Tuesdays are the most crowded night for TV sitcoms this fall, with two of the three major networks airing comedy blocks in the 9pm hour. Things kicked into high gear last night, with the return of ABC’s critically-acclaimed duo, Happy Endings and Don’t Trust the B—-, after several months away. Each Tuesday, the ABC shows will be facing off in the ratings against NBC’s Go On and The New Normal, and Fox’s New Girl and The Mindy Project (which was pre-empted last night), but hopefully, there’s enough room in America’s Nielsen families’ hearts for all of these pretty-solid sitcoms. So, let’s dive into last night’s comedies with recaps of Happy Endings, New Girl, and Ben and Kate.
Ben and Kate: “Emergency Kit”
Bradford: Ben and Kate hasn’t leaned too heavily on guest stars yet, but this week’s new episode makes good use of Rob Corddry , even though he doesn’t get a ton of screentime. Corddry plays the owner of the bar Kate and BJ work at, and his character’s just the kind of morally-deprived sociopath that Corddry excels at playing. Since the show has a relatively-small cast when compared to most other sitcoms, it’s nice to have a strong guest star throw a little extra spice into the mix this week, and hopefully, Rob Corddry will be back for more. Given the way his character’s introduced (as the owner of the bar who rarely shows up), it sets him up for a recurring role in the future.
Ben testing a Japanese knife’s ability to cut through a VCR and injuring his niece in the process is the catalyst to the gang freaking out over emergency preparedness. Kate’s worries over Maddie’s safety are completely justified, but it prompts Ben to run an elaborate zombie-style emergency drill that brings out the siblings’ competitive nature. We’ve seen the two have a childish contest before, but this one feels different thanks to the horror movie vibe, fixed location, and the presence of Ben’s creepy romantic interest Louise. A subplot involving BJ and her sleazebag boss Buddy (Rob Corddry) is big on laughs and weaves into the main plotline gracefully.
Happy Endings: “Cazsh Dummy Spillionaires”
Bradford: After a brutal seven-month break between seasons, Happy Endings is finally back, and the show has really hit the ground running this year. The season three premiere is full of amazing moments like Brad’s workmates quoting classic comedies (“Vince Vaughn!”), Max Misery-ing Penny, Alex’s rom-com-filled description of her relationship with Dave (“The last thing we wanted was for things to get complicated, like in It’s Complicated, so we decided to just go with it, like in Just Go With It, and become friends with benefits, like in No Strings Attached.“), and of course, the debut of Brad’s puppet Sinbrad, who closes out a particularly funny episode with a performance of “Ebony and Ebony.” This is a sitcom in its prime, firing on all cylinders, and if you’re not watching, you’re missing out.
“Cazsh Dummy Spillionaires” divvies the cast up into their most frequent pairings (Max and Penny, Brad and Jane, Dave and Alex), and all three storylines are full of fun stuff for the characters, all while moving them into territory we haven’t seen them in before. Max is taking care of Penny after she suffers a nasty fall down a flight of stairs, but he ends up keeping her away from her doctor so he can spend more time with her hunky physical therapist Kent (Matthew Del Negro). Dave and Alex pursue a casual relationship before deciding they want exactly the opposite of that and move in together, while Brad tries to hide his new job from Jane, who really enjoys having a stay-at-home husband. If the rest of Happy Endings third season is as strong as the premiere, we are in for a goddamned wild ride.
New Girl: “Models”
Samantha: This week, the airing of insecurities – Jess’s social anxiety around Cece’s scary model friends, and Nick’s discomfort with the depth of his friend-feelings for Schmidt – leads to some sincerely moving moments for the New Girl gang. It all starts (and ends) with what sounds like the best party ever: It’s Cece’s birthday, and Jess is ready to “eat cake, watch Clueless on VHS, and try to make prom dresses out of towels.” (Un)surprisingly, Cece would rather hang at a club with her intense, intimidating Russian model pals, and while Jess would rather do pretty much anything else, she sucks it up and breaks out her best “promising ballerina turned streetwalker” look (complete with shoe polish eyeliner), because YOLO. The gathering ends up being a disaster – the models circle Jess chanting “dance monkey, dance!” as she re-enacts a Russian cracker ad, and teach her how to drink vodka with her butt – and when she reaches a breaking point, she unloads a judgmental tirade on Cece. Meanwhile, back at the apartment, Schmidt has brought Nick a cookie, a thoughtful gesture that ignites a hurt-feelings-off between the two friends: When Nick doesn’t react with appropriate glee (he’s preoccupied with thoughts of the turtle pal he’s planning on adopting), Schmidt tearfully accuses him of taking their relationship for granted. After an amazing flashback to their college years (Nick’s moustache, you guys), a wake-up call from Winston (“That wasn’t a cookie, dammit, that was a piece of his heart”), and the revelation that Schmidt is the gang’s very own house gnome (offering his roomies nightly turndown service), Nick lashes out – mirroring last season’s “White Fang-ing” – and admits he doesn’t think he deserves Schmidt’s enthusiastic affection.
Feeling guilty, he asks Jess if she thinks he’s a bad friend; in a scene that reminds us why Nick and Jess’s friendship drives the show, the two end up realizing they need to make amends. For Jess, this means coming to a comically hungover Cece’s rescue by taking on a modeling gig, channeling her alter ego “Giggle Bangs Rice Bowl” and stumbling around a spinning car on sky-high heels (to Hall and Oates, natch). For Nick, this means having the heart-to-heart he’d rather not have with Schmidt. Despite a rocky start (“You love me too much, Schmidt, and you picked the wrong guy… I’m just gonna let you down”), he ends up admitting his love, in his own way (“You’re the turtle, man”). Ultimately, the episode’s more physical moments shine through its sort of forced drama, from the Buster Keaton-inspired bit with the car, to Jess and Cece’s boob-slapping fight (you know, girl stuff).
Bradford Evans is Splitsider’s Associate Editor.
Samantha Pitchel writes about and watches comedy in Austin and Los Angeles.