Review: 'Happy Endings' Worth Watching, Good Laughs

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ABC's Happy Endings is yet another in a growing list of recent premieres with titles that don't make a lot of sense to me (Don't get me started on FOX's Traffic Light, which at one point had the perfectly sensible working title Mixed Signals). A sort of next-gen Friends, Happy Endings kicks things up a notch by opening with the wedding of two of the six... friends. Alex (Elisha Cuthbert) and Dave (Zachary Knighton) are at the altar when Alex suddenly bolts, and that puts the entire group in a very sticky situation.

The remaining members of this particular social network - Alex's sister, Jane (Eliza Coupe) and husband Brad (Damon Wayans, Jr.), Max (Adam Pally) and Penny (Casey Wilson) - find out that life can get complicated when the people you spend all of your time with are struck by life-altering events.

Alex takes off on the Honeymoon, and the group, more or less, rallies behind Dave. She returns to apologize, explaining that she had been unhappy for a while, but didn't want Dave to get hurt. Now our band of thirty-somethings are going to find themselves deep in an awkward dance, with no one quite sure what they're supposed to do.

Of course, Alex and Dave come to an understanding rather quickly (else no show really), and everyone tries to figure out how to get things back to some semblance of normalcy, or at least evolve as a group in some way that pushes the tension out of focus.

As we progress (and there are back-to-back episodes on premiere night, this Wednesday April 13th at 9:30 and 10:00pm), Jane and Brad take a shot at making new friends, Penny tries to set Alex up on a blind date (in another episode she will take a spin at a blind date herself, and find herself up against a troubling last name), and Max will enlist the aid of the girls in the group in the further adventures of not coming out to his parents.

On the negative side, you have to wonder how many efforts along this general scheme people are going to give a fair shake. One more group of fairly normal, yet rather quirky, friends who spend a lot of time trying to make things work out the way they want, only to realize that we spend a lot of our day staring blankly at the world saying, "Really?... Really?"

On the positive side, it's one of the better attempts I've seen in a while. These are shows that come down to chemistry and writing, and we're on solid ground with this one. The quick recommendation answer is that there aren't many shows that have made me laugh more (not in the first few episodes), and there definitely aren't many shows that have managed to get me as interested in the characters.

This may be one that takes viewers a few episodes to invest in, and it's a good move that you get two at once, but I have a feeling this one has a serious chance of taking off. Usually, spring premieres are fighting an uphill battle, but the timing and placement of this one might just be perfect for it. That may sound surprising considering the recent demise of similar effort Perfect Couples, and the fact that the aforementioned and equally similar (in general genre) Traffic Light is out there serving as competition, but Happy Endings has a lot that separates it from those shows, and others.

It's more and less snarky, depending on your point of view, which puts it somewhere approaching Cougar Town for its sense of comedy. It's also a bit more committed to its theory than the other shows I mentioned, sticking with the characters it lays out, and aiming for what they would say in the situation, rather than what is the funniest thing to say.

That said, the characters are perhaps less "real" than you might imagine from what I've said already. They are less "character" than a Joey or Phoebe, but they are not completely removed from the hyperbolic world of Friends. This may, I think, be the key to this show, and why similar alternatives are not quite skyrocketing to the upper echelons of TV fame. The goal isn't actually to go as real as you can, and then make them funny. The goal is to make them people I want to hang out with, and hope their funny. After all, the decision I have to make really is, ultimately, whether I want to hang out with them or not, and I know enough real people I don't hang out with.

These kinds of shows are incredibly tricky to predict, but this one already deserves a spot in the fall lineup, and I really hope it gets it. The writing is wild and clever, and when this gets a chance to settle into life after the gimmick, I think we'll find that we've got something here. The actors are all displaying surprising ability, with the possible exception of Damon Wayans, Jr. and Casey Wilson. In the once case, because it may not be all that surprising, in the other, because she may be going just that one step too far, which could alienate some viewers.

You won't find yourself doing spit takes several times an episode, but to be honest, it's funnier than that. There are key elements, largely in the background attitude of the writing, from a dozen shows I could mention, all of them with their own particular genius.

The bottom line is that it's on the verge of rewatchable, and I find virtually nothing rewatchable.

Rating: ★★★★½ 

Check out several clips, and a lot more info below.

Forget who gets to keep the ring - when a couple splits, the real question is, who gets to keep the friends? Alex and Dave's wedding was supposed to be the happiest day of their lives, for them and their long-time friends... until Alex leaves groom-to-be Dave at the altar. The breakup, in the words of one pal, is a "huge game changer" that will complicate everyone's lives and make everyone question their own choices.

Until the unhappy event, perfect couple Alex and Dave were the glue that kept their social circle together: Alex's sister, Jane, a suburban housewife, and her buttoned-up husband, Brad, who are trying to start a family but who are so shocked by what happened they can't maintain their pre-pregnancy no-meat, no alcohol cleanse; Max, their gay friend; and Penny, who worries about never finding the right guy. After the wedding fiasco, the group rallies around good guy Dave.

Alex returns, alone, and tries to explain why she broke up with Dave. Bo, the guy Dave assumes she left him for, isn't the reason for her running away. She'd been questioning her feelings for Dave for some time (probably his "romantic" gift of $40 cash for Valentine's Day didn't help), but just couldn't bring herself to hurt him. Dave points out that this is the sort of thing you discuss before the wedding.

They strike a truce, but it's not going to be easy. Now that they've split, does this group have the stuff to stay together? Or do Max, Brad, Jane and Penny have to choose sides? Suddenly every event is a negotiation. There are a lot of big questions to be answered, but these friends will eventually figure it out. "Happy Endings" offers a fresh and funny take on modern friendship and what one urban family will do to stay together.

"Happy Endings" stars Eliza Coupe ("Scrubs") as Jane, Elisha Cuthbert ("24") as Alex, Zachary Knighton ("FlashForward") as Dave, Adam Pally as Max, Damon Wayans, Jr. ("The Underground") as Brad and Casey Wilson ("Saturday Night Live") as Penny.

The series is from executive producers Jamie Tarses ("My Boys"), Jonathan Groff ("How I Met Your Mother"), Anthony & Joe Russo ("Community," "Arrested Development") and co-executive producer David Caspe (the upcoming feature film "I Hate You Dad"). The pilot was written by David Caspe and directed by Anthony & Joe Russo, and is from Sony Pictures Television and ABC Studios.


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