Saturday, May 25, 2013

I Return! (It Won’t Be) Happy Endings Season 3!

The Good: Very funny, Fine acting, Good guest performances
The Bad: Some uncharacteristic character moments that undermine the characters in favor of gags.
The Basics: With hilarious scenarios, Happy Endings presents a third season that was obviously not intended to end as abruptly as it did.

I’ve been gone for a few days (it turns out that trying to illustrate an 80-page children’s book five days before it is supposed to be given as a gift is NOT, in fact, a good idea) and as I wait with predictably baited breath for the new episodes of Arrested Development, I thought I would pop back to review something I still care about, but had not quite gotten around to reviewing. It was Happy Endings. With the third season now complete, fans are in mourning as its cancellation has been widely reported. It goes to show people like me that you can’t predict this sort of thing well – my title to Happy Endings Season Two (here!) implied that it should be a long-running series. Of course, the writing was on the wall for Happy Endings when the network went head-to-head with the unfortunately similar (but not nearly as good) New Girl (season 1 is reviewed here!) and then Happy Endings retreated (or was retired to) to Friday nights where all shows but The X-Files go to die.

The thing is, Happy Endings Season Three was good. It was consistently funny television and at least as enjoyable as the prior two seasons – and given that Megan Mullay returns, that’s saying a lot from me! – but it had a hard time getting seen by its loyal audience and its ratings slipped enough so that ABC (who is getting about as bad as FOX for canning beloved television shows before their time) gave it the ax. C’est la vie.

In its third season, Happy Endings follows the same six characters as the prior two seasons, much like Friends except that Happy Endings was quite a bit funnier and (oddly) far less popular. Set in Chicago, Happy Endings continues to follow Dave, his ex-fiance Alex, her sister Jane, Jane’s husband Brad, and their friends Penny and Max. The sextet hangs out, gets into ridiculous situations and struggles with their relationships. Season Three finds Dave and Alex dating again and they decide to take the plunge and get an apartment together. Penny suffers a series of (literal) falls and ends up in a full body cast and later has a concussion which requires her to wear a helmet and Max plays nursemaid to her.

In this season, Mr. and Mrs. Kerkovich show up and their appearances begin to explain how Jane ended up as neurotic as she did. While many of the episodes have threads that carry in a serialized fashion, especially Penny’s relationship with Pete this season, each episode has a more episodic feel, with conflicts coming up like Alex has to use all her Groupons or Jane and Brad discover they don’t know each other as well as they thought when they play game night together. And at the climax of the season (and, as it turns out, the series) a new Kerkovich sister is introduced!

Happy Endings is funny because the characters say the most outrageous and consistently funny things for a live-action comedy without ever stepping over the boundaries of good taste (unlike something like Family Guy which went from edgy and funny to “predict at what time in the episode the incest joke will come up”). The characters of Max and Alex rule season three for the hilarity of the lines they deliver and in season three the characters are much more firmly established than ever before. Max is so wrapped up in his own stuff that it often seems like he does not even think about what he is saying and Alex, by this point, is characterized as the group idiot, so she delivers some of the most straightfaced ridiculous lines. This allows the show to make some hilarious commentaries on society, like the when Alex tries to get smart, the show she has to stop watching on television is Baby Justice about a four year-old sheriff, which lampoons just how stupid most of the programming on television has become.

Penny has her longest relationship of the series in Season Three as Pete makes it through a six-episode arc and has her headed to the altar. Max dates around, like always, and Brad and Jane stay together while Dave and Alex work on their relationship through most of the season. For those unfamiliar with the show, the main characters of Happy Endings in season three are:

Dave Rose – The owner of a steak truck, he is working on his relationship with Alex. His father is now dating Penny’s mother and this season, he is more of a supporting character than in the prior seasons,

Alex – She gets tired of being mocked, so she works on getting smarter. As well, she moves in with Dave and works on not letting him take her for granted. Her clothing store gets a celebrity shopper and she tries to get everyone in the gang to play kickball,

Penny Hartz – Gets into more physical danger than in prior seasons when she repeatedly falls (in nonconsecutive episodes!) and ends up in a full-body cast and concussed. She dates Pete with whom she has excellent chemistry and yet might be jumping into marriage too quickly with. She plugs Alex’s store . . . and Jane’s new boss,

Max – Slouches through relationships and employment. He tries to earn a fast buck by competing in the Mr. Super Gay Chicago contest . . . with hilarious results. He is set up by all his friends at various points in the season and plays pranks on everyone. In one of the funniest turns of events, Max uncharacteristically goes back in the closet to date a woman who has amazing seats at the Bulls games. He also becomes an M.C. for bar mitzvahs,

Brad – Initially unemployed, he goes looking for work. That quest takes him to a children’s amusement restaurant and then back to an accounting position where he can shine. He and Jane remain very much in love, though they discover they do not know everything about each other that they thought they did,

And Jane – She finds her true calling working for the Car Czar. After helping Penny look for a car, she discovers she has a knack for selling cars and goes to work for the sleaziest car dealer ever. Her backstory is fleshed out with a surprising past (pre-Brad) relationship and she is tasked with organizing her sister’s wedding and executing it flawlessly.

In the third season of Happy Endings, the entire cast is spot-on. In this season, they all know their characters and their comic timing is amazing. Casey Wilson does some incredible physical comedy as Penny and Adam Pally proves he is one of the funniest actors of our time by not breaking when he, as Max, has to deliver some of the most absurd lines yet. Zachary Knighton and Elisha Cuthbert are able to illustrate some good on-screen chemistry as Dave and Alex actually have a romantic relationship we finally see. Cuthbert rules the season for performance, though, as she plays Alex as more of a hapless idiot than she did in prior seasons and she is entirely convincing in the evolution of the character.

Season three of Happy Endings is only twenty-three episodes and the moment it drops on DVD, it is a “must buy;” after all, it didn’t get anywhere near the requisite 100 episodes for syndication and, if Arrested Development is any indication, it is only through aggressive DVD sales that fans might ever get new episodes . . . even if it takes seven years for them to arrive!

For other third seasons of ensemble comedies, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Frasier - Season 3
It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia - The Complete Third Season
30 Rock - Season 3


For other television reviews, please check out my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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