After a somewhat bumpy launch last April, Happy Endings finds itself in much better shape as it prepares to air its second season finale tonight. Ratings aren't huge, but the show's got great buzz behind it: More than a few observers have drawn the Friends comparison, thanks to a young, good-looking cast of three girls and three guys and similarly goofball vibe. It's also a favorite of ABC brass and seems all but assured of a third season pickup. Thirty-three-year-old series creator and co-showrunner David Caspe (FYI, the e is silent) spent over an hour on the phone with us last week, explaining everything from how the series came to be and why he spends so much time editing each episode, to why its characters love abbreviations so much. He also offered hints about tonight's finale, gave some predictions for how the characters will evolve in a possible season three, and answered a slew of questions submitted by Vulture readers. We'd say the interview is “amahzing,” but as you'll read, that word may soon be banned.
The finale is the 21st episode to air this season, but your order was for 22.
This actually will be episode 21, and we’ll have one leftover that’s sort of a stand-alone episode. We don’t have an airdate for it yet. But I would assume sometime in the next month or so. It was a scheduling thing. [It will have] no effect on any serialized type of storytelling.
So what's in the finale?
There is some heart. And we move the ball forward romantically with one of our couples: Either the Penny and Dave, or the Dave and Alex, or Brad and Jane, or Max and Grant — one of those gets moved forward. It all takes place again at a wedding. Derrick gets married to a guy named Eric.
Derrick and Eric.
Derrick and Eric, yes.
Their relationship name should be Deric.
Well, Alex struggles mightily with, should their relationship name be Deric or Eric. You went right to it! That is her big dilemma. She feels we gotta figure that out. It also marks the reunion of Max’s Madonna cover band that he used to be in, called Mandonna.
Is there a cliff-hanger?
Cliff-hanger? Um, a little bit. Like I said, we move one of those relationships forward and we sort of do it at the end of the episode. So it’s sort of, “Where will they be at the start of next season?” There is another cliff-hanger, actually. We leave another one of our characters in a very unfamiliar position that he would, if we’re lucky enough to get a third season, he would start next season in that unfamiliar position.
To me, that would be Max having a job.
You’re pretty close, I’ll tell you that. You’re pretty close, but you’re not right there. But you’re warm. You already got that Derrick-Eric thing.
Are people now at the point where they're pitching you story ideas for characters on the show?
I will admit that I oftentimes read the comments after [recaps and stories on sites such as Vultue]. After the episode where we popped back to where Penny was like a 7-year-old girl ... someone wrote a comment, ‘I’d love to see an episode of Happy Endings with all them as kids at that age.'” And I was like, “Wow, that would actually be really funny.” I don’t know if you could ever do it, but ...
I would like to see the gang as Muppet Babies.
What would be great about that is, you could actually get our actors to do the voices.
How many pages is the typical Happy Endings script? It seems like you pack a lot into every episode, more than most shows.
Yeah, it’s actually a big problem for us. The episodes come in usually about four minutes too long, which sounds like a short amount of time. But you would be surprised how hard it is to cut four minutes out of what needs to end up being a 21-and-a-half-minute program. So we have to get really creative in the editing room. For instance, in season two, episode seventeen, the one about Dave’s sex dreams, at the very end, we pop to Colin Hanks telling a story about him and how he and Dustin Hoffman and Frank Caliendo are in the Hangover video game coming up. That originally was its own scene, and it was longer. But because we were so restricted for time, we took what was the funniest part and we turned it into a pop. And in episode one of this season, we shot a whole dream where Penny meets herself as a 65-year-old spinster. Unfortunately, it was just too long to put in, like two minutes. So that whole thing will be on the DVD.
We have, throughout this year, tried to lower the page count. And we got down to about where we were shooting about 28 pages at our lowest. Whereas last year, we probably shot 31 or 32 every week. So we were able to cut four pages out. The goal, if we were lucky enough to come back next year, would be to somehow shoot 27 pages.
What's impressive about the pop-culture references on the show is how you're just as likely to reach back to the seventies as you are to make a reference to something current. You seem to do that even more than, say, Family Guy. What's the background of your writers' room?
It is all ages. We go probably from, I don’t know, mid- to late-forties down to 25. We really run the gamut, so everyone probably has different sort of points of reference. And it all sort of finds its way into the show. It’s really not us saying, "Let's reference something. Let’s make a pop-culture reference here." It’s really just ... how someone would talk in that moment. I assume all your friends, when you’re talking to each other, you reference a lot of movies and TV shows and books and actors and scandals, and shit like that.
Actually, it's all jokes about eighteenth-century literature.
Exactly. Well, you saw me throw books in there. As if we're all reading. I was just trying to sound smart.
Some showrunners think it's a mistake when comedies go too heavy on the cultural references, especially at the expense of character.
It’s tough. It’s a push and pull within the writers’ room, and I think the show’s at its best when it’s a balance of the two: a joke delivery system on one side, and then on the other side, actual heart and real stories and grounded stuff. We have a lot of writers who prefer the grounded kind of stuff, and then we have a lot of writers who prefer the joke delivery system, just rapid-fire jokes. I feel like we’re at our best when neither side wins. I don’t want it to be either show. I don’t want it to be just the joke delivery system with no heart, and I don’t want it to be just a sort of borderline dramedy kind of thing where it’s all about relationships, and heart, and shit like that.
You love abbreviations on Happy Endings. Is the ultimate scene in your mind one where your characters don’t say a single full word? Is there ever a thing as too many abbrevs?
Yes, there is definitely a feeling of too many. I think we have reached critical mass on abbreviations. We’re never looking to put them in, you know. Sometimes they happen: People just write them when it sounds funny, or when they seem to make sense. But we pretty quickly this year felt like, “Okay, this is kind of annoying now.” So our only way would to do it would be to make fun of it. In the Valentine’s Day episode, a guy breaks up with Penny because she abbreviates everything. She says, “He hated it when I said 'ahmazing,' but I barely even said it this season.” And then Max says, “Do you mean winter?” And she says, “Yeah, it’s more of a summer word.” So that was us basically saying we know this is kind of annoying, and we’re going to stop doing it. That being said, we hit it one more time in the finale. But it could be the last time Penny says “amahzing.”
Time for some questions from Vulture readers! @soundstruthy wants to know where in Chicago each of the characters lives.
I am from Chicago, and in designing the set, I definitely imagined which neighborhoods they would be in. We do shoot the show in L.A., so obviously a lot of our exteriors are just the back lot. So it’s never going to be exactly Chicago. I wish it was more authentically Chicago. But as far as the apartments themselves, I always imagined that Max lived in Wicker Park. But that was when I lived in Wicker Park, which is probably almost ten years now. So I’m sure Wicker Park’s changed a little bit. And then Brad and Jane, I would imagine, live, like, downtown on State Street, like State and Rush, where they would be in those sort of high-rise buildings. And then Penny’s apartment with Alex, I always thought was the Lincoln Park area, those sorts of brownstones and three-story flats.
From @cindk, a question about how you came to be a TV writer. You don't have any real small-screen credits before Happy Endings. How did you get started?
I was doing visual art for basically my whole life. Then, about five years ago, I felt like I needed a change. I was always really into writing and movies and stuff, so I moved to L.A. and started writing features. [I] got lucky and was able to sell a couple of those and kind of get going. I actually have a movie coming out in June with Adam Sandler and Andy Samberg [That's My Boy]. So I was doing features ... and then my agent ... said, "Hey, you should pitch a TV show. Do you have any ideas?" And I said, "Yeah, I have the best idea ever for a TV show!" So I went out and pitched that, and was immediately told it was the worst idea for a TV show, and it’s been pitched out hundreds of times and will never work. I quickly realized I was walking into a buzz saw for six straight meetings, because everybody had the exact same response. So luckily, I made it to the weekend and was able to kind of rework the idea and just actually come up with a completely new idea. I took something that I had always [thought about] for a feature: I wanted to start a movie where a romantic comedy usually ends, which is the breakup at the wedding, see what happens afterwards. But I was never able to crack it as a movie. Anyway ... the next week, I had two more pitches, one of whom was Jamie Tarses. And I pitched it to her, and she really liked it. And we took it to Sony. And then from there we went to the networks and stuff. And, you know, got dumb lucky.
According to @I_TICKLED_ERIC_MASSA, ABC isn't doing a good enough job promoting the show. Is social media an important tool to get people to watch?
We feel like in some ways Twitter saved us last year and got us a second season. There was a buzz on Twitter, and I think ABC took notice of that and saw there was a young audience responding to the show. That made them take us a little more seriously. And a lot of that was getting everyone we knew, and all our cast members, tweeting.
Will we meet Brad’s sister, @tamika_jones asks?
That’s a great idea. We did Brad’s dad last season. We haven’t talked about the rest of his family much. But that’s really funny, yeah. I think we would definitely want to do his sister.
Back to Chicago: @jayoaks asks why don’t you mention more real Chicago landmarks?
They don’t let us say real places, usually. But I would love to shout out my favorite places in Chicago. We have been able to sometimes get some stuff past them, like Vienna Beef. But with restaurants, sometimes it gets tough to clear that stuff.
From @makesnoscents: Is the tattoo on Dave’s forearm real? And will you read a spec script from @makesnoscents?
The tattoo on Zach Knighton’s forearm is real. I cannot read your Happy Endings spec — legally, I’m not allowed to read it, because if I even open it, and then we do anything that is similar to it, you could sue me for a lot of money.
Our friend @dshields25 wonders why you lost the whole Dave-Alex breakup tension so quickly.
It was always meant to be something that we got over in the first couple episodes, which is what we did. We wanted to move past it because it’s not as fun and funny to just deal with a breakup, you know?
When did you decide to make Alex a “full dumb blonde,” wonders @terrible.
You know, it was just sort of an evolution in the writers’ room. Alex’s character doesn’t have a ton to do in the pilot except say “I’m sorry,” because she pulls such a terrible move on Dave that you really don’t get to see what her character is like in a normal situation. You only see her in that extreme situation. So we spent a lot of the first part of last year figuring out, what is Alex like when she’s not running away from the altar? And that’s sort of where we landed on it. It's also collaboration with Elisha Cuthbert, who’s super funny. We started to find some stuff that we thought she was great at, then we kind of amped that up.
An angry @flolink demands you express anger toward Vulture for not recapping the show.
Vulture has been awesome to us, so I don’t have any complaints with Vulture at all.
A query from @sebastiancanada about the seemingly effortless racial integration of your cast. Was that always a goal?
Yeah, that was planned early on. Sort of the pitch of the show was: You see a lot of these groups of friends on these shows. And they’re usually all white and straight. And so the idea was to do a show that was a little more representative of what a group of friends is like now. I don’t know anyone whose friends are all straight and white. So, it was sort of actively trying to get more of a mix in there. Not that our cast is the most diverse cast in the world, by any means. I am fully aware of that.
@johnnybo731 informs us that “pound for pound,” Alex is the greatest eater on TV.
That came out of an episode last year where she started eating ribs when she gets drunk. And she was just so funny doing it. It's definitely something that we’re doing on purpose.
Your cast seems so skilled at making stuff up on the fly. Would you ever consider a live episode?
It would be fun. We did a show at UCB in L.A. that was not an episode of our show, but Adam Pally and Casey Wilson and two of our writers who are heavily involved in UCB put together a Happy Endings night at UCB. It was basically writers and cast all doing different sorts of bits and stuff. But it was not a show, obviously. We’ve never really talked about a live episode, but a lot of our cast has that live background, and I think it would be really fun. It would definitely come out looking quite a bit different, because our show is heavily edited. It’s cut so tight and quick and so polished, that I think a live episode would feel very different.
I'm pretty certain you'll be back for a third season. But there also seems to be a good chance you won't be behind Modern Family anymore. Does that scare you a little?
Honestly, I am superstitious in talking about a third season, because we don’t have that renewal yet. Hopefully we’ll get it. [But] we all feel so fortunate to just get to do this job and get to make a show; if they’re willing to let us make more, they can put us wherever they want us. I would guess that post–Modern Family, they would probably want to use that slot to try and launch another show. So I would assume that they would want to move us. But I haven’t heard anything specific. Like I said, as long we can make more episodes of the show, they can put them wherever they want.
Let's assume you get season three. Walk me through the six main characters and make some resolutions for where you'd like them all to go next year.
I think for Penny, I would like to see her with a guy, more permanently. I think this sort of “boyfriend of the week” thing was funny, and we had fun with it. But I it would be interesting to see the comedy of her with a boyfriend.
For Brad and Jane, maybe just moving forward as far as what does a couple start to think about in their late twenties, early thirties. Although, I don’t foresee us going too quickly to the baby world because I think that would change the show very drastically. Also for Jane, I’d love to see her at her job a little more. She’s such a crazy, OCD-type character, control freak.
And for Max, I would love to see a new job. We love the limo obviously, but we think it would be funny to find another weird job for Max to do. For Dave and Alex, some type of thing relationship-wise. Either they’re going to get together or they should each be moving on and dating someone else. We'd maybe like to figure out Alex’s store a little bit. There’s never anyone in there. So either it’s going to go under, or she’s going to figure out a way to make it work. The same with Dave’s truck.