'Happy Endings' Review: Very Funny People on a Very Average Show
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
The new trend in sitcoms seems to be about relationships and old college friends and family. NBC has Perfect Couples, FOX has Traffic Light, and now ABC has Happy Endings,
premiering tonight at 9:30pm with two back-to-back episodes before
moving to its regular 10pm time slot next week. To be perfectly honest,
you could switch the titles, plots and most of the characters of Happy Endings with Perfect Couples and I'm not sure I'd be able to tell the difference.
But Happy Endings has one very strong winning component: a great cast. The writing is a little obvious and the stories have a "been there, done that" feel (both due to the fact that this is the first-ever project from writer and creator David Caspe). However, the show does have a pair of secret weapons in the form of a pair of incredibly funny ladies with former Saturday Night Live star Casey Wilson and Scrubs star Eliza Coupe. Their greatness could give fans the full comedic release they're looking for (I promise, that's the last uncomfortable pun I make about the show's unfortunate title).
The key difference in the premise for Happy Endings is that it starts at the end of a relationship as Alex (24's Elisha Cuthbert) leaves Alex (FlashForward's Zachary Knighton) at the altar. With two stars who come from such serious dramas, it's nice to see that they're both charming and capable of playing romantic leads. Fans also get a very awesome shout-out to the worst moment in the history of Cuthbert's time on 24 in the show's third episode, airing April 20. If you watched 24, you should know EXACTLY what I'm talking about.
But the real stars are the supporting players. Casey Wilson spent one season on SNL before moving on, which was unfortunate since she alone was much funnier than the entire show is now. However, Happy Endings gives her a chance to steal the show as Penny, a hopelessly single ball of energy desperate to land a serious relationship. If actors were stocks, I would invest heavily in Wilson as I have little doubt she'll be starring on her own sitcom sometime very soon.
Eliza Coupe is also a pleasant surprise, though one that took me a while to get used to. Here she plays Jane, Alex's uptight housewife sister married to Brad (Damon Wayans, Jr., who proves that comedic talent definitely runs in his family). I was a huge fan of Coupe's role as a gruff tomboy doctor on Scrubs, so it took me a while to adjust to her playing against that type, but Coupe does it beautifully. Like Wilson, she's an actress who I'll be excited to see turn up in future projects.
If it's odd that I'm talking about their futures after Happy Endings, it's because I don't see the show lasting too long. It's perfectly fine and I laughed more times than I groaned during the premiere, but it still feels a little stiff and generic, just like the other relationship sitcoms I mentioned.
There's nothing particularly original about Happy Endings, unless you count Adam Pally's refreshingly unstereotypical gay character, Max. While it's nice to see a gay TV character who isn't built like a model or doling out fashion tips, wisecracking one-liners and Lady Gaga lyrics, the show's attempt at making gay jokes are painfully forced and not very funny. Pally is perfectly fine with what he has, but the character is just so poorly written that it almost killed the show for me.
Happy Endings has some real comedic gems in its cast, but the problem is that this is creator David Caspe's first professional job, and it shows. The show lacks the polish and refinement that come from having more established writers on the staff, so while it might be a good learning experience for Caspe, it isn't a homerun and it isn't where a cast this good belongs.
Once this show ends, I hope stars like Wilson and Coupe can move on to better comedic projects. That would be the best possible happy ending for this story.
(Image courtesy of ABC)