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Happy Endings: The Complete First Season

(ABC; US DVD: 20 Sep 2011)

Happy Endings is an ABC half hour sitcom centering on a group of six friends in Chicago. It’s a standard sitcom setup, but where the series manages to set itself apart from other recent similarly based shows, such as Perfect Couples, is in its engaging cast. 


As the series begins, longtime couple, Dave (Zachary Knighton) and Alex (Elisha Cuthbert), are getting married when at the last minute Alex runs away, leaving a shocked Dave – and with their friends – at the altar.  From this premise the series takes off and it’s up to the group to navigate the new status of their Dave and Alex’s relationship and how it affects their larger dynamic. 


The rest of the group is comprised of Alex’s sister, Jane (Eliza Coupe), and her husband, Brad (Damon Wayans, Jr.); Max, (Adam Pally) a frat boy type who’s also gay; and Penny (Casey Wilson), perpetually single and looking. Again, they are a fairly standard group in the world of television comedies, but for the most part, the characters tend to stretch these roles to offer more entertaining and often earnest moments.


After a somewhat rocky start, the series gets going about four or five episodes into its 13-episode season. It takes a little time to give the ensemble some depth, not only individually, but also in terms of how they interact with one another. 


As the characters become more fully realized, the stories tend to stand out on their own much more quickly. For example, midway through the season in the episode “Dave of the Dead”, Penny begins dating a hipster named Toby, initially unbeknownst to her, but the situation rapidly escalates to one in which she is desperately trying to keep up with all the ridiculous fringe interests of Toby’s circle. It’s an episode that is not only very funny and spot on, but also clearly delineates it as a discernibly contemporary series.


The main conflict in the series clearly comes from Dave and Alex’s break up, and throughout the season, the group must figure out ways to balance their larger relationship all the while dealing with the tension of said break up. It’s the underlying theme of the series in that through their struggle to remain friends, the rest of the group continues to navigate their own relationship issues, and Dave and Alex are reentering the single life after ten years together. 


Unfortunately, Cuthbert’s Alex is probably the weakest and least sympathetic character in the series. She has some moments when a glimmer of charm shows through, usually in scenes with Jane or Penny, but overall she’s rather one dimensional. 


Jane and Brad are in many ways the grownups of the group. Jane is a Type A control freak and Brad is her doting husband. They are clearly very happy together, a nice change from the often depicted miserable married couple in a group of single friends. Coupe and Wayans work well together and area believable as a couple, and in some ways they are the less obviously funny than the rest of the group. However, they still bring solid comedic timing to their scenes. 


Max, a character who was initially rather one note and kind of unlikable, showed the most growth as Pally seemed to find a better balance between Max’s slovenly, immature side and the genuine affection he has for his friends, particularly after Dave moves in with him. It’s Penny who most consistently and convincingly serves as the comic foil in the group. Wilson plays her with tempered abandon, making an over the top character still grounded within her group of friends.


Happy Endings isn’t a groundbreaking series by any stretch, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun and enjoyable. There’s plenty to like in the show and the cast is at the front of that list. In addition, the writing takes a little time to develop and get going, but once it finds its rhythm it’s filled with tons of pop culture references and some genuinely very funny moments.  While the premises of the episodes aren’t especially original, their familiarity almost works to Happy Endings’ favor in bringing a comfort level to the series while adding its own spin. 


The DVD set comes with some standard bonus features, such as deleted scenes and outtakes, as well as clips from a Mark Douglas interview with Wilson and Pally, and couple of Banana Republic Style Previews. They’re a decent mix of special features, but they certainly aren’t essential and in turn, don’t really add a whole lot to the set.

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J.M. Suarez has been a contributing writer at PopMatters since 2008. She's happy to talk about TV any time, any place. Really.


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