Happy Endings isn’t dead yet. But ABC might as well have dipped it in antelope blood, rolled it around in some truffle salt, and left it in a cage with some very hungry tigers, because tonight, the network will air the season finale — and it might also be the final episode of the show. And that’s sad, because a great sitcom like this one shouldn’t have to endure the indignities that this one has suffered, having already been yanked from the schedule for all of February and much of March, replaced by Celebrity Wife Swap (starring Coolio and Kate Gosselin!) in its old Tuesday slot, and finally exiled to Friday night, where its final 10 episodes were marched off the plank two by two.
By the time ABC launched an ad campaign, begging fans to “save” the show, some fans started complaining that the only thing Happy Endings needed to be saved from was ABC. Two of the show’s stars, Casey Wilson and Adam Pally, even made their own S.O.S. plea last month, though it looked like someone might’ve held a gun to a puppy’s head before they agreed to record it. Pally did not take off this sunglasses the whole time. “We did not realize that our show needed saving,” he said, his voice heavy with irony. “But, apparently, we need your help to keep it on the air.” The worst part of all? Coolio says his Celebrity Wife Swap relationship was a sham! Say it ain’t so!
Anyway, all of this got me thinking about how much I’m going to miss Happy Endings. At first, I wasn’t entirely sure why, beyond the fact that it’s obviously very funny. There have been so many other ensemble comedies like this, created in the Friends model, featuring young, good-looking, quick-witted, financially stable urbanites who are trying to make it in a hip neighborhood that serves lattes. At least three of these shows have been cancelled since Happy Endings premiered. (Remember Perfect Couples, Mad Love, and Traffic Light?) But despite the fact that Happy Endings started with a very Friends-like premise — adorable ditzy blonde Alex (Elisha Cuthbert) leaves her fiance Dave (Zachary Knighton) at the altar and gets comforted by a gang of semi-employed pals — it actually plays against many old-school sitcom tropes. That’s what saves it from becoming just another riff on thirtysomethings who still spend their nights trying to figure out which one of them is Rachel and which is Ross.
You’ll never hear the married couple, Brad (Damon Wayans) and Jane (Eliza Coupe), complain that getting hitched has ruined their sex life, and you’ll never see them work out some kind of trade where the husband fixes the sink in exchange for “nookie.” These two are still so hot for each other, they embarrass their friends with all their role-playing. (Jane, in sexy cop uniform: “I’m gonna need to see your license, registration, and proof of penis.” Brad, playing the outraged driver: “I’m writing down your vag number!”) Even their single friends, like the lovable mess Penny (Wilson), want to take dating advice from them. Also, they don’t have kids, and they don’t want kids, which is something you hardly ever see with happily marrieds on television. Plus, if anyone’s fixing the sink, it’s Jane. She’s too type-A to let Brad do it.
You’ll also never see the gay friend, Max (Pally), burst into showtunes or do anything else that screams Totally Stereotyped Gay Friend. He’s out and proud, it’s just that he happens to keep meatpocalypse pizzas under his pillow and loves to watch sports and shoot guns. In some ways, he’s the most traditionally straight character on the show, except for the fact that he sleeps with dudes. And he’s best friends with Brad, an actual straight guy who happens to keep a teacup piglet as a pet, and loves twirling, twirling, twirling! (“What? Now, a brother can’t twirl?”) Both of these characters subvert the “token friend” role that a lesser show might’ve pegged them with. And their hangouts are so deeply normal, even when they’re making Boys II Menorah music videos, that it’s hard to tell what’s less of a big deal: the fact that one is straight and the other is gay, or the fact that one is white and the other is black.
Oh, and if you still need a stock character to laugh at? There’s always Alex, the spacey blonde who insists, “I’m not as dumb as I am.”
Together, these people have the kind of grown-up friendship that you don’t often see on television anymore. Lately, so many shows suggest that the people you work with are your actual family, prime time has almost become a PSA for corporate morale. But the people on Happy Endings aren’t running a paper company in Scranton, or a hospital in Seattle, or a crisis management firm in Washington D.C., or a parks department in Pawnee, or even a meth lab in Albuquerque. They know each other for the same reasons most real-life best friends do: because they’re related, or they’ve slept together, or they met through mutual friends, or they were cast together on The Real World. (I know what you’re thinking. But at this point, who hasn’t been a housemate on The Real World?)
This gang gives you hope that you can still meet cool people outside the office, and you’ll probably still be friends with them when you’re no longer 25-years-old and/or no longer employed. Also, they actually feel like a real family. They have their own traditions. (Dreaming up amazing Halloween costumes! Reuniting in the same honeymoon suite on the anniversary of Alex’s and Dave’s jilted wedding! Watching Alex eat way too much food!) They embarrass each other with their terrible dancing. They love each other, even when they hate each other. And they can say brutal things amongst themselves that no outsider would ever be allowed to say. As Jane puts it to the whole clan, “I want to be ruthless with you, not against you.”
That banter might be the best part of the show. There’s something almost old-fashioned about the way these six relate to each other. You never see them alone at home, clicking “Like” on each other’s Facebook status. They hardly ever even use their cell phones. Their best quips are reserved for the bar, not social media, though their constant games of one-upmanship beg for their own hashtags. This might be the first show that really captures the voice of Twitter in real-time conversation. When Dave proclaims that being left at the altar was “the worst day of my life,” it prompts a pile-on from the others: “I thought the worst day was when you didn’t get pulled on stage at that Spin Doctors concert?” “Or when your mom substitute-taught your sex ed class?” “What about that day we made you stop wearing your visor upside-down?” “I thought the worst day of your life was the day you got that haircut that you currently have right now?” It’s kind of amazing that, in 2013, actual human beings spend all their time hanging out in the same room together like this. And that’s ironic, because the ratings suggest that the rest of us can’t even agree to watch the show together at the same time.
If Happy Endings ends up gets axed after tonight, I’m still hoping it will end up somewhere on cable. It deserves that much. I have visions of young, good-looking, quick-witted, financially stable urbanites gathering in their hip neighborhood to watch it, lattes in hand. Until then, I’ll be over here, sulking on the couch, torturing myself with reruns of Celebrity Wife Swap.
Happy Endings‘ season finale airs tonight at 8:30 on ABC.
Melissa Maerz on Twitter: @MsMelissaMaerz
Happy Endings cast livetweets back to back episodes for EW.com