Reviews

'Happy Endings: The Complete Series' Showcases the Talented Cast

Well-written with unfailing comic delivery, Happy Endings is a consistent delight.

Happy Endings: The Complete Series
David Caspe

Mill Creek Entertainment

7 Aug 2018

Other

The television landscape is littered with shows that inexplicably never gained the popularity they deserved, and Happy Endings is a perfect example of one of those series. Running for three seasons (2011-2013), and centered on six friends, the series is consistently funny, clever, and exhibits excellent chemistry amongst its cast. While it may have initially seemed that the show was a Friends-like clone, it actually had more in common with 30 Rock's blink-and-you-miss-them one-liners and another underrated gem, Cougar Town, as they both seemed to get weirder and more hilarious as they went on, even as they remained niche shows.

Though Happy Ending's original premise focused on Dave (Zachary Knighton) being left at the altar by Alex (Elisha Cuthbert) in front of their families and friends, including Alex's sister, Jane (Eliza Coupe), Jane's husband, Brad (Damon Wayans Jr.), and their friends, Penny (Casey Wilson) and Max (Adam Pally), the series quickly establishes the group and their various dynamics as the true center of the series. In fact, Alex and Dave are the least interesting of the bunch in the first season and it's only when they become as off-the-wall as their friends that the show truly hits its stride.

It would be easy to reduce the characters to clichés: Alex the ditz, Dave the clueless nice guy, Jane the type-A overachiever, Brad the well-groomed dandy, Penny the perpetually single disaster, and Max the slob, yet Happy Endings gleefully upends the formula again and again. Jane and Brad often play opposite gender roles than would traditionally be written for a straight couple and Max is gay without any of the tropes often ascribed to gay male characters on television. In addition, even though these quick characterizations are technically accurate, they only hint at the outlandishness to come.

Happy Endings works brilliantly because the jokes and asides are reminiscent of not only the kinds of inside interactions typical of close friendships, but also because there's a genuine bond in the group that comes through terrifically. These actors feel like they really could be friends. Much of that is due to the natural chemistry in the cast, but also because of the sharp writing that establishes a believable history based on what the viewer knows now. Max and Penny used to date in college, Alex, Jane, and Penny are friends since childhood, and everyone else pretty much met on an unaired season of The Real World: Sacramento. It's these kinds of details that veer from the seemingly mundane to the bizarre that make up much of Happy Endings' sensibility.

In keeping the characters rooted in their relationships with one another, the show is free to go in the eccentric directions that make the series so funny. Whether it's Max's obsession with hypothetically marrying famous people with similar last names, overlong new last names ("If Mary Tyler Moore married and then divorced Steven Tyler, then married and divorced Michael Moore, then got into a three-way lesbian marriage with Demi Moore and Mandy Moore, would she go by the name Mary Tyler Moore Tyler Moore Moore Moore?"), or Jane bringing a fully-cooked turkey to Thanksgiving to stealthily switch it with the one already being prepared ("Wrap it in a rug. Throw it in a river."), or Penny's absurd attempts to hide a helmet she's been forced to wear by her doctor ("You can still tell I'm wearing a helmet, can't you?"), Happy Endings goes to an extreme that works and never seems forced. Much of that can be attributed to the impeccable comic timing of the cast, too.

The cast is uniformly very good (Wayans Jr., in particular, is effortlessly charming throughout), but there are standouts. Wilson plays Penny with equal parts desperation and unfounded confidence ("Relax, this is my specialty. I can spin this… which is why everyone at work calls me the old spinster") that's capped off by her pitch-perfect comic timing. Similarly, Pally and Coupe relish their character's worst traits to excellent comic effect, particularly as they interact with one another, their polar opposites.

Apart from the humor, Happy Endings also succeeds because as the characters became more and more fleshed out, the show gets better. It's part of what makes its short-lived run so heartbreaking; Happy endings was improving season to season. The core relationships that were at the center when it began started to expand to include pairing and groupings that yielded sometimes unexpected humor, sometimes surprisingly affecting interactions. Again, it's another example of untapped potential when the show was canceled.

Happy Endings is an ensemble comedy that owes plenty to previous television comedies, but it also manages to carve out its own place in that history. There's a genuine likability and warmth to the characters and their relationships that allow the humor to flourish in often unanticipated, yet always hilarious ways. Well-written, with unfailingly great comic delivery, Happy Endings is a consistent delight. Even though it's off the air, now, you can still see it on Blu-ray from Mill Creek Entertainment.

The Complete Series Blu-ray contains featurettes, including behind-the-scenes information and parody interviews, a treasure trove of deleted scenes, and outtakes. They're a nice addition to the episodes, though cast commentaries would have been a further draw to the set.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.

Books

David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors


David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.

Music

David Lord Salutes Collaborators With "Cloud Ear" (premiere)

David Lord teams with Jeff Parker (Tortoise) and Chad Taylor (Chicago Underground) for a new collection of sweeping, frequently meditative compositions. The results are jazz for a still-distant future that's still rooted in tradition.

Music

Laraaji Takes a "Quiet Journey" (premiere +interview)

Afro Transcendentalist Laraaji prepares his second album of 2020, the meditative Moon Piano, recorded inside a Brooklyn church. The record is an example of what the artist refers to as "pulling music from the sky".

Music

Blues' Johnny Ray Daniels Sings About "Somewhere to Lay My Head" (premiere)

Johnny Ray Daniels' "Somewhere to Lay My Head" is from new compilation that's a companion to a book detailing the work of artist/musician/folklorist Freeman Vines. Vines chronicles racism and injustice via his work.

Music

The Band of Heathens Find That Life Keeps Getting 'Stranger'

The tracks on the Band of Heathens' Stranger are mostly fun, even when on serious topics, because what other choice is there? We all may have different ideas on how to deal with problems, but we are all in this together.

Music

Landowner's 'Consultant' Is OCD-Post-Punk With Obsessive Precision

Landowner's Consultant has all the energy of a punk-rock record but none of the distorted power chords.

Film

NYFF: 'American Utopia' Sets a Glorious Tone for Our Difficult Times

Spike Lee's crisp concert film of David Byrne's Broadway show, American Utopia, embraces the hopes and anxieties of the present moment.

Music

South Africa's Phelimuncasi Thrill with Their Gqom Beats on '2013-2019'

A new Phelimuncasi anthology from Nyege Nyege Tapes introduces listeners to gqom and the dancefloors of Durban, South Africa.

Music

Wolf Parade's 'Apologies to the Queen Mary' Turns 15

Wolf Parade's debut, Apologies to the Queen Mary, is an indie rock classic. It's a testament to how creative, vital, and exciting the indie rock scene felt in the 2000s.

Film

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 .

Books

Literary Scholar Andrew H. Miller On Solitude As a Common Bond

Andrew H. Miller's On Not Being Someone Else considers how contemplating other possibilities for one's life is a way of creating meaning in the life one leads.

Music

Fransancisco's "This Woman's Work" Cover Is Inspired By Heartache (premiere)

Indie-folk brothers Fransancisco dedicate their take on Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work" to all mothers who have lost a child.

Film

Rodd Rathjen Discusses 'Buoyancy', His Film About Modern Slavery

Rodd Rathjen's directorial feature debut, Buoyancy, seeks to give a voice to the voiceless men and boys who are victims of slavery in Southeast Asia.

Music

Hear the New, Classic Pop of the Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" (premiere)

The Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" is a pop tune, but pop as heard through ears more attuned to AM radio's glory days rather than streaming playlists and studio trickery.

Music

Blitzen Trapper on the Afterlife, Schizophrenia, Civil Unrest and Our Place in the Cosmos

Influenced by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Blitzen Trapper's new album Holy Smokes, Future Jokes plumbs the comedic horror of the human condition.

Music

Chris Smither's "What I Do" Is an Honest Response to Old Questions (premiere + interview)

How does Chris Smither play guitar that way? What impact does New Orleans have on his music? He might not be able to answer those questions directly but he can sure write a song about it.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Fire in the Time of Coronavirus

If we venture out our front door we might inhale both a deadly virus and pinpoint flakes of ash. If we turn back in fear we may no longer have a door behind us.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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