When I think of television comedies, I tend to think of Thursday nights. I’m sure this is a side effect of growing up during the dominance of NBC and their stranglehold on viewer with “Must See TV.” In retrospect, their run was pretty impressive: The Cosby Show, Family Ties, Cheers, Seinfeld, Mad About You, Friends, Will & Grace, NewsRadio (very underrated) and Fraiser. Though not as many people agree, I think their line-up last year of Community, Parks and Recreation, The Office and 30 Rock was just as strong.
Other networks have carved out a niche for themselves with comedies other nights of the week: CBS tends to dominate Mondays with their block of programming (How I Met Your Mother, Mike and Molly and 2 Broke Girls)and ABC has a lock on Wednesday nights with their comedy block revolving around the juggernaut that is Modern Family. But what is interesting to watch, at least for students of television like me, is the struggle that is currently being waged by three of the major networks for the comedic soul of Tuesday night.
Tuesday is not a night that, for whatever reason, makes me think of comedies. Yet a war is quietly being fought for your laughter as NBC, Fox, and ABC all have put forth slates of comedy programming. NBC has done surprisingly well with its pairing of Go On and The New Normal, while Fox has assembled an evening of The New Girl, Raising Hope, The Mindy Project and Ben and Kate. But for my money, I think ABC wins the night with their duo of quirky and edgy comedies, Don’t Trust the B in Apartment 23 and Happy Endings, the latter of which I would argue is one of the most consistently funny programs on television. And it even manages to make me find Elisha Cuthbert funny, which is a minor miracle.
I sort of stumbled upon Happy Endings after its first season; I had heard some good buzz about it, but didn’t get around to watching it until it was halfway into its second season. Part of the reason was Cuthbert, who I found supremely annoying in the few seasons of 24 that I watched. I didn’t think she was a good actress and she was part of one of the most ridiculous story lines that I have ever seen on a “serious” television program (Two words: mountain lion). I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend thirty minutes a week with her; she didn’t strike me as someone who was particularly funny. Her only contribution to comedy was as the subject of one of the most notorious slams in professional sports, thanks to ex-boyfriend and NHL player Sean Avery.
The premise of Happy Endings wasn’t doing much for me to overcome my Cuthbert aversion. Following the chronicles of a group of six good-looking, late twenty-something pals- including two siblings -sounded too much like a Friends retread to peak my interest. I’d been a big fan of Friends back in the day, but catching some episodes more recently showed me that either my taste in comedy had become more sophisticated and refined or the show just hadn’t held up particularly well. I was shocked that I sat through an old episode and didn’t find it all that hilarious. So the idea of what I suspected was yet another Friends clone wasn’t whetting my appetite.
But when I finally caved and watched the show, I immediately saw its potential. Though it took Happy Endings a few episodes to find its footing and figure out how best to use each of the actors, once it did so it was an utterly charming and quirky comedy that had much less in common with Friends than I had predicted. Initially the show focused Alex (Cuthbert) leaving Dave (Zachary Knighton) at the alter and how their friends dealt with the aftermath. However, this didn’t really play to the strengths of the cast and this premise was fairly quickly abandoned when Alex and Dave decided to remain friends. The show then became mostly about the friends interacting, hanging out and getting into all sorts of shenanigans.
The writing on the show is very clever, but it is the chemistry of the main cast that really sells this show. The six actors on the show clearly enjoy spending time together and Happy Endings has a lot of fun with all the different combination of characters. Eliza Coupe and Damon Wayans, Jr. are hilariously as Alex’s sister and brother-in-law and play very well off each other as the only couple in this band of misfits. Max (Adam Pally) is the group’s sarcastic gay slacker and Penny (Casey Wilson) has a flair for the dramatic and a desperate desire to no longer be single. On paper, these characters could be not much more than facsimiles of other sitcom characters, but in the hands of these actors, they become fully developed and multi-faceted people that make me laugh on a regular basis. Megan Mullally has a recurring role as Penny’s cabaret singing and eternally optimistic mother, which is worth tuning in for alone. It’s a close competition, but Penny is my favorite character on the series. Casey Wilson really commits to the role and Penny’s various quirks – such as purposely mispronouncing words (“Ahmahzing” rather than “Amazing”) and routinely declaring it “The Year of Penny” – are endearing. They may also be quirks that I may also possess; I will admit that it’s been “The Year of Heather” for about five years now.
Unfortunately, Happy Endings has failed to find an audience and has consistently been a show on the bubble for cancellation. It was a very stressful spring for me as I waited to see if it would be back for a third season. Thankfully it received a pick-up and returns to ABC tonight. If you like Community, Cougartown, Parks and Recreation or Don’t Trust the B in Apartment 23, I think you would like Happy Endings (though I wouldn’t go as far as this Esquire blogger). All of these shows have a similar sensibility. I’d personally recommend going back and watching the previous season’s episodes because they are so funny, but you could easily jump into the season premier tonight without too much of a problem. The group dynamic makes itself clear pretty quickly. Definitely a comedy worth checking out.
Season 3 of Happy Endings debuts tonight (Tuesday) at 9 pm (ET) on ABC.