Pity the rich, white, straight, able-bodied, married dad. His house is so luxe; his wife, so capable. His child or children — demanding, and yet rewarding. But he is sad! Maybe clinically so, and maybe because he is creatively and spiritually bankrupt, thanks to his complete and lifelong cooperation in greed-and-consumerism-oriented capitalism, which only now, in his 40s or 50s, is he noticing could be anything other than a noble pursuit. What if, like, there is more to life? And hey, what about penises? Don’t forget them. When is a good time to touch one’s own penis? When is a good time for other people — lady people? — to touch said penis? What if, at work, other people have penises? Whose penis is the best penis?
Whose, indeed. Congratulations to Happyish on being far and away the most phallocentric show I’ve ever seen. “Cocks,” this, “cocks,” that; the first episode ends with a thought exercise in which Samuel Beckett’s “gotta suck some cock.” (Is Happyish trying to degrade straight women and gay dudes by constantly — and I mean constantly — using “cock-sucking” to mean submissive suffering? You decide!) I have no problem with cock talk, but I need all those cocks to say something eventually. And on Happyish, they just don’t.
Steve Coogan stars as Thom Payne (GET IT), an advertising dude with clinical depression. The role was initially played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, and was recast after his death. It’s a weird pallor to cast over a show, the idea that this other person was supposed to be the lead, and he would have been had he not died. But Happyish’s failures are not Coogan’s fault; he’s fine, appealing, even, though the performance is a little superficial. Could Philip Seymour Hoffman have made a dream sequence in which his character has sex with the grandma Keebler elf (she in cartoon form, he as his live-action, regular self, Roger Rabbit style) seem more relevant, interesting, funny, or real? Who can know.
Happyish thinks it’s daring because of its frequent invectives against God, or its sneering at social media, or its willingness to make really off-color jokes. (“I’d fuck Dora,” one character proudly proclaims.) But I don’t know what the show is rebelling against: Thom so hates the mores of society that he leads what is easily the most white-bread life in the world. It’s pretty easy to curse God when your dishwasher is nicer than most people’s houses. He rolls his eyes at all the dummies who worship Steve Jobs, but his son — who’s 5, maybe? — has an iPad. I get that Thom is kind of a hypocrite, and that’s perhaps why he feels lousy so much of the time. I just don’t think I care.
There are a lot of SMRWD — sad married rich white dudes — asking me to care right now. I tried to care about FX’s Married, with Nat Faxon as the SMRWD, and I sort of did: I liked his various friend characters much more than I liked him, though eventually, the constant whining about not having sex started seeming really selfish and immature. Satisfaction has a hunkier SMRWD, but I just couldn’t get attached to any of the characters. The Amazon pilot Really has Jay Chandrasekhar instead of another white guy, but everything else is the same: He still needs so many blow jobs, but he gets so few blow jobs. There’s Mark Duplass’s character on Togetherness, who is maybe the saddest of the bunch. There’s a haplessness to these guys, a weird conviction that they are somehow the victims of something. I know everyone is carrying a heavy burden, and even rich folks get the blues, but that unto itself is not a story.
Maybe Happyish is supposed to distinguish itself because Thom is happily married. Well, he and his wife, Lee (Kathryn Hahn, underserved as usual), are happy to be married to each other, but neither seems all that thrilled with anyone or anything else, other than their son, Jules (Sawyer Shipman). Their sex life is on the back burner thanks to Thom’s Prozac, but both Thom and Lee are chronically one minor inconvenience away from complete meltdown. When Jules gets an ordinary stomach virus, Thom goes into complete anxiety mode imagining all the ways his son could die, while Lee claims most children’s medicine is just sugar anyway, and it’s worthless. They argue about the virtues of Robitussin — even though that’s a cough medicine, and their son doesn’t have a cough. I don’t know how to perceive their relationship as a happy one, even though the show insists that it is. They refer to the “bubble” of happiness in which their nuclear family exists, but I felt like I was looking at pictures of someone’s ugly baby while they raved about how beautiful it was.
None of the show’s emotions feel real at all, which is why I found myself nitpicking other aspects of the show. Thom commutes from Woodstock to Manhattan every day? No wonder he’s so miserable: That’s over three hours of commuting each day. If you hate advertising so much, why don’t you do something else? (Also, what did you think advertising was going to be like?) If all your friends are such donkeys, why don’t you go to a Meetup or something? What’s the actual problem here?
I don’t know what the problem is for any of these guys, other than a grotesque sense of entitlement. No one is entitled to feel good about every decision he or she makes. Sometimes we make bad decisions, and sometimes our hand is forced, and sometimes we’re just grouch piles or whatever, but the act of being less than perfectly happy is part of normal human life. It’s not unusual. Clinical depression is a disease that affects many people. Plenty of us know who Albert Camus is, and find some aspects of contemporary religiosity to be confusing at best and ridiculous at worst. Thom is not special. Neither is Happyish.