Review: A second opinion on ABC’s ‘Happy Endings’

Senior Television Writer
05.12.11 65 Comments


You may remember that I wasn’t a fan of ABC’s “Happy Endings” when it debuted last month, dismissing it as not only the last, but least, of this season’s trend of sitcoms about young friends and/or relatives at different relationship stages.

Then a funny thing happened: I kept watching the show, at first just as something to have on in the background while doing other things, but then because I realized I was starting to actually, somehow, enjoy it. I have a few thoughts on why coming up just as soon as I pay you in poems…

I write a lot about the concept of sitcoms(*) that don’t have to be spectacularly funny every week if I’ve grown to like the characters; at a certain point, it can just be fun to plop down on the couch at the end of a long day and hang out with them. “Cougar Town” has become a fine example of this phenomenon, where even episodes without a lot of laughs still feel worth it because I enjoy spending a half-hour a week with the Cul-De-Sac Crew. I don’t have to like my sitcom characters to enjoy the show, of course. “Arrested Development” (which, like “Happy Endings,” made good use of directors Joe and Anthony Russo) was disdainful of all of its characters at every turn – even someone like Michael Bluth, who on another sitcom would have been the empathetic one, was quickly revealed to be just as petty as the rest of the family, just in a different, more passive-aggressive way.

(*) The idea can apply to dramas, too. “Treme,” for instance, only occasionally features significant plot movement or big emotional moments, but the characters and world are so well-drawn I just like visiting each week.

“Happy Endings,” though, aspires to be a hang-out kind of show, even if I don’t think it succeeds. Nine episodes in, I still find most of the characters hovering somewhere between obnoxious and more benignly annoying, though I from time to time feel sympathy for Casey Wilson’s Penny. (I also like Eliza Coupe’s Jane, but in the way I like every Eliza Coupe character, which is to say that I am scared of her but realize I am supposed to be.)

But even though I don’t like these characters, nor buy those climactic moments when they all put aside their usual bickering to be there for each other, I do find the show funny. Not “‘Arrested Development’ funny,” but definitely “solid companion to ‘Modern Family’ and ‘Cougar Town’ funny.” I think Adam Pally’s Max is kind of a smug d-bag (as opposed to a lovable d-bag like Barney Stinson), but I’m amused by some of the ideas he comes up with, and the absolute confidence with which he presents them. For example, this scene from last week in which Max teaches Penny how to behave around her new hipster boyfriend:

I watch a scene like that and I find myself liking Pally, if not Max, and I think most of the stories involving Max, Penny, Jane and Damon Wayans Jr’s Brad have been funny more often than not. Zachary Knighton’s Dave and Elisha Cuthbert’s Alex have been more problematic – Alex in particular I tend to forget exists unless a scene is specifically about her – but used in combination with the others, the show has started to work surprisingly well for me.

In a way, last night’s two episodes suggest it has more in common with my hang-out theory than I’d want to believe. The two respective Max dating stories were pretty funny, and I enjoyed Rob Huebel as Dave’s favorite teacher, but overall, the hour was fairly light on laugh-out-loud moments, and yet I found it a fairly pleasant experience to watch. Maybe I don’t love any of the regular characters, but I’ve gotten used to them. And after a certain point with a TV show, the difference between the two feelings isn’t that great.

And contrary to my prediction in that original review that, based on the struggles of “Perfect Couples,” “Traffic Light,” etc., “Happy Endings” was a dead show walking, most of the pre-upfront rumors I’ve read suggest that it actually has the best chance of ABC’s three bubble sitcoms (“Better With You” and “Mr. Sunshine” are the others) to be on next year’s schedule.

What does everybody else think? At the time the show debuted, many of you were more positive about it than I was; do you still feel that way? And has it grown on anyone else the way it has on me?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at

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