Happy Endings is the unsung hero of primetime television. It doesn’t have the ratings that The Big Bang Theory has, and it doesn’t have the persistent cult following of shows such as Parks and Rec and Community. It’s disappointing because I’d argue that it’s one of the most intelligent comedies on television right now. Although I may be deluding myself if I think that’s actually a factor in the reason why people watch shows considering Two and a Half Men and Two Broke Girls are still on the air. Happy Endings embraces pop culture references, all of the characters are interesting, even Dave, and while the show’s setup is oftentimes compared to Friends (although the comparisons seem to end at there being six people in the group, three men and three women), they mix parings and groupings better than Friends ever did.
There are high expectations after last season’s success among critics. It’s a tough act to follow and after the season two finale the show left viewers with a lot of questions of how and where the show will go next with the information left to us. Would Alex and Dave reconcile? Would audiences accept that if they did? Would a potential love triangle between those two and Penny result in a disastrous storyline that stripped away the premise’s original innovation and with me taking back every kind word I ever said about the show?
Would the series ultimately lose its spark like so many other shows once a certain amount of seasons have passed?
After the season three premiere episode, “Cazsh Dummy Spillionaires,” it’s clear that the show’s integrity is still intact, the jokes are still fast-paced and witty, yet it’s not the best episode the shows ever produced.
The episode begins with the group watching a video of Penny over the summer where she fell down multiple flights of stairs. The group is all laughing because, as we’ve learned, they’re often not the nicest and most sympathetic friends to have. The punchline is when the camera cuts to Penny who’s looking morose and sitting in a body cast from her waist up. Is it a gimmicky joke to have Penny plastered up? Yes, but Casey Wilson excels when given physical comedy to perform so the episode highlights her strengths.
The group sobers up and turns stone-faced when Penny says she died for two minutes while in the ambulance.
I missed this show.
The show splits the group up into three mini-narratives for the episode, using their most popular pairings. Max is watching over Penny as she’s in her cast and is just about to make a dramatic exit until he sees her new physical therapist who’s waiting at her door. Max, scheming, awful human being he is, decides to stay. He tells Kent in what has to be one of my favorite quotes of the episode “Well… two things you should know about me Kent—I’m selfless and have moves like Jagger, specifically the ones we allegedly used on David Bowie in the 70s.” I don’t think it’s off the mark to say that one of the positive aspects of this show is it’s unabashed usage of sexual innuendos.
As Max begins to fall for Kent, he begins to manipulate Penny’s situation. When her doctor calls, he tells them that Penny is out of the country. When Penny finds out that she is stuck in her cast for another week and confronts Max for being the cause of it, she realizes that he’s drugged her with—wait for it—Lunesta, and falls asleep as Max goes out to spend time with Kent.
In Penny’s words, he’s Misery(ing) her.
In the meantime, Jane and Brad are enjoying couple time, and continue to be, arguably, the best written married couple on television right now. Ever since being unemployed, Jane has encouraged Brad’s hobbies which consist of making breakfast, dancing in his robe, and puppetry. However, once Jane leaves, Brad drops the act, drops the robe, and leaves for his new job all suited up with a spring in his step.
I had been curious about how they would handle the transition of the show where Brad is without a job and apparently they’re going to bypass the situation all together and just give him a new one. At first, I thought it seemed a bit like lazy writing with the writers not wanting to tackle a new storyline that would involve a greater character development. However, after a second of thought it makes sense. This show does best when it’s, above all else, a heightened sense of reality. It’s true to character that Brad would be bored without a job, and it would bog the show down if they delved too far into melodramatic waters.
Brad manages to keep the charade up for a while until Jane calls with a spontaneous idea to meet up with him. Brad has to rush home in one of the funnier segments and manage to start a bath and get in it before Jane comes home. He manages partly but ends up in the water in his suit. Jane sees him and leaves the room to get ready to join him and as he sits up to try and get out of the suit she walks back in, naked.
Okay, as naked as a character can be on primetime television on cable network.
She walks back in, seemingly in the nude, but with the censorship blurriness covering any bits that are “racy”. It’s one of the funniest gags this show has done and one of the more surprising. I’ll be genuinely impressed if any audience member says they saw the punch line to that joke coming.
Brad confesses to Jane that he’s been lying to her and she storms away, angry.
Alex and Dave get the short end of the episode. While Alex and Elisha Cuthbert’s portrayal of her got infinitely better last season, Dave still tends to be better used when the butt of the joke rather than the one who delivers them. They’ve decided to be “casual” about dating, friends who hook up and don’t care about all of the messy, emotional bits. Obviously, as audiences could guess in the first five minutes, this plan of attack wouldn’t work.
The episode consists of them trying their best to explain to all of their friends that there’s nothing to worry about, they’re totally cool with “keeping it casual.” Alex, when defending herself to Jane says, “We slept head to toe, it totally doesn’t count.”
By the end of the episode, while on an awkward double date, they realize that can’t handle the flippancy of not caring about each other and decide to instead by serious again. When they tell their friends they all react negatively, a nice little shout out to all of the viewers who agree with them.
While they’re not my favorite pairing and while I wish the show wouldn’t succumb to the trope of mix and matching romantic pairing, if it has to happen, I’d prefer Alex and Dave’s misadventures and an airhead couple then Penny interjecting and creating an awful love triangle.
The end of the episode ends with the two prominent couples making up, Eliza Coupe and Damon Wayans Jr. proving why they’ve become the best asset the show has. They simultaneously create a palpable chemistry while being hilarious.
Penny and Max make up with Max telling her he’s just boy-crazy right now and that she has done the same to him before. Cue flashback with Max in a body cast. Awesome. Penny says that he really is the best guy for her and laments about the best ones being unavailable. They hug and it’s sweet because it’s two characters that rarely are level-headed and not over the top and typically get their real character moments with each other.
It wasn’t the best episode that Happy Endings has ever done and it isn’t the most I’ve laughed at an episode, but it was fun and it brought back my favorite comedy. All of the pairings were together which was to be expected, there were new plot developments introduced, wrapped up, old stories explored, and some new ones that probably won’t go anywhere. I hope the next episode will be on smoother ground rather than leaning on some old slapstick shtick, and will have zero hints of a Dave/Alex/Penny triangle. Have I expressed my loathing of that idea enough yet? Has everyone grasped how detrimental to the show that idea would be? This show excels in breaking stereotypes, typical plot lines that sitcoms usually take, and in using its fantastic ensemble cast. While I have my obvious favorites on the cast that doesn’t mean they’re universally the favorites. Adam Pally gets, deservedly so, plenty of credit for portraying Max in a non-stereotypical manner. Elisha Cuthbert, like I mentioned above, has steadily improved. Zachary Knighton as Dave is the only one to not garner great amounts of praise and that’s mainly the fault of the showrunner David Caspe who has yet to decide the direction he wants Dave to take other than the straight man character.
This is a fantastic comedy that not nearly enough people watch. I hope season thee will be the one that draws more viewers in and keeps the ratings up enough in order to guarantee a fourth season.
I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for this season.