When Happy Endings premiered last spring, the obvious dig on the show was that it was yet another collection of six twenty-to-thirtysomething friends with a shockingly large amount of free time who spend their half hour on our television nattering comically about their relationships. Which, in fairness, it is. Happy Endings even has a played-out will-they-or-won’t-they premise: A year ago, Alex (Elisha Cuthbert) left Dave (Zachary Knighton) at the altar. But because their core group of friends is so tight-knit — Alex’s uptight sister Jane (Eliza Coupe), her easy-going husband Brad (Damon Wayans Jr.), and their college buddies, kind-of-a-mess Penny (Casey Wilson) and slovenly-straight-acting gay dude Max (Adam Pally) — Alex and Dave have maintained a warm-if-tricky friendship…that may be hiding something more!
Yeah, I know, it’s like network romcom Mad Libs. And yet next to The Good Wife, I don’t know if there’s another returning show I’m more excited about this season. Tonight’s season 2 premiere was a great example as to why. Let me count the ways:
1. Its whip-fast, pop-cultured, bust-a-gut-funny dialogue:
Alex and Max are watching TV, but Max is upset because Brad ditched their black-and-white movie night (i.e. buddy action movies with black and white male heroes)
Alex: Max, why do we keep watching the same Lethal Weapon scene over and over again?
Max: Because I lost my Murtaugh.
Alex: I don’t understand most of what my friends say.
Encouraged by Jane to be more honest with each other, Alex and Dave start a cascade of oversharing.
Alex: You know those stupid webbed barefoot running socks? They weren’t bad for your calves. They were bad for my ability to want to have sex with you.
Dave: Oh! Okay. Richard Gere is not a Hurricane Katrina denier.
Dave: I just said that to you so we wouldn’t have to watch Pretty Woman for the 74th time.
Penny, freaked out that the condo she just bought on her own will turn her into a spinster: Is it cold in here? I need a house coat and a hot tea with lemon. Should I get an AOL email address? WHAT’S HAPPENING TO ME?
2. It’s happy to be absurd, but at just the right amount: That rant from Penny is brought on by the discovery that her new condo has seemingly spawned a cat she doesn’t own. She later returns to find her apartment riddled with cats, and her DVR filled with The View and The Good Wife, which are shows for “lonely women who talk to themselves!” (Hey, wait a minute…) After spiraling into a depression that includes regular, couch, and floor pints of ice cream, Penny learns one of her new neighbors has trained his cats “to crawl into vents, and open windows.” Of course!
3. It recognizes the black character is, in fact, black: The reason Brad keeps ducking out on his man dates with Max is because he needs to hang with some fellow black friends once in a while. “I need to take a break from talking about NPR, recycling, and that awesome chest pass Steve Nash made,” he says. I mean, who wouldn’t? (P.S. If Wayans seems exponentially more funny on this show than he was in the series premiere of New Girl — which Wayans left when Happy Endings was picked up for a second season — maaaybe it’s because Happy Endings isn’t built around the kewpie personality of a single indie film darling who decided her older sister had the right idea about heading up an eponymous Fox TV series.)*
4. This song
5. It has a lot of heart — and homo-eroticism: In the end, these friends come together and have each others’ backs in a way that feels like an only slightly heightened version of my own group of friends. (Unlike, say, the characters that make up totally-great-I’m-not-dissing-them-at-all-I’m-merely-making-a-comparison shows like Community, Parks and Recreation, or 30 Rock.) Plus, when Max and Brad reconcile and hug it out, they share this exchange:
Max: You sure you’re not on the low?
Brad: [Leans back and smiles] It’s my cell phone, man.
Basically what I’m trying to say is that Happy Endings is like my new Scrubs, minus the hospital, and plus an actual gay dude. If that sentence makes you happy, then this show is definitely for you. Who’s with me?
*This parenthetical was written by my snark demon, Smirkelstiltskin. I could never hate on the star of one of my favorite non-romantic romantic comedies, (500) Days of Summer. Actually, I think Smikel’s just jealous, since his guest dungeon has the same wallpaper as those ubiquitous New Girl ads.
Follow Adam on Twitter @adambvary