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Why "Happy Endings" Won't Earn a "Community"-Like 'Save Our Show' Campaign

By Dustin Rowles | TV Reviews | January 16, 2013 | Comments ()


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Please don't misunderstand what I'm about to write. I love "Happy Endings." "Happy Endings" is one of the best sitcoms on television, featuring one of the most comedically talented ensembles in the business. The second season of "Happy Endings" was one of the five best sitcom seasons of the last decade. It is a brilliant ensemble sitcom and I will continue to watch it ABC pries it away from us.

But.

"Happy Endings" isn't as good as it once was. In fact, the fall off has been precipitous, and the only reason why it's still as good as it is, is because it had a lot of room to fall. But it's not the same. Maybe it's because there's been some turnover in the writer's room. Maybe it's the absence of David Guarascio and Moses Port (who left to run "Community"), maybe it's network meddling, or maybe it's just an off season.

But it's not as good. I used to watch every episode twice. Now, I find myself occasionally checking my phone the first time through.

The problem areas are twofold. First of all, "Happy Endings" has fallen prey to the "Friends"-icization of its characters. Over on "New Girl," the characters began with odd quirks, affectations, and mannerisms, but as the series has progressed, we've gotten underneath those silly idiosyncrasies and gotten to know the characters. It's worked in the opposite direction on "Happy Endings." Max is a crankier, straight-gay, almost to the point of hostility. Jane gets progressively more cutting, sarcastic, and cold. Alex has added binge eating (see Joey Tribbiani) to her dumb blonde stereotype, Penny abbreviates EVERY GODDAMN word that comes out of her mouth, while Dave is even Dave-ier than usual.

The worst thing to happen to "Happy Endings," however, has been what they've done to Brad (Damon Wayans, Jr.) over the course of the season. A lot of people who work on "Happy Endings" (including a couple of the showrunners) cut their teeth over on Bill Lawrence's "Scrubs," and the influence of Turk's character has been obvious: He's a bro that plays up his femininity, which worked to great effect for awhile. But now? I don't think Brad has said anything in a normal voice all season: It's all high-pitched baby talk or Groucho-You-Know-What-I'm-Saying bravado. He's a man's man, but he likes to play "wife," he can't fix a light dimmer, he enjoys time at the spa and he's controlled by his woman, who loves his feminine side in part, perhaps, because she used to sleep with ladies. It's an amalgamation of subverted stereotypes, but it doesn't make them any less stereotypical.

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The second, and perhaps more detrimental problem with season three is that the show itself -- and the characters -- have become too self-regarding. They've gotten high on their own sense of humor, and the inside jokes are no longer with the audience, but with themselves. I think I've mentioned this before, but there was a rumor floating around a couple of months ago that guest stars have suddenly refused to work on the show, citing the fact that the cast itself is too cliquey, and wouldn't let anyone into their inner circle (the rumor suggested that Megan Mullaly had insisted that she'd never work on the show again after the principle cast shunned her). I don't know if the rumor is true, but I can see why it would get started: At times that the inner circle doesn't seem to want to allow the audience in, either.

Indeed, one of the things that endeared me to "Happy Endings" in the first place was its frequent use of pop-culture references. Now? It's almost as though the characters speak in only pop-culture shorthand. They don't express feelings; they borrow them from other television shows and movies, which has made it more difficult to connect emotionally with the characters.

ABC's experiment with airing "Happy Endings" on Sunday nights these last couple of weeks is over, and it's failure has demonstrated a couple of things. First of all, that "Happy Endings" core base is not rabid enough to follow the show around to different time slots (the show received its two lowest rates episodes ever on Sunday nights). More importantly, this last Sunday's kickball episode -- an unaired episode from season two that ended up being the best episode I've seen since last season -- demonstrated the difference between this year and last. Those characters cared for each other, and the insults at each other's expense were less cutting and more good natured. That was an ensemble episode; this season has been about which individual character can exaggerate his or her idiosyncrasies the most.

That, ultimately, will be why "Happy Endings" -- despite marginally better ratings -- won't inspire the outcry that "Community" does every time cancellation is suggested, and why -- after ABC burns off the remaining episodes -- the show wil fade quietly, only to be rediscovered by millions more on Netflix or Hulu next year, once it's too late to save it. "Happy Endings" is a great show; sometimes it's even Ah-Mah-Zing, but as funny as we think the characters are, it's hard to invest ourselves into them emotionally because they simply won't let us. The show has become our "funny friend," that guy in every group who tells the best jokes, but who we know very little about. A great sense of humor will earn you a lifetime pass on our DVRs, but it takes more than that to earn a "Save Our Show" campaign.



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Comments Are Welcome, Jerks Will Be Banned


  • Rob

    Sounds like a website I used to visit all the time

  • Rochelle

    Damn you for pointing out what I've been trying to ignore for months!

  • kirbyjay

    The show is drop dead funny but it has no heart. All of the very best comedies combine humor with heart. It's what keeps you watching. Other than Seinfeld, of course. No hugging....no learning...

  • Horst

    i liked the show at first, but somewhere midseason 2 i noticed that i didn't like any of the characters in the show
    i couldn't stand watching a ensemble show where is disliked every single person.

    kinda hard to believe they became even less likeable

  • Buhlebonga

    For a while i thought I was the only one who's over the whole Brad playing up his feminine side on Happy Endings. I also end up thinking they shoulda made him the gay dude, instead of Max. That whole 'home girl' sass was funny in season one and two, but it's now so overplayed. That scene with the dead, racist parrot (I wanna have a racist bird hahahaha) was just bleh. As was the one where Brad acted like a kept woman.
    Oh and can Megan Mullaly cameo on the show again? Screw what HuffPost said about the cliqueness of the actors.

  • Lauren_Lauren

    Because it's terrible?

  • chumplunt

    " citing the fact that the cast itself is too cliquey, and wouldn’t let anyone into their inner circle". Except for Dave though, right? Cause I could totally seem them all being unable to see Zach as anyone but Schmosby, err, Dave.

  • Kate at June

    Because most of the characters are grating and its not very funny?

  • Tinkerville

    You summed up my thoughts on the show perfectly. I had been clinging to Happy Endings because it used to be so good, but then recently I realized a new episode was online and I had been putting off watching it for weeks. I went the opposite direction with New Girl, which I hated at first and is now one of my favorite shows.

  • mats19

    This is EXACTLY it... after last nights episode the whole weird lets hang with my friends whole penny bf thing left me feeling like the other group of friends. I didn't get what the deal was, instead of off humor sex jokes between my favorite couple it was all blatantly weirdsville. Couple all of that with the weird out of order thing from Sunday (which thank you for clearing that up I was perplexed the whole episode w/ chronological innacuracy) which gave me hope that the show was turning around to a make a comeback my happy endings love is no longer unconditional.

  • dizzylucy

    I have to agree as well. The show has always been quick and energetic, but this season at times it has felt exhausting, because they're trying too hard and overdoing so much of it. I think I first noticed it with Brad because of all the voices, but it's definitely true of all of the characters.
    I enjoyed the kickball one so much more than other recent ones, and it being a season 2 episode makes sense to me now. I didn't notice Dave still living at the apartment. I kind of try not to pay too much attention to Dave.

  • Jezzer

    Alex does not "binge-eat." Alex has always eaten like a horse. >:(

  • dagnabbit

    Big Happy Endings fan and yeah, you nailed it. Very much the same thing 30 Rock went through from season 4 to season 5, when Liz and Jack devolved from friends whose different ideals played into the reasons they needed each other, into full-on crazy cat lady and unfeeling Bill O'Reilly parody. Now everyone on 30 Rock is a crazy caricature, intercut with Family Guy-style non-sequiters. *sigh*
    So long Happy Endings!

  • L.O.V.E.

    I am going to have to respectfully disagree with you and advise you to SHUT YOUR WHORE MOUTH!

  • John W

    oh oh DRAMMMMMMAAAAAA!!

  • Leelee

    YES to this whole article. Happy Endings has gone from must-see hilarity to a quite enjoyable way to pass the time. By no means do I dislike the current crop of episodes, but nor will I miss them too much when they go away.
    Also on notice for exactly the same issues: Cougar Town. I love me some Cul-de-sac Crew, but after catching a great Season 2 re-run the other day I realised how much of a pastiche of themselves the characters have become lately. Jules in particular is going down the Brad route. Again, it's not turned un-watchable - just no longer something that I'd fight to keep on air.

  • Lindsey Gregory

    I'll just stick to watching reruns of Happy Endings on Hulu. Yes Penny, I WILL twirl with you...

  • neonseattle

    ugh i agree with you so hard. this show has been trying too hard this season. it was my fave comedy last year but it's been replaced by New Girl, which is having an excellent second season.

  • dAvid

    Wildly inconsistent is right. Car Czar was one of the best episodes of any season, but the rest of season 3 has ranged from ehhh to so-bad-I-need-to-hit-something bad.

  • lorent

    Totally agree. I used to love this show, but this year the characters have become caricatures as opposed to fully realized characters.

  • ed newman

    Great analysis vis-a-vis Friends. But while that show took several seasons to lose the sense of character to their exagerated idiosyncracies, on Happy Endings it's happening in less than a season.

    Still like the show, but it has lost a step. Maybe it's a slump but I don't think they'll get a chance to course correct.

  • Spot on. They're all bad stereotypes of themselves from the past two seasons. If losing those two writers to Community is a big reason that would lead me to be hopeful for Community post-Harmon.

  • I was seriously wondering what was up with that kickball episode. My wife and I noticed that Dave was back to living in the apartment with Max and wondered if ABC was airing the Sunday shows out of order like they did with Season One.

    I was also going to say something about the clique rumor, because I think it's self-evident in the actors performances. In some ways, this could be a good thing. They clearly have camaraderie and their comedic timing with each other is sharp as a tack. But, yeah. I do get the feeling like they're telling in-jokes that the audience isn't privy to.

    My biggest complaint with the show isn't that it's less funny than Season Two, it's that it's wildly inconsistent. Some episodes I want to watch over again immediately. Other episodes leave me scratching my head - they're experimental to the point of distraction.

    Season Three could have taken a 50% dip in quality from Season Two and still been one of the funnier shows on television. But it's all over the map right now.

  • Andrew Jara

    It's weird cause you said happy endings but you meant community

  • GDI

    With the 2nd season of Community, yes, I agree. But 3rd season came back in roaring fashion. All I needed was one more season of that caliber. One!

  • chad

    I happened to watch the kickball episode last night, and not knowing that it was taped last season (other than the fact that Dave and Alex weren't living together) it seemed to be a much more tame version of the show. Which in my opinion made it much better. The characters hadn't been made into their stereotypes yet.

  • DeltaJuliet

    LOL I spent so much time trying to figure out "But, it says NEW on the guide? But why don't Dave and Alex live together! And whose apartment is that supposed to be? What's going on?!" to which my husband ....basically ignored me.

    Thanks for spelling out the deficiencies of the show. I couldn't quite put my finger on why I was enjoying it less than before. You nailed it. I miss old Happy Endings :(

  • PerpetualIntern

    THIS. When my husband and I started this season, I asked him why it felt like they were all trying so hard. I think you hit the nail on the head that they're all playing tropes of their own characters now.

  • Slim

    I had a very similar conversation with my husband just this week after watching Penny and Brad clown their way around the incident with the parrot. Just too manic.

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