“Happy Endings” premiered as a late midseason replacement last year, and it struck enough of a chord with viewers to earn not only a second season, but a third as well. Though I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t get the title, this sitcom from David Caspe (“That’s My Boy”) strikes me as a show that’s angling to be something of a hybrid between the buddy-couple exploits of “Friends” and the edgier content of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.”
But while “Friends” was a comedy of character—with sharp lines so tied to each character’s personality that you had no trouble believing them—“Happy Endings” feels like actors mouthing lines that were written for them . . . or else trying just a little too hard to be zany.
Caspe is a Chicago native, but none of these people talk or act like the Chicagoans I grew up with, and there’s nothing in the way of details or “markers” that would situate the show in the Windy City. There’s a good reason for that. “Happy Endings” was shot entirely at Paramount Studios in Hollywood. Still, it would have been nice to hear at least one Chicago accent, or passing remarks about a Chicago sports team, or city hot spots like Rush Street, Wrigleyville, and Buddy Guy’s Legends.
Oh well. But since there are probably three or four laugh-out-loud moments in every episode, I can’t be too hard on this comedy.
The ensemble cast includes Eliza Coupe (“Scrubs”), who’s the Monica type from “Friends,” the anal perfectionist who has no problems with her ego. The Rachel counterpart in this show is Alex (Elisha Cuthbert, “24”), Jane’s slightly clueless blonde younger sister who threw this group into a tailspin when she (like Rachel) left someone at the altar. Only this someone happens to be Dave (Zachary Knighton, “FlashForward”), who’s one of the six “friends.” Dave is still smarting from the break-up, though he vehemently denies it, and lives on the couch of his best bud from college, Max (Adam Pally), who’s gay and proud of it. Rounding out the group is Damon Wayans, Jr. as Brad, Jane’s “whipped” husband who works for an investment firm and is best buds with Dave and Max, and Casey Wilson (“SNL”) as Penny, who reminds me a lot of Joanne Worley from “Laugh-In.” She’s the most over-the-top character, though there’s probably a three-way tie for second.
It may be too derivative and artificial for me, but that’s not the case with everyone. BuddyTV even named it one of the best new TV shows of 2011.
Twenty-one Season 2 episodes are featured on three single-sided discs, which are stacked on a single spindle (hate it) in a standard size keep-case, with the episode descriptions printed on the inside cover:
“Blax. Snake. Home.” While Dave and Alex throw themselves into hobbies that the other hated when they were a couple, Max worries that Brad isn’t making time for him anymore. Meanwhile, Penny struggles with the thought of growing old alone when she buys a condo.
“Baby Steps.” Against his better judgment, Dave hires a struggle Max to help with his food truck business, while Alex and Penny fall in with a clique of high school mean girls. Meanwhile, Jane feels her maternal instinct kick in.
“Yes and Witch.” When her mother Dana (Megan Mullally) comes for a visit, Penny worries that her positivity borders on delusion. Meanwhile, Jane and Brad help Max’s limo tour business with skills they picked up in couples’ improv class.
“Secrets and Limos.” Brad struggles with whether to tell his new boss about an awkward personal hygiene problem, while “the universe” aligns in Penny’s favor. And when Dave starts dating a new girl, he avoids introducing her to his judgmental friends.
“Spooky Endings.” When Penny and Max team up for a mother and baby Halloween costume, they have a difficult time flirting with other guests at a party. Meanwhile, Dave and Alex’s costumes provoke unexpected reactions, and Jane and Brad have a harrowing night house-sitting in the suburbs.
“Lying Around.” Brad and Jane secretly enjoy separate stay-cations, and Max convinces Dave to let him direct a commercial for his food truck. Meanwhile, Penny starts a low-key relationship only to become jealous of Alex’s elaborate dates. Brent Musburger and Fred Savage guest star.
“The Code War.” Max declares war when his old high school girlfriend Angie (Riki Lindhome) starts dating Dave. Meanwhile, Jealousy over Brad’s friendship with a flirtatious co-worker prompts Jane to look for a “work spouse” of her own.
“Full Court Dress.” Brad and Dave become entangled in a friendship with Brad’s crazy mailman Drew (Rob Riggle), while Alex struggles to design a dress for Jane. Meanwhile, Penny competes with Max for the affections of his niece and nephew.
“Grinches Be Crazy.” Jane and Brad’s holiday vacation may be put on hold when Jane gives their housekeeper an overly generous tip. And while Max is surprised by how much he enjoys playing Santa at Penny’s charity event, Dave redeems several years’ worth of Alex’s Christmas gift coupons.
“The Shrink, The Dare, Her Date, and Her Brother.” Penny starts dating Dave’s unprofessional therapist, while Jane and Max compete to see who is less vain. Meanwhile, Brad and Alex find a surprising common interest to bond over.
“Meet the Parrots.” Dave is shocked to learn that his father has started dating Penny’s thrice-divorced mother. Meanwhile, Alex convinces Brad and Max to help her stake out a Chinese restaurant she believes is the cover for a brothel.
“Making Changes!” Penny tries to change a guy to better suit her tastes, while Brad rebels against James’s influence on his life. Meanwhile, Max and Alex accuse Dave of being addicted to V-neck shirts.
“The St. Valentine’s Day Maxssacre.” As Penny tries to delay breaking up with her boyfriend until after Valentine’s Day, Dave worries that his girlfriend is pulling the same trick on him. Brad struggles to complete his Valentine’s Day plans with Jane after a dentist appointment leaves him high on laughing gas, while Max reconnects with an old boyfriend.
“Everybody Loves Grant.” The gang becomes obsessed with Max’s awesome new boyfriend Grant (James Wolk), while Dave struggles to prove that he’s still the group’s “cool guy.”
“The Butterfly Effect Effect.” As winter drags on, Max sinks further into hibernation and Penny and Dave resort to drastic measures to provoke Jane and Brad’s annual fight that signals the start of spring.
“Cocktails and Dreams.” After Dave turns his food truck into a popular mobile speakeasy, Brad, Jane and Penny all begin having sex dreams about him. Alex embraces an extreme diet and Max struggles with his feelings about settling down with Grant. Paul Scheer and Colin Hanks guest star.
“The Kerkovich Way.” After sleeping with Dave, Alex enlists Jane in an effort to convince him it never happened. Meanwhile, Penny pushes a depressed Max to compete in a scavenger hunt.
“Party of Six.” Is Penny’s birthday cursed? The gang is forced to deal with this possibility when they try to celebrate Penny’s “29th” birthday and instead face a variety of awkward exes and other potential dinner deal-breakers.
“You Snooze, You Bruise.” Dave stands up to a bully at the gym, while Brad realizes how much their Homeowner’s Association depends on his wife’s aggressive management style when Jane finally learns to relax.
“Big White Lies.” Things spiral out of control after Penny tells a white lie to avoid an irritating childhood friend; Dave and Max’s lonely and jealous landlord (Ben Falcone) falls for Alex.
“Four Weddings and a Funeral (Minus Three Weddings and One Funeral).” Everyone suits up for the social event of the year: Derrick and Eric’s wedding! Unfortunately, they must come to terms with last-minute wedding party dropouts, a Madonna cover band reunion, and even the sad privilege of sitting at the Skype table.
I’ll say this: the characters start to grow on you a little by season’s end, and the episodes seem to get slightly stronger as well. But overall, it’s still no “Friends” . . . whether they’re in Chicago or Hollywood. Total run-time is 450 minutes.
“Happy Endings” is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. The quality is what you’d expect from a standard def new TV release: decent edge delineation, strong colors, sufficient black levels.
The audio is an English Dolby Digital 5.1 that does the job—no distortion, but nothing to get excited about, either—with subtitles in English SDH.
The only bonus features are a handful of deleted scenes and outtakes.
This latest pack-o-friends sitcom has laugh-out-loud moments in almost every episode, but I never was able to shake the feeling that I was watching actors do their (or their writers’) thing.