Max and Jane go to war over a sweater, while Brad and Alex find a common thread. Plus: A new romance in the gang?

By Aly Semigran
January 05, 2012 at 06:43 AM EST
Richard Cartwright/ABC
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Sitcoms, not unlike rom-coms, can be all too easy to poke fun at. Most of the time they’re rooted in a very exaggerated reality (no one ever seems to work and when they do, it’s always somewhere incredibly hip and modern, much like their sleek urban apartments) and their conclusions are often times so predictable and corny you can’t help but gag on your Junior Mints. But here’s the thing about sitcoms and rom-coms (and I should know, I attended last year’s Sitcom Rom-Com Con): Those are exactly the things we love about them…when they’re done right. Life is no sitcom, and it’s certainly no rom-com, so it’s nice when a movie or TV show can give us that reliable escapism.

In fact rom-coms, not unlike sitcoms, can unexpectedly bring people together. As was the case with Alex and Brad during last night’s fantastic new episode of Happy Endings titled “The Shrink, the Dare, Her Date and Her Brother.” After realizing they have nothing to talk about when they’re without the rest of the gang, the in-laws try, in vain (well, for the sake of Jane), to force a bond with one another.  There are a lot of things I love about this show, from consistency in the plot (Max’s taco tattoo, Jane mentions Alex and Dave’s split) to the tiny nuggets about the characters traits (Jane is a psychotic gardener, Brad’s voice gets high when he’s nervous, Max uses meteors as an excuse for everything and is sensitive about being called “chubby.”) But I think what I love the most is that HE, unlike a lot of sitcoms, actually finely pinpoints group dynamics. Every group of friends has someone you struggle to make conversation with when left alone. If you’re anything like Alex and Brad, all you have to do is find one common ground and you’re set. (Note: A conversation about the difference between rap and hip-hop will not last long.) After bumping into one another at a screening of the fictitious, vaguely titled “That’s The Way It’s Gotta Be,” the two discover they both have a shared admiration for the rom-com genre. (Wait until Brad finds out Alex was in one of the best rom-coms of all-time, Love, Actually. He is going to die!)

NEXT: The Odd(er) Couples

But Alex and Brad were hardly the strangest pairing last night. No, that honor belonged to the show’s two biggest (whisker) basket cases: Jane and Max. I’ve always loved the dynamic between the married Jane and Brad, but Jane and Max were truly something to behold. Mirroring the hijinks from the instant classic “Code War” episode from earlier this season, the kooks got into a competition over who would get to keep a sweater they both claimed was theirs. Rather than humbly hand the cardigan over to their pal, Jane and Max decided to make each other wear hideous outfits and whoever cracked first would lose. Turns out, I would be the one to crack first, because I absolutely lost it at Max’s demented all-white ensemble that included a sparkly belt and a tasteful Princess Di shirt (pictured) and Jane’s ’70s-inspired garb (which Max referred to as looking “like Mrs. Brady right before she was arrested for molesting Bobby.”) Max and Jane (no one plays kookier better than Eliza Coupe, and I mean that as a compliment) eventually called truce thanks to their shared sacred bond. Alas, not rom-coms. Rather, sexy fireman and secret sexy fireman calendars. Here are some of the best zingers those loons fired at one another last night:

“Get back here, you gay!”

“Oh, it’s on, you skinny nut job!”

“Your chubby body is going to stretch it out!”

“It’s like being attacked by a rake!”

That just leaves us with one last couple: Penny and Dave. That’s right, I said couple. Occasionally a great sitcom, much like a great rom-com, will throw an unexpected third act curve ball your way. Penny, whose life is practically a rom-com cliché anyway (she set her arm on fire twice), looked like she was on the road to another Boyfriend of the Week when she started dating Dave’s therapist Rick Rickman (my favorite Soup R’ Crackers owner of all-time, the always-great Ken Marino.) Aside from being a sophisticated stalker (he enjoys travel, tart apples, and artisanal cheeses) there was one glaring issue with Rick: Dave didn’t want Penny dating him. In fact, Dave went so far as to interrupt one of their dates by bringing along Penny’s shrink Dr. Roz Leibowitz to prove a point. (Let’s just all be thankful he didn’t grab the feelings doll, too.) And just like in a rom-com, two characters have something pointed out to them that’s been staring them in the face all along: They love each other. The only difference here is, usually in rom-coms, the audience always knows what the characters are oblivious to. But I can’t imagine many HE fans saw this possible love affair brewing between Penny and Dave, complete with swelling romantic music and an awkwardly adorable moment in front of a fountain. While I’m certainly not closed to the idea of Penny and Dave finding true love, I have conflicting emotions about these friends suddenly having eyes for each other and if I’ll have to anxiously await their first kiss a la Jim and Pam or Ben and Leslie. So many feelings!  I think I just need to talk it out with Rick Rickman.

NEXT: The best lines from ‘The Shrink, the Dare, Her Date and Her Brother’…

The best lines from ‘The Shrink, the Dare, Her Date and Her Brother’:

“Seriously, I get stuck with the check again? What is the point of having white friends?” –Brad, after somehow being finagled into paying for the group’s breakfast, including Alex’s first and second serving of waffles

“The war on drugs. And we won, you’re welcome.” –Dave, after lying that he and Rick fought in a war together

“No, Dave. We’re going to make fun of you for ‘Have at’.” –Max, assuring Dave they weren’t going to mock his therapy

“What do you wear to a stalking? Stockings? No, that’s too on the nose. ” –Penny, considering her first date with Rick

“It’s a lot better than Dick Dickman.” –Alex, not quite getting the Rick Rickman dilemma

“Katherine Heigl’s panel was incredible. Here’s the chain, off it.” –Alex, on the sadly fictitious Chicago Rom-Com Con

IIIIIII need a lot of validation.” –Jane, coming to terms with her crazy

“Oh my god, I would die. I. Would. Die.” –Brad, wishing for his own fairy tale ending

What did you think of last night’s Happy Endings? Were you just as surprised as me by the Dave and Penny revelation or have I missed some subtle cues and flirtations between them in the past? Did the episode’s accurate jabs at romantic comedies crack you up or just make you uncomfortable considering the otherwise-wonderful Casey Wilson co-wrote Bride Wars? Who’s the biggest nut: Max or Jane? Share your thoughts on the episode in the comments section below.

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  • 04/13/11
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