'Happy Endings' Series Premiere

The characters' dynamic in Happy Endings is most engaging when the humor skews towards the darker side.

Happy Endings

Airtime: Wednesdays, 9:30pm ET
Cast: Zachary Knighton, Elisha Cuthbert, Damon Wayans Jr., Eliza Coupe, Casey Wilson, Adam Pally
Subtitle: Series Premiere
Network: ABC
Creator: David Caspe
Air date: 2011-04-13

Midseason replacement shows are a tricky proposition, especially situation comedies. All too often, midseason is a dumping ground for mediocre shows that will be canceled and forgotten shortly at the end of the season. For every popular and critical success like the U.S. version of The Office, there are disappointments like Surviving Suburbia and anything with Megan Mullaly after Will & Grace (remember In the Motherhood?).

Now that How I Met Your Mother has carved out a niche on CBS, other networks are scrabbling to follow suit. Each of the big three has produced sitcoms catering to hip, educated audiences who are pushing 30, spend a lot of time in bars, and make copious amounts of pop culture references. So far this season, NBC premiered Perfect Couples, Fox came up with Traffic Light, and CBS tried for a second success with Mad Love. ABC’s newest entry into this ring is Happy Endings. While none of these shows is as good, or as intricately constructed as Mother, Happy Endings is easily the best of the batch.

As the series begins on 13 April, Dave (Zachary Knighton) looks forward to his own happy ending in Chicago, where he's about to be married to Alex (Elisha Cuthbert), and they are about to be married. He expects to indulge in the entire ritual -- standing at the altar, in front of a priest, surrounded by their four best friends, Jane (Eliza Coupe), Max (Adam Pally), Penny (Casey Wilson), and Brad (Damon Wayans Jr.). Alex, however, doesn’t share Dave’s enthusiasm, and when a sweaty guy wearing rollerblades shows up and objects, Alex bolts, leaving her shocked fiancé and friends behind.

The next time you see Dave, he is alone in his apartment, a blanket wrapped around his head, surrounded by wedding presents, listening to the Indigo Girls while drinking gin smoothies. His friends try to comfort him, only to discover that he’s been writing grim thank you notes, like “Darkness reigns, hope gurgles out its dying breath, thank you for the beautiful crock pot.” His friends worry for him, but they're also distraught for their own reasons, as the breakup has changed their harmony. In order to restore everyone's routines, Dave and Alex come up with the sitcom's premise: they will try to keep it together for the sake of the gang.

That gang might be worth the effort. Their dynamic is most engaging when the humor skews towards the darker side, like when Max compares the disaster at the wedding to a “shark attack at a Sunday school.” These moments suggest that Happy Endings has more bite and inventiveness than the usual reimagining of Friends or Seinfeld. To that end, the gang includes Max, who is gay, and Brad, who is black. But too often, their differences from the usual sitcom ensemble serve as subjects of too-easy gags. As they consider whether they should kick the rollerblading wedding interrupter’s ass, Max quips that Brad is the most likely candidate because he is black, and the guy is probably already afraid of him. Brad responds that Max should do the fighting because he’s chubby and gay, and no one would see that coming.

It's hard not to wonder how Brad, an investment banker, feels about being a black man surrounded by a monochromatic cohort, in Chicago, no less. Or, whether this would change if he and his wife Jane actually move to the suburbs, as they plan to do. And is Max destined to be the drama-craving, sassy gay sidekick, interjecting snarky one liners, or will he develop beyond this stereotype? Penny has her own issues. While her friends seemingly have their lives figured out, she hears the ominous ticking of her biological clock. Will she continue to be the full-figured girl who makes cracks about dying alone with her cats, or will she transcend such caricatured constraints? Based on the pilot episode, her future looks grim.

The Friends-style ensemble show's appeal seems obvious, like a boy band's: the range of characters offers viewers a range of options to like or judge. Happy Endings has doubled down on at least one option, "partnering" with Banana Republic to offer fashions -- modeled by characters and available for purchase by viewers.

This may be Happy Endings' legacy, to be the first show to launch alongside a clothing line. It's less memorable otherwise. As of one episode, it's decently entertaining, though its sharp writing suggests potential. It's earned my interest for at least a couple of more episodes.






The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.


Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.


The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".


Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Mobley Laments the Evil of "James Crow" in the US

Austin's Mobley makes upbeat-sounding, soulful pop-rock songs with a political conscience, as on his latest single, "James Crow".


Jordan Tice's "Bad Little Idea" Is a Satirical Spin on Dire Romance (premiere)

Hawktail's Jordan Tice impresses with his solo work on "Bad Little Idea", a folk rambler that blends bluesy undertones with satiric wit.


Composer Ilan Eshkeri Discusses His Soundtrack for the 'Ghost of Tsushima' Game

Having composed for blockbuster films and ballet, Ilan Eshkeri discusses how powerful emotional narratives and the opportunity for creative freedom drew him to triple-A video game Ghost of Tsushima.


Love and Cinema: The Ruinous Lives in Żuławski's L'important c'est d'aimer

Żuławski's world of hapless also-rans in L'important C'est D'aimer is surveyed with a clear and compassionate eye. He has never done anything in his anarchic world by the halves.


On Bruce Springsteen's Music in Film and TV

Bruce Springsteen's music in film and television captured author Caroline Madden's imagination. She discuses her book, Springsteen as Soundtrack, and other things Springsteen in this interview.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.