Dark comedies aren’t often subtle, and Happyish is no exception. Each episode begins with a character flipping off someone—Thomas Jefferson, Florence Henderson, God—before an angry punk version of “If You’re Happy and You Know It” blasts over the credits. For an ambitious show that wrestles with one family’s search for happiness, its targets are too easy. Advertising exec Thom Payne (Steve Coogan), whose name recalls the 18th-century philosopher, rages against the buzzword-spouting, stocking-cap-wearing millennials who’ve taken over the firm. And everything makes his artist wife (Kathryn Hahn) grumpy—including her self-pitying Jewish mother, who always brings up the Holocaust, and her yuppie neighbors in upstate New York. At its worst, Happyish feels like the mighty yawp of aging hipsters who are bitter for no good reason and weirdly out of touch with the way culture works.
At its best, though, it’s like nothing else on TV. Created by writer Shalom Auslander (Foreskin’s Lament), it explores philosophy in creative ways, as Thom imagines how Samuel Beckett would survive the digital age, or listens to his boss (Bradley Whitford) argue why ISIS make excellent brand marketers. (Each episode also “stars” a different thinker: Nabokov, Camus, Freud.) Its more absurdist moments are so bizarre, they’re advanced. In one scene, Thom dreams of having sex with a cartoon Keebler Elf. Maybe Happyish is really flipping off the traditional family comedy. And that’s a good enough reason to keep watching—for now. B