Friday, 30 September 2011

Happy Endings 1.3 ‘Your Couples Friends & Neighbor’

“What if you were like stuck in a trap in the woods and, like a cougar was trying to eat you, would you date then…?” - Penny

In their post-Friends landscape, E4 has been quite blatantly, and from the looks of it desperately, trying to find a show to fill the void.

In a way it kind of makes you wonder why they opted to finally bring the curtain down on Friends, when all they seem to have done to try and replace it is buy up every new American Friends rip-off and hope one becomes as incredibly popular as the mighty Friends.

People look at Friends so fondly no one is ever going to accept an imitator as an acceptable substitute so E4 would have been far better getting a US comedy that is critically adored but in a different mould to Friends – Parks & Recreation or Community immediately spring to mind.

E4 already had the most natural successor to Friends within its ranks with the brilliant How I Met Your Mother, which for me – and to many of you I’m now going to sound like a heretic – is actually a far funnier show than Friends and has maintained a level of quality that Friends never did.

E4 clearly also think along similar lines on this front in a way, as once Friends ended its run on the channel, repeats of How I Met Your Mother and The Big Bang Theory increased dramatically.

Rather than just relying on repeats, in a drastic change of policy for the channel, E4 have actually spent some of the cash they had lying around from Friends on new shows which were clearly pitched as ‘the new Friends’ when they were conceived.

Inexplicably, one of these, the truly dire Perfect Couples, had already been cancelled in the US when E4 secured the rights to it but the other, Happy Endings had enjoyed a bumpy but successful first season and had been renewed for a second season.

Both shows, like Friends, feature an ensemble cast of six twenty-somethings but in the case of Perfect Couples, even in spite of the presence of the very funny Olivia Munn – who is so horribly used on that show it’s almost unbelievable – the show is so void of laughs you’d be hard pressed to even call it a comedy. It’s commissioning in the States is a head-scratcher in itself, but its purchase by E4 is nothing short of bewildering.

Happy Endings on the other hand is a show that has real potential and reminds me more of How I Met Your Mother than Friends. From what I’ve read online, the first season only gets better as it progresses and the season two opener, which premiered this week in the US, has received mostly positive reviews all round.

That’s not to say Happy Endings isn’t without its problems, Elisha Cuthbert has all the comic timing of a flaccid penis, Brad & Jen just don’t seem to click as a couple at all for me and the tinkering with the running order of the first season by ABC (and subsequently E4) has left me slightly confused as to how and when certain developments have occurred in the show’s timeline.

ABC obviously saw problems with the first season of the show, hence the rearrangement, but the reported reason for the changes was to make the first few episodes more standalone than serial and it just hasn’t worked. The continuity is all at sea and the relationships seem to flip-flop back and forth from week to week as a result.

All that aside though, I’m really starting to enjoy the show and there is a lot more to like than dislike from what we’ve seen thus far.

The pop culture references, coining of ‘showisms’ and use of flashbacks does echo How I Met Your Mother quite greatly, but Happy Endings feels a little cooler, probably due to being fresher, than HIMYM.

The cast is great, even if Cuthbert, and to a lesser extent Zachary Knighton, aren’t exactly comedy superstars. The lack of comedic pedigree from the two characters who you would arguably call the leads is more than made up for by the rest of the ensemble though, in particular Damon Wayans Jnr. who is just great as Brad.

Wayans reminds me so much of his father that it’s actually a little scary, but in being a Wayans – no matter how much stick they get in Hollywood – you know you’re going to get laughs from him no matter what.

His portrayal of Brad is really fantastic though and very non-Wayans, in a good way. Brad, however comes across strangely camp to say he’s a married man on the show – if you were told one character on the show was gay you’d undoubtedly gravitate towards Brad – but given that he’s married to a neurotic, control freak it’s probably an element of being emasculated by Jane.

Camp or not, Brad is probably the best character on the show and Wayans is definitely a scene-stealer.

His on-screen wife Jane is played by Scrubs’ Eliza Coupe who I really loved in the latter seasons of that show and although you can tell she’s a gifted comedic actress, I much preferred the tough, no-nonsense Denise from Scrubs to the ridiculously high-maintenance Jane.

The other characters – Penny and Max – are played by less well-known actors Casey Wilson and Adam Pally.

Penny is somewhat irritating as a character though does mine a number of laughs from her desperate persona and Wilson’s willingness to look a fool but Max on the other hand is another great character who steals a lot of the show’s best lines and more bizarre moments.

Openly gay, yet about as blokey as you can get, Max goes against the usual TV and film stereotype of a gay man which is refreshing, but I do feel that the show really pushes the whole ‘look how much of a pig this guy is even though he’s gay’ aspect a little too far.

There’s nothing major going on here in terms of narratives, the whole premise of the show is that Alex (Cuthbert) left Dave (Knighton) at the alter and now the group struggle to all remain friends, but beyond that it’s just story of the week and how the various friendships deal with an issue each week.

In this third episode of the season (though the fourth broadcast, after episode eleven was bizarrely shown last week) Max suspects sleepwalking Dave of stealing his food, Brad & Jane befriend a more sophisticated couple and Penny tries to push Alex back in to the dating world.

Brad & Jane’s story was the main focus of the episode and for me only served to strengthen my argument that the two of them are a terrible couple as Brad’s happy-go-lucky, laid back nature is continually eroded by Jane’s neuroses.

Brad had no desire to make new friends but Jane pushed them in to their new double dating regime and then insisted on revealing intimate details about their marriage to their new friends in order to ensure they hit it off.

It was obvious that Dianne & Carl were going to be harbouring some sort of secret that meant they weren’t as perfect as Jane wanted them to be, and even before Carl showed his hand – they were swingers – I suspected it was going to be some sort of sexual deviancy that would make uptight Jane run a mile.

The Dave & Max plot was merely a light-hearted distraction but I did enjoy how it ended up tying in with Alex’s attempts to get back in to the dating world.

I’m really hoping for some good things from this show as the season progresses and you never know, E4 might just have found a show that can go some way to filling that void left in their schedules.

A Hail of Bullets:

- Malcolm, the squatter in Dave & Max’s crawl space who Alex ended up on a date with was played by Michael Mosley, an actor I really like.

He’s previously starred opposite Eliza Coupe on Scrubs: Med School and was also recently seen in Justified’s second season. Every time I’ve seen him in these guest roles I’ve thought how good he would be in a starring role, so I’m really pleased to hear he is starring in ABC’s new period drama Pan Am, soon to be seen on BBC2 in the UK.

- I loved the sly nod to Elisha Cuthbert’s past life as Kim Bauer and THAT storyline in the woods when Penny uttered the opening quote, but after a little wink to savvy viewers they had to then completely run the joke in to the ground by carrying on with the not-so-subtle 24 references.

- It may be as a result of the episode continuity being askew or my lack of attention but when did Dave move in with Max? I thought Dave had his own place, or was that his and Alex’s place that she now has, hence why he’s rooming with Max? I’m confused… Either way, having him living with Max should allow for some great male camaraderie scenes, now if we could only just get Brad in there as well…

Happy Endings Season 1 continues in the UK on E4 Thursday @ 9.30pm


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