Arts & Culture

Jews Watching TV: Happy Not Ending

Due to a string of end of the week high holidays, I haven’t written about television. I got to consume my sitcoms like most of my age group does at this point, without a consideration of schedule Read More

By / October 19, 2011
Jewcy loves trees! Please don't print!

Due to a string of end of the week high holidays, I haven’t written about television. I got to consume my sitcoms like most of my age group does at this point, without a consideration of schedule. The result was this weekend I had a stockpile of my stories to go through. The process of deciding the order I’d consume them was revelatory. First was Parks & Recreation because it’s my favorite and consistently the best. Second was Community because, despite some unevenness, it is the reigning second best. Third was…drumroll…Happy Endings. This surprised even me and I was the one making the decision. Out of nowhere, Happy Endings became my third most anticipated show and it has as much to do with its quality as it does where it’s at in its history.

When Happy Endings began it seemed like one of those disposal shows that premieres and vanishes without leaving a trace (Like Traffic Lights, do you remember Traffic Lights? Neither do I. Did it exist? I don’t think so.) At first glance it was exactly the type of show Tina Fey derided in Bossypants:

“For years the networks have tried to re-create the success of Friends by making pilot after pilot about beautiful twenty-somethings living together in New York. Beautiful twenty-somethings living in Los Angeles. Beautiful twenty-somethings investigating sexy child murders in Miami. This template never works, because executives refuse to realize that Friends was the exception, not the rule.”

The first few episodes of Happy Endings offered little rebuttal. They were bad, forgettable, boring. But then the strangest thing happened, it got good—very good, very quickly. This wasn’t uncommon per se, as it often takes awhile for new sitcoms to find its comedic voice, but it did feel particularly drastic. Happy Endings writer Gil Ozeri echoed this sentiment when I interviewed him this summer. He also pointed to the show’s “desire to do new stuff and not tread on the same old territory” while playing with new dynamics including an interracial couple. Though true, Happy Endings also unlike most of its ilk, seemed to turn into the skid and overtime write its characters to be more like the casts of Friends not less.

So lets walkthrough the cast and their Friends bona fides:

Jane: A type-A, OCD, perfectionist, she isn’t just “a Monica”, for all intents and purposes a blond Monica.

Brad: Married to the Monica and the one who outwardly tries to be funny, he is the Chandler.

Alex: At first she was supposed to be the female protagonist/straight-woman (Rachel), but slowly overtime has grown to be the Phoebe. With her head in the clouds she always oversteps her abilities. She does lack Phoebe’s zaniness.

Penny: She takes over the zaniness quotient; however, is much more routed in reality. Optimistic, yet ever unlucky in love, she is the show’s Rachel.

Dave: If being left at the altar was the primary requirement to being Ross, he is Ross. He is also the shows resident sad sack and straight man. He, however, doesn’t have the Jewiness that Ross brought.

Max: Max brings the Jew. Otherwise, he’s Joey. He is dumb, professionally inept, and the one most likely to be the butt of jokes. He does bring a sardonicism that would place him more in the Seinfeld version of Manhattan than Friends’*.

Happy Endings succeeds by using a comfortable base of agreeable archetypes and then adds on top of it a very contemporary brand of humor**.

This formula is far from perfected yet, which at times makes Happy Endings even more of a compelling watch. Each week the writer’s are calibrating the show’s funny, homing in on what it will eventually become. It’s an exciting time, feeling that at any moment the show will lock in and become required viewing. As it stands, with 30 Rock on hiatus, Modern Family already in its resting on its laurels phase, and Community trapped in tug of war between maintaining what’s made it brilliant and the desire to find a sustainable audience, there might be a Happy Endings sized whole in the second best comedy on Television slot. And isn’t that why we play this game of slogging through pilots and the short on laughs early episodes? This time next year who knows what show we will be talking about—Up All Night, that recently purchased Hannibal Burress/Jonah Hill Fox pilot, or maybe even Whitney (ok, probably not Whitney. But Maybe. It’s not likely).

The show is on tonight at 9:30—after Up All Night, after Suburbagory, after Modern Family. Watch it, you will like it.

*Max along with Penny are definitely the hardest to paint into their respective Friends roles, mostly because of the dynamism of the performers. Eliza Coupe and Damon Wayans Jr. are great in their roles, but Adam Pally and Casey Wilson are the two most likely to break out. Hopefully soon the writers will be able to give them arcs that sustain over episodes, allowing them to show a bit more of what they can do.

** This is a formula not unlike Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s subverted Seinfeld