“Happy Endings” – To Serb with Love episode review 1

Brad (Damon Wayans Jr.) desperatly tries to get along with Jane's father (Christopher McDonald)

Brad (Damon Wayans Jr.) desperatly tries to get along with Jane’s father (Christopher McDonald)

★★★★☆

Is corn on the cob charades anything you’ve ever pondered? You’re not alone if your answer is no, because I as well have never thought of it as an option until it was the opening shot of this week’s episode of Happy Endings. The charade? Alex and Dave were tag teaming as typewriter.

Did any of that make sense to you? Has the show begun to forgo sense in exchange for the whacky, hijinks atmosphere?

This scene leads to a typical opening for the show. All of the friends appear, and one is made fun of (this time Max for being the group’s Roz from Frasier). Penny’s in a relationship with Pete played by Nick Zano—making a noticeable leap in quality following a stint on Two Broke Girls— and Max due to Pete, is pushed from their usual bench with no room left for him.

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In a serious television series this open may have alluded to a more serious episode, one where Max is feeling left out of the group and reacts from that, all the while comedic in nature.

This, however, is by no means a serious show.

Sometimes I wonder if we’ve all been tricked. Rather than watching a thirty minute comedy, maybe we’re all instead watching a half hour SNL in its glory days—sketch comedy that’s gone rampant. In episodes such as this week’s “To Serb with Love” especially seems as if it’s producing one gag, one pratfall or well timed joke right after the other, barely giving the audience time to breathe and absorb. It’s frantic and hilarious and exudes leaps and bounds of endless energy and isn’t that why fans enjoy it so much?

This week’s episode we heard mention of suspiciously low nipples, Jane hitting herself in the head with a mallet while wearing a fake mustache, and Max scheming to make Penny insecure by finding a hyper-exaggerated version of herself and for some reason it all just works.

Like most other episodes this week’s divides their characters into three groups with some mild interaction in between.

Heartbroken and no longer having Penny to make him feel less pathetic now that she and Pete are happy, he toys with the idea of trying to break the two of them up. It’s selfish sure, and not the most admirable character trait, but it’s come to be expected with Max.

His first order of business, find someone like Penny but more so, all so that Penny will feel jealous of the new relationship he has. However, once he brings his friend with him to meet with Penny and Pete, instead of growing insecure about it, Penny instead sees a like-minded individual and since she now feels that after ten days of a successful relationship she’s a love guru, sets the woman up with Pete’s friend who’s coming to dinner. This also officially makes Max, once again, the fifth wheel.

This works out for a while until Pete comes across Penny’s list of faults for him, which she makes for every guy that she dates. It’s not a big deal for her, she does so that when they break up she can look at it to make herself feel better, it might actually be ingenious. Yet despite the hilarity of what’s on the list (the displaced nipples, being too gentle in the bedroom), it strikes a sad note as Penny watches him leave. Sure this show is one that constantly makes their own characters the butt of each joke, but Penny seems to receive most of the mishaps and relationship distress and while showrunner David Caspe hasn’t gone out of his way yo create emotional connections between the audience and his characters, we can’t help but feel for her. She had momentary happiness and Casey Wilson does a great job at showcasing the disappointment she feels.

Maybe it was supposed to be funny and maybe we were supposed to laugh at her as she stood in the house alone, but instead I found it to be quite the opposite.

It’s moments such as these that I wonder if Happy Endings’ balls out hilarity is as effective as it could be. Would it elevate the show’s quality if they were to throw in a character moment or two? Season two hit a healthy balance of the bizarre while also conveying some warmth. This season has seemingly chosen to narrow in on the comedy and disregard the characters as emotional participants and while it’s effective in garnering laughs and allows me to sit back and say it’s one of the funniest shows on television, it also allows me to feel almost detached.

Back to the show. Alex and Dave go to her and Jane’s parents’ party for their father’s anniversary for working at his company. While there they run into to the awkward situation of her parents not knowing they’re back together. Alex is afraid of her father’s reaction because of the amount of money he spent on the wedding and the grudge he still holds towards the two of them for the fiasco it turned out to be.

Dave tells Alex that he’ll tell her parents for her, but ends up backing out at the last minute, angering Alex. This, you know, totally makes sense, except for the fact that Alex had done the same exact thing. Caspe, don’t get lazy.

I’ll be frank, this wasn’t the best segment of the episode and that’s in large part due to the casting of the parents. I may have been harboring some secret hope that Jane Lynch would play Jane and Alex’s mother, so maybe I was biased, but the parents just didn’t work. Most noticeably, the father played by Christopher McDonald (Happy Gilmore, Not Fade Away). I don’t know if it’s how he was written or how McDonald portrayed him, but he insufferably irritating.

They finally tell them that they’re back together but are interrupted by Jane’s shenanigans, which may be the most absurd of the week with the greatest lack of plot or substance. But because of Eliza Coupe’s wonderful comedic physicality, it plays out perfectly.

It’s her job to give a speech for her father and she’s stressed out because she’s been known to be boring and she wants to really impress him this time. Brad takes a relative backseat to the madness as she plots out different ways to tell a joke. She wants to take all of her father’s interests and turn them into a super joke.

By the time she has one they’ve arrived at the party and in the one instance that she leaves Brad and her dad alone, Brad panics under his scrutiny and steals her joke. The father laughs and Jane glowers and Brad now fears her reaction.

Feeling desperation toward the end of the night, Jane dons a wig, a mustache and grabs a large wooden mallet and effectively looks like a real life cartoon character.  She’s using slapstick to make her dad laugh and her aim is to smash the giant watermelon on the table but instead ends up hitting herself in the head and knocking herself out.

This allows one small, sweet scene when she comes to, a large red mark on her forehead, her mustache askew, and asks Brad if he laughed. The camera pans to her father just barely keeping it together and Brad and Jane share a sweet smile that allows some semblance of character growth on this crazy show.

This in most aspects was a great episode. I laughed a lot, there was enough time spent on nearly all of the characters and it was a thoroughly enjoyable half hour of television. I’m beginning to wonder, however, if the shows compromised some of their moments of character by bypassing them all together in order to embrace the truly comedic and meta nature of the show. Season two was a near perfect season of television and it hit the right balance of the weirdness that is Happy Endings and heart. This show excels on some many levels of comedy and they have a wealth of talent to convey it, however, they’re missing the balance. As an audience we can watch and we can laugh but does any of it leave a real impact? Does it matter if it does? Should this just be a half hour of pure, illogical escapism? It’s up to the viewer I suppose but what does that mean for the show as a whole? This season has had its highs, but do they mean quite as much when we’re so detached from the characters themselves?

I’ll be interested to see how the season progresses and whether or not Caspe and crew will be keeping up the same format of storytelling or if they’ll revert back to older tactics.

“To Serb with Love” was funny. It needed more Brad because Damon Wayans Jr. is one of the true revelations of the series and it needed less guest star parents but overall, a good, solid episode that’s only true fault was failing to reach the full potential of the creative minds backing it.