“Happy Endings” – More Like Stanksgiving episode review 1

A flashback shows that Jane (Eliza Coupe) and Brad (Damon Wayans Jr.) weren’t actually love at first sight.

★★★½☆

What direction does a show take with a Thanksgiving-themed episode? Do they go the Friends route and stick a turkey on the dopey character’s head and hope the audience laughs? Do they paint a picture of the anxiety the holiday inspires in the level-headed individuals when faced with the prospect of seeing a large amount of family for the first time in months? Or do they focus more on the shenanigans of the actual night with possibilities of spilled food, random hook ups, passionate alcohol-fueled fights about trivial subjects such as what side dishes should accompany the dinner?

Which direction does the sitcom take? Do they take the one of the classics or the romantic comedy, Home for the Holidays type mood?

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As viewers could’ve guessed prior to this week’s episode of Happy Endings, it took neither.

The verdict? It was kind of a letdown.

This should have been an episode full of hilarity, character hijinks, maybe a hint of warmth between a group of individuals who are supposed to be friends, and some quality writing. Instead it was an attempt that didn’t quite play out as successfully as showrunner David Caspe may have wished and what was left was two completely polarized storylines that rather than seeming like cohesive plots instead seemed like filler in an episode that shouldn’t have been.

The ultimate problem with this week’s episode is its inability to seamlessly meld two opposing storylines together. On their own rights, they’re great segments. Both are funny and quick witted, filled with ridiculous antics that have become the norm with this cast of characters. However, when put into the same episode not only do they lack the right amount of time to fully develop, they seem rushed which results in a noticeable lack of quality when positioned next to better episodes. The Real World plot which entailed the meeting of the friends ten years ago would have been hilarious if it had its own episode dedicated to the story and thus given the right amount of time to adequately tell the story. The Dave plot where he seeks to connect with his ancestry should have worked wonderfully this episode if most of the screentime hadn’t been given to the five other characters and if his plot wasn’t so unrelated to the rest of the group.

The episode wasn’t bad, yet it had bad moments which ultimately threatened to outshine the genuinely positive aspects of the show.

The Bad: Penny and Dave

David Caspe, what are you doing? What are you thinking? In what way does this pairing scream anything other than awful idea at you? This is a terrible, Joey and Rachel, finale of Will and Grace level of terrible. Most audience members  have no desire to tune in to the romantic aspects of the show, especially when they’re given a large amount of screentime.

Not only that, but has there ever been any indication of why Penny and Dave would be well suited for each other rather than Caspe telling viewers so? There’s this little technique called “show don’t tell” when it comes to any form of entertainment. I do not want to be manipulated into believing that a pair of characters would be best for each other, I want to be shown their how complement each other’s personality traits. Dave is a bit of a wet blanket whose personality is so boring, so mundane, that it’s hilarious and he levels out Alex who’s knowledgeable in the absurd, yet slow to the uptake in most other venues of conversation. They’re dumb and dumber, tweedle dee and tweedle dum. They enhance each other by Dave being the only one who can decipher “Alex speak.” They’re cute, despite my almost constant complaining about them, because they have a history built into their relationship.

Penny and Dave do not. They would hurt the show. Mayday mayday, alert alert! Caspe, your show will look like all the others if you play romantic musical chairs with your wonderfully created characters.

The Good: Real World Idea

Max’s contribution to the Thanksgiving festivities is an old dug-up recording of when Brad and Max were on Real World and all of their friends came to visit, introducing us to the first time they were all in the same room together; it was the beginning of their friendship.

On paper, and for the most part onscreen, this is a hilarious idea and goes wonderfully with the tone of the show. Every single character is overdramatic, has heightened senses of emotional fragility, and each of them has personality traits that would go well with a reality television show. Especially Jane and Penny.

As seen in the episode, ten years ago Dave’s hair was still ridiculous, Max had yet to come out and was still dating Penny, Brad had dreads and Jane was going through a punk phase. While watching the tape of course, like any show ever, hidden truths are uncovered that spark arguments and tension.

In one of the better portions of the half hour, Jane learns that upon first meeting, Brad couldn’t stand her and her controlling ways, and Brad learns that their first hook up was a mistake and that Jane had meant to climb into another man’s bed.

They’re both angry with the other. Jane thought she had found love at first sight and Brad thought she had been acting on that feeling with the kiss, not covering up an embarrassing mixup. Jane goes to him to apologize and says that while the kiss initially was a mistake, everything afterwards wasn’t. It’s the closest thing to a sincere moment we’re going to get on this show.

Alex learns that Penny used to have feelings for Dave and thinks that that means that Penny is secretly trying to derail her and Dave’s relationship. They kiss, make up, I’ve talked enough about this plot already above and it’s so irritating it’s not even worth the word count.

THE BAD: DAVE’S SUPLOT

This time it’s not Dave’s fault that his plotline was the weakest of the bunch. While Dave is becoming reacquainted with his ancestry, Zachary Knighton is delivering each line with sincerity, in such a manner that makes viewers believe that Dave truly isn’t in on the joke, and it plays out fantastically. Dave is once again the butt of the joke and it’s where he works the best.

The problem with it though is that there are only two main arcs of the episode, the one with Dave and the one with all of the other characters inside the apartment. Dave’s storyline allows for laughs when his fight for empathy is all but shut down in each and every instance he seeks it, but it’s rushed and seems like an entirely different episode than the one that resides with the rest of the characters.

The writing and acting was on point, but the decision to have it coincide with the Real World plot was not. It didn’t result in a cohesive episode and both segments of the story were so tonally different, even in the way in which they were shot, that it was jarring to switch back and forth.

The MVP: Alex

Alex, and Elisha Cuthbert, was amazing this episode and if it weren’t for her endearingly ditsy moments, some of the charm may have vanished. Whether it was her confusion over a sex swing, her paper cutout “Happy Thanksgiving” hanging in the background, her miscellaneous dinner chairs, or the way she made the turkey dance, she received the most laughs this episode. Cuthbert is wonderful. She owns the space cadet attitude and plays up the goofball-ness of her character with confidence. She’s not afraid to look ridiculous.

This wasn’t a bad episode. It was funny, all of the characters reacted to moments that kept them in character, and it was a funny, bare bones premise.

The fault was in the execution. Both segments deserved more attention without the cheap payoff. As I mentioned last week, this show works best when running under a heightened sense of reality. These characters and their lives are supposed to be over the top, it’s why I don’t ponder too long on how the hell Dave and Alex can afford the apartment they’re in. It’s why initially I thought this week’s episode would be perfect for the tone of the show. Slightly ridiculous with both slapstick and dry humor thrown in. Ultimately though, it was a letdown when the show failed to truly grab hold of the potential and run with it.

Dare I say, they played it safe.

I hope next week we’ll pick up where last week left off with a well conceived and directed episode.