Once or twice every episode, Syfy’s wackadoo Happy! showed me something I had never seen before. In that sense, Wednesday’s season finale overdelivered. By my count, four things happened that I had never conceived could happen in the physical universe we inhabit:
1. A cute blue flying unicorn-horse thing re-enacted the torture scene from Reservoir Dogs on a sock puppet.
2. A man put his foot into one bear trap, and then fell down onto another bear trap.
3. Lobotomized kids wandered aimlessly through an underground lair of a monstrous child-catching Santa Claus.
4. That scary Santa was shot through the forehead. That sounds like something that happened in Reindeer Games; but when he was shot, shiny Christmas baubles floated out of his headwound, ascending to the sky like the antigravity bloodblobs in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.
The eight-episode debut season of Happy! sent maniac ex-cop Nick Sax (Christopher Meloni) and his cheerful imaginary pal Happy (Patton Oswalt) on a tour of greater New York degradation. The source material is a comic book by Grant Morrison and Dark Robertson, and Morrison himself had a big hand in the series, a credited co-writer of the premiere and the finale. But Happy! also feels like a smallscreen sibling to the demento-delightful cinema of executive producer Brian Taylor, who co-created the Crank riots and directed five this season’s episodes.
Taylor’s style trends toward aggro-pop assault, extreme in mature content but also in Adult Swim-ish unreality. That Reservoir Dogs torture scene was a secretly a meticulous homage, recreating the famous scene right down to a couple key camera movements. And the penultimate episode began with a minor character’s music video deathdream: “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree” sung from inside a retrojunk wormhole. Patrick Fischler’s nefarious Smoothie was there, murdering a keytar. It was a scene, man!
The freaky flotsam was the point. Happy! aims for uproar, has funny-scary torture scenes that are disturbing on purpose but maybe still just disturbing. “I just keep discovering bold new frontiers of suck,” Nick deadpanned in the finale, shoulder and foot both beartrapped, brainless kids wandering around with garage-neurosurgery scabs. Meloni gave this M-for-Mature material a light touch. Nick was kind of a live-action cartoon character, but he specifically reminded me of Wile E. Coyote, who always looks droll whether he’s plotting bird-murder or falling off his 57th cliff of doom.
The finale was a sometimes unwieldy attempt to wrap the whole season up. Nick was reunited with his daughter Hailey (Bryce Lorenzo), and stared down the Very Bad Santa (Joseph D. Reitman) who represented every parent’s stranger-danger worst nightmare. There were some larger developments that could spark the already-ordered second season. By the end, Happy had left his beloved Hailey behind, and rejoined Nick. There’s the promise of further adventures for the pair, possibly relating to some of the threads (zombies? passwords? the moral corruption of children’s entertainment?) left hanging this season.
So, in a weird way, these first eight episodes a lengthy origin story for the Nick-Happy buddy show. This seems to be the new model for a lot of genre shows in the binge era. Like many of the Marvel-Netflix shows, there was a weird feeling of stasis — the occasional feeling that the show was actually a Very Long Movie. You knew Nick would wind up facing off against the Very Bad Santa, so even the excursions into reality TV hilarity could feel like marking time. (Though, look, there was a bug orgy.) You felt that this finale was stretching to tie Nick’s weird adventure up into an old-fashioned bow. For all that cuckoo swagger, Happy! really just wanted everyone to be happy.
One moment from the final act worked. The Very Bad Santa died hard: Shot in the head, he fell backward through a skylight, wound up hanging with a broken neck. And then suddenly there was his old Imaginary Friend: The sock puppet voiced by Luke Slattery in a remarkably poignant performance. (You try playing a sock puppet being tickle-tortured!) The sock puppet nuzzled up against the dead murderous yuletide horror that once was his best pal. For just one moment, the imaginary friend looked serene, and then was still forevermore.
Every sentence from that last paragraph is insane. We need appropriately insane entertainment for these insane times, and I look forward to watching how Happy! pushes its own envelope when it returns.