‘Happy Endings’ Subverts a Gay Stereotype or Two

Even though ABC’s new sitcom Happy Endings has a bad name and isn’t particularly clever and gets details about Chicago wrong and is part of that usual trying-to-be-Friends genre, I watched five episodes on Friday, so it can’t be that bad (hint: yes it can).

Episode two of this season, “The Quicksand Girlfriend” was particularly enjoyable. It employed two scenes which, combined, produced a winning formula that combatted the gay stereotypes that could have potentially plagued and surrounded the character of Max (Adam Pally). In fact, PopMatter’s own Brent McKnight wondered if the show was going to leave Max “destined to be the drama-craving, sassy gay sidekick, interjecting snarky one liners.”

I’d argue that the writers are, instead, doing a neat job of subverting the gay male stereotype by surrounding it with humor, and then turning it on its head at the last second.

So what was this winning plot device? It started with Penny’s (Casey Wilson) desire to have a more “gay” best friend than Max, who admittedly is more interested in sports than brunching. Max finds her one in an attempt to prove to her that he knows what’s best for her, but she of course, has to learn it the hard way.

It was here that the writers of Happy Endings took a cue from a viral internet video, referencing it in a short, subtle conversation:

Derek: …I’m like “say it don’t spray it”, you stupid clumsy bitch.

Brad: You’re such a clumsy bitch.

Max: You are a clumsy bitch.

Recognize that conversation? It was a homage to the Sassy Gay Friend. From the beginning of the episode, all I could think was “This dude looks just like the SGF.” Well folks, they did that on purpose! So hip, these television writers.

Sassy Gay Friend is a Second City sketch series that has become quite popular because of its ridiculously gay star who gives advice to poor, pathetic women characters, such as Eve, and most of Shakespeare’s heroines. He’s known for his catch phrase “You’re such a stupid bitch. She’s a stupid bitch.”

But Happy Endings didn’t stop there (cut to: pun about it not being a happy ending, yet). It wrapped up the plotline by using flashbacks, where Max proves that their friends don’t need a SGF because Penny is the offensive stereotypical gay of the group. Ultimately, the balance of the group was off because there was another Penny personality. It’s not the gay male best friend Penny wants, it’s the persona that’s associated with that role.

By smacking Penny in the face, so to speak, with her own “gayness”, Happy Endings essentially proved that anyone can fit into any kind of stereotype, which is pretty forward for a sitcom whose characters play off of archetypes like “the gay male best friend who gets around.” We’ll see where they go from here (though we might not: the show has yet to be renewed), but if anything, at least there’s a little surprise in the tropes that Happy Endings, and all sitcoms like it, insist on continuing to use.