraid of just coming out and saying that they know what the audience and critics are thinking either. In one episode a drugged up Brad referred to all of the characters by their Friends equivalents (although he mistakenly called Max “Fat Joey” when he’s really Fat Chandler.) In another, a Three’s Company parallel was too good not to run with.
Evoking the funnier moments of Scrubs, Brad treated the audience to flashbacks of three examples of Dave having a bad idea, including proposing to Alex, who was right there listening to him but did not object.
Two episodes stood out from their successful season. One was “The Code War,” in which the A plot had Dave dating Max’s ex-girlfriend. Max claimed that it went against “The Code” of not dating a friend’s ex, which Dave didn’t agree applied since Max had long since come out of the closet. Dave didn’t care when Max kissed his ex fiancé Alex, but Alex fell for Max because of it. They had a showdown in front of Dave’s food truck, which is called Steak Me Home Tonight. The origin of the name was smartly never explained until this episode, the seventh to air, even though it was introduced much earlier.
The code war reached it’s breaking point when Max gave Dave a perm in his sleep.
The writers licked their chops. It was described by the characters as the following:
“You look like Keri Russell after she ruined Felicity.” – Penny
“You look like John McEnroe’s sister.” – Alex
“You look like a huge lesbian.” – Max
“Woah Temple Grandin.” – Jane
“It’s Pat!’ – Brad
“You look like a Jonas uncle.” – Max’s ex
“I know, I look like a Quaalude dealer.” – Dave
They make up and Max purposely eats a hero with his shirt off to snap Alex out of having a crush on him. Everything is back to normal for the next episode.
In an episode that provoked comparisons to the Seinfeld classic “The Chinese Restaurant”, the episode “Table of Six” was all one story: Penny’s totally cursed 31st birthday.
The gang attempted and failed to be able to eat at various restaurants for different reasons. Their first stop was at a place where Dave’s bitter ex, fresh out of high school, worked at a waitress. The lesson here is to break up with someone at a restaurant with a Mariachi band, plastic utensils and bolted down tables, and if there is an awkward moment you should simply keep passing around menus.
Of course Brad and Jane made up and got the group kicked out for having sex in the bathroom. In “Table of Six”‘s final scene, the friends happily eat at the bar they go to every single day. Alex says to Penny that her birthday can’t be cursed after all. Just then an old woman shouted in a foreign language in all of their faces, blew salt at them and left. Max’s immediate fear is that they switched bodies, which seemed to be the case when the characters did outlandish impressions of each other (Alex’s Dave: “I’m Dave.”) It was shockingly surreal, something Happy Endings had never done before, and the funny cheesy movie parody was over and done in five seconds, never referenced again. Fortunately there’s plenty more where that came from — the show will be back with new episodes in the fall.
Roger Cormier saves the drama for Wilmer Valderama.