Happy Endings had its two-episode premiere last night, and the best, brightest sign that it’s shaping up to be a good show was how much better the second episode was from the first. An upward trajectory: not as easy as you might think! While the premise dominated the first half hour, by the second its superior writing and great cast chemistry was already shining through. I have a big Friends-shaped hole in my heart. I’m not saying Happy Endings filled it, but if things keep going this well, I think I can mash it around in there until it’s approximately the same shape and size.
The series begins when Alex (Elisha Cuthbert) leaves Dave (Zachary Knighton) at the altar. While it would be extremely easy to harpy-ize Alex, the writers did an excellent job making her likeable enough, and Dave benignly oblivious enough, to convince us that her bailing was an act of desperation, not malice. When the pair make up and tentatively agree to a friendship, the problem becomes: what do we do now that we have the exact same set of friends but aren’t a couple? Mwuh oh! We all know that a hook does not the next How I Met Your Mother make, so the show wisely gets silly and self-referential when things edge a little to close to the stilted. “None of us have made a new friend for 11 years,” the group remembers in a panic. “That sounds like the plot of a Dane Cook movie,” Dave says worriedly, and accurately, after Max and Brad (Damon Wayans Jr.) help him dump his rebound one-night-stand for wearing a fedora during sex. It already seems like each character has their own unique set of neurosis and dreams, which helps make the show’s relationships interesting enough to enliven the more sitcom-y elements. At least so far.
In my opinion, the stand out stars as of now are Casey Wilson as perpetually single Penny and Adam Pally as snarky gay Max. In the premiere episode, they have Max take great pains to assert his sexuality, since he doesn’t come equipped with the love of interior design or knowledge of musical theater traditionally gifted to standard-issue gay sitcom friends. “Even I think that’s gay, and I had sex with a guy last night,” he proclaims, which, all right, I guess. Meanwhile, Wilson’s Penny celebrates her birthday, where she not only lies about her age and religion to snag a man, but ends up punching her birthday cake while screaming, “I’m going to die alone in a light-up Christmas sweater talking to a menagerie of parrots!” We’ve all been there, girl, but maybe not right out of the gate? By the second episode, Penny and Max get to flesh out their relationship beyond the hag and the homosexual, and it is both sweet and humiliating. After Penny lashes out over Max being a disappointing gay best friend, he wrangles her a brunch-loving fashionista gay guy whose commands, such as “Slut! Come help me out of this split!” send her squealing. Soon Penny learns, however, that just because someone is fabulous and fun and can dance on a broken femur, there’s no guarantee that he’ll, you know, actually be a good friend.
My only fear about Max’s character trajectory is that, whether it’s a hook-up, boyfriend or other, he would realistically have have a special dude in his life, or at least obtain one in the next few episodes. I’m just hoping ABC doesn’t shy away from actually depicting his romantic storylines for fear of weirding out the straights. I don’t get the impression they will, but you never know.
Less time is devoted to married couple Brad and Jane (Eliza Coupe), other to explain that their baby plans are currently on hold following Jane’s emotional breakdown at Penny’s nightmare birthday party. The pair actually doesn’t spend much time together in the second episode at all, which is a nice change, seeing as how other shows might be inclined to have them be “the marrieds,” a singular unit who must operate in tandem at all times. You know who you are, Other Shows. That aspect of their relationship, along with many other elements of both episodes, was almost downright…realistic. A funnier, more attractive reality to be sure, but still better than most. While only time will tell, so far Happy Endings made me laugh out loud several times (“What happened to Lori Petty?” Dave wonders, smiling through his tears) and made me want to rip out my own eyeballs no times. When you see some of the shows out there, you know that is the highest compliment I can give.