A TV set-visit shell game:
It was back in November that I found myself on the set of a network comedy that had already shot seven episodes, but which wouldn’t air a single episode until April. While the series in question was shooting a scene on the New York City street of a Hollywood studio lot, which was dressed to vaguely resemble Chicago, its stars were being taken to chat with a small group of reporters on a stage decorated for a different TV series airing on a different network.
That’s a little background for how I came to be sitting on the Paramount-based set of NBC’s “Community” interviewing the stars of ABC’s “Happy Endings” about a series they’d been shooting in a vacuum for months without a premiere date or time period in sight.
The uncertainty was clearly making some of the show’s stars antsy, but for Eliza Coupe, filming piles of episodes without a guaranteed timetable was old hat.
“That’s kinda my M.O.,” Coupe said. “I was on an HBO show [“12 Miles of Bad Road”] that we shot six episodes and it was like, ‘This is gonna be the greatest thing.’ I was playing Lily Tomlin’s daughter. The whole thing was amazing and then it was like, ‘Yeah. We’re not gonna do that.’ And then ‘Scrubs.’ Ninth season. The U.K. really loves it.”
At the time, all of the stars of “Happy Endings” agreed that their show would be a perfect match with “Modern Family” on ABC’s Wednesday night, because who wouldn’t say that their show would be a perfect match with the highest rated comedy on their respective network?
And for one week — but only one week — the “Happy Endings” family will get their wish, as the comedy will premiere on Wednesday, April 13 with two episodes airing after a new installment of “Modern Family.” Starting the following week, “Happy Endings” will shift to a Wednesday 10:30 p.m. slot after “Cougar Town,” which may actually be a more compatible lead-in.
[For more on how the “Happy Endings” team described their new comedy, click through…]
One of the things that “Happy Endings” has in common with its future lead-in is a title that might cause the prurient-minded to think naughty thoughts.
“It’s an uphill battle and it’s one that I’ll battle one hand-job at a time,” cracked Casey Wilson. “No, I think once people get into the show, even if they come looking for that, they’ll stay.”
Somewhat problematic titles aside, “Happy Endings” and “Cougar Town” are both about the occasionally immature antics of a group of lovably co-dependent friends and both shows have also faced inevitable comparisons to another show about friends, namely NBC’s “Friends.” [I will now pause at least a half-dozen words before typing “friends” again.] With “Cougar Town,” the link was star and producer Courteney Cox, while “Happy Family,” like “Friends,” launches its pilot with a runaway bride (Elisha Cuthbert).
“I feel like our show is ‘Friends’ meets ‘Arrested Development,'” said Adam Pally. “It’s got the normal friendship vibe of ‘Friends,’ where it’s six people in their mid-20s going through life, but it has the quick, snappy jokes of ‘Arrested Development.'”
Added Coupe, “After the TV show ‘Friends’ there”s this whole insurgence of ‘Oh, everybody has to have to have their close-knit group of friends,’ and I think it is true. In that circle, if people get break up or people get together, it”s ‘Oh, how are *they* going to feel about it?’ and then you can go to the family, but that’s almost secondary.”
Of course, “Friends” began with Rachel ditching Barry at the altar, but only occasionally reminded us of what she had done. “Happy Endings” starts with Alex (Cuthbert) abandoning Dave (Zachary Knighton) on their wedding day, but then sticks with these two characters and their four buddies (Wilson, Pally, Coupe and Damon Wayans Jr.) as they deal with this socially awkward consequences.
“That we’re a group of friends that deals with an actual huge breakup sets the tone for a pretty unconventional relationship, especially between the two that broke up, that we all take sides…” Coupe said.
Pally noted, “Even the biggest tragedy, I feel like it has comedy in it. I feel like there’s nothing you can’t joke about. I feel like that’s how this show approaches stuff.
He continued, “If this was real life, we’d all have nervous breakdowns, because we would just use humor to deflect any real feelings. Which is what I do in my life. I’m two steps away from a major Charlie Sheen moment.”
[Note that this set visit took place when A Major Charlie Sheen Moment still had meaning, but not exactly what it means today.]
And, wouldn’t you know it, the stars of “Happy Endings” became buddies off-screen as well, or at least that’s what they were saying back in November. [HitFix failed to attempt to follow-up on this development.]
“When we all met before we shot the pilot, that was my biggest concern, because the show is based on the friendship and relationship between these six characters, but I made sure to get everyone together and we went out a couple times and we had dinner,” Cuthbert said. “I had a group night with just the girls. We made sure we did things to connect on a level outside of set and the read-throughs and the chaos of putting the pilot the together. That, I think helped.”
Cuthbert is the only member of the “Happy Endings” cast who doesn’t come from a comedy background or sport a sitcom or two on her resume, but after years of abductions and menacing cougars, she admitted it was time for a change of pace.
“I had spent a lot time doing one-hour drama, and I wanted something different,” Cuthbert said. “When you go into TV, there”s always that — whether it does well or not — there”s always that possibility that you could spend the next six years of your life doing this one project. So for me, if you”re going to go in with that expectation and hope for that, it’s got to be something you”re excited about and you want to come to work everyday to do. To me, at that time, comedy was it. I felt like I had done all I needed to do and did all the kidnapping I could possibly be a part of and I was ready to laugh.”
And what sets “Happy Endings” apart?
Wilson said the series is edgy.
“I don’t think it’s because it’s so gross or so hardcore,” she clarified. “I think it’s how people talk and it’s faster paced, but it’s still got heart, which is almost edgy now at this point, it’s come back around… I think the storylines are funny and they’re pushing as much as they can for being on a network show.”
And Wayans called it contemporary.
“Every episode is just funny and it’s original,” he said. “The show’s so real. It speaks to the generation that is now. It’s for real. I feel like this’ll help TV catch up, because a lot of time they’re either way ahead of their time or way behind, but this is right on that line.”
And Knighton insisted that “Happy Endings” isn’t like the season’s other couples-at-different-relationship-stages comedies.
“I don’t know what those shows are like, but I do know that this show is… it’s just funny,” he said. “I don’t really know how to explain it, but I watched the first couple episodes the other day and I was just laughing out loud. It’s great. It’s really good. I don’t know if you technically say there’s a difference. Who knows, really? But I think people are just going to love the show when they see it.”
Here’s a little bit about the characters, courtesy of the “Happy Endings” stars:
Pally plays Max. We’d call him “the gay guy,” but Pally said, “I feel like Max is not the typical Gay Guy. I think you’re not supposed to know that Max is gay. I think that Max is just like anybody else, but his sexual preferences is dudes… and maybe trannies. And I feel like that’s cool and honest and real. My friends that are gay, there’s no way that you would be able to pick them out of a lineup. Which I do, frequently. I make everybody stand up and and I say, ‘Which one is the gay?’ And I don’t know. I can’t tell. That’s kinda real.”
Cuthbert knows that Alex could be the villain, given what the character does to poor Dave in the pilot, but she promised,“I think we do spend at least three or four episodes finding a way to redeem my character and somewhat explain the confusion and why it all sort of happened. That was a big conversation between the creators, the writers and myself going, “Look, we’ve gotta find a way to explain where she’s coming from and we can’t just all of a sudden assume the audience will go, ‘Oh great. She’s back in the group.’ Dave and I have a lot of moments throughout the next few episodes where we try to figure out how that relationship is going to be and how we get there.”
Of Dave, Knighton said, “The thing I really love about him is that he’s the straight man, but he’s really funny… That would have been one of my worries about doing this. I didn’t want to be just the straight man, but this guy’s really funny and that’s been fun to play and do. The guy’s kinda lost. He’s trying to discover things about himself.”
Coupe’s Jane is a bit of a Type-A personality and she reminded the actress of her mother: “I’m an extremely neurotic human being, but my mum – yes, we say ‘mum’ in New Hampshire — she is very this character, so it’s nice to draw from that… She has no idea. She’s in New Hampshire just being herself, doing her thing.”
Jane is married to Brad, who Wayans described thusly, “Brad is one of those guys who’s always had a job. He’s really good at working. Climbing the ladder comes really easy to him. His problem is dealing with his crazy friends. He’s the most grounded out of everyone and it’s just him trying to figure out why he’s friends with everyone who’s crazy.”
And lastly, what does Wilson have to say about Penny? “I really loved the idea of a female character who’s looking for love, but it’s positive and it’s not super-desperate or just like too much or too harsh. I think a lot of times male writers will write a female character where you’re like, ‘I don’t recognize that at all in me and my friends.’ But I think she loves love and puts herself out there a bit too much, which I do too. She won’t accept ‘No’ sometimes and she has questionable judgement, but I think she’s a good person and she just wants to find love.”
“Happy Endings” premieres on Wednesday, April 13 at 9:30 p.m. on ABC.