Series Premiere — Happy Endings, “Pilot” and “Quicksand Girlfriend”

Yay, another comedy about late-twentysomethings trying to find their way in the game of love! There’s been much discussion about the stupidity of this year’s Friends-riffing trend and at this point, it’s pretty hard to muster up much enthusiasm for Happy Endings when we’ve already had to deal with the likes of Better With You, Mad Love, Traffic Light and Perfect Couples, even if you’re someone like me who actually enjoyed the latter two for what they brought to the table. At a certain point, even the people most sympathetic to this kind of series has to be thinking that enough is enough. Which is sort of unfortunate, since Happy Endings has a really likable cast full of people who really feel like friends and has the potential to be really fun.*

As I wrote in this February piece, judging broadcast sitcom pilots now feels like we’re all taking the role of Mel Kiper Jr. or Jay Bilas during the NFL or NBA drafts. It’s all about “potential” and “upside” even though most broadcast comedy pilots are not every good these days. Outside of the Modern Family pilot, I can’t really remember a “good” broadcast comedy pilot in a few seasons. Even the Community pilot wasn’t THAT good.

Off that point, it really doesn’t make sense to me why ABC held Happy Endings for late spring and let Better With You have a whole season. I guess this series doesn’t necessarily fit in the schedule after The Middle, but I’m not particularly sure that Better With You does either. In a perfect world, I’d like to see both Endings and Mr. Sunshine renewed and put on a new night with Cougar Town. That would be fun. This series fits well with those two, especially in tone and delivery speed.

OK, network programming section of this review over. Happy Endings is not a good series and many times in these first two episodes, it is sort of obnoxious and unfunny. Also, there is a lot of yelling and hands slamming against tables or other inanimate objects. Then more yelling. But you know what? That’s how a lot of friends interact with one another. Oftentimes, conversations between my friends and I end up with lots and lots of yelling. If we’re assuming that these early episodes aren’t going to be very good, they basically need to rely on the chemistry and charm of the actors, and on that scale, Happy Endings mostly works. There seems to be a decent sense of history between these five people, which is more than I can say for Mad Love and Better With You. This one is not as good as Traffic Light in that category, but it’s close.

On an individual level, things don’t work as well. Like I said, so many of these people are likable and charming, but a few of them have ill-defined roles that diminish that inherent likability. Eliza Coupe is a TVitterati favorite and she’s sort of trapped in a terrible role here, but she’s still Eliza Coupe. In the second episode, she’s given more to do and the role becomes a bit more charming, but it’s still not really where she works as a performer. SNL‘s Casey Wilson is loud and obnoxious, which only goes so far. Adam Pally and Damon Wayans Jr. bounce well off one another and seem to be carrying a lot of the quick-witted kind of weight. Without the two of them, I’m not sure these episodes would be funny at all. I like both Zachary Knighton and Elisha Cuthbert and although it was nice to see them do comedy, they’re sort of trapped in thankless roles as the “emotional center” of the series.

The premise is partially appealing and still a bit wonky, if only because I could totally see the writers ditching it in a possible second season. I like the idea of a group of fans having to deal with the aftermath of a marriage-gone-wrong and the second episode does a nice job of showing us what the episode-by-episode framework of that story could be, but I’m not sure how sustainable it is (which is why I think it probably won’t last too long).

I really can’t bring myself to say much else about this series. It’s fine and I will certainly continue to DVR it over the next few weeks, if only for the cast. I’ve seen better this season, but I’ve also seen much worse as far as opening sitcom episodes go. As I’ve been saying all season, it’s all about the waiting game with series like Happy Endings, and for now, I’m willing to wait. For now.

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