Happy Endings is a great Friends-like sitcom about six friends and their various romantic and comedic exploits. Dave (Zachary Knighton) is jilted at the alter by his beautiful fiancée Alex (Elisha Cuthbert). Their pals – Alex’s sister Jane (Eliza Coupe), her hubby Brad (Damon Wayans, Jr), Max (Adam Pally) and Penny (Casey Wilson) – try to figure out who to move on, keeping their group dynamic intact, despite the awkwardness of the breakup.
Viewers will watch Happy Endings and muse “huh, I feel like I’ve seen this before.” Sitcoms about groups of friends have been around since the beginning of television, and every show about a group of buds usually gets compared to Friends, the standard. The way the show makes itself distinct is with the expert writing and the game cast. The characters aren’t groundbreaking but they do manage to rise above cardboard sitcom tropes.
The story arc that unites the 13 episodes is how Alex and Dave manage to salvage their friendship despite her ridiculous way of ending their romantic relationship (which by the way is highly unbelievable). Dave has some understandable resentment and Alex has feelings of guilt, and the other characters are all trying in their own way to remain loyal to both of them. In the beginning, the clique is a bit rocky, but in lightening speed, Dave and Alex become close friends, despite their past.
And the cast is fantastic. As the group’s straight men Knighton and Cuthbert provide a solid base, and all the other actors are given lots of moments to shine – the show’s MVP though is Wilson who steals the show as the man-hungry Penny, who goes through life trying to find a man. Wilson, a Saturday Night Live vet, is consistently the best thing about the show, not only because she’s great with her witty lines, but because she’s a brilliant physical comedienne (when she plays drunk, she’s reminiscent of Lucille Ball).
Not all of the show is perfect: in the its zeal to defy stereotypes, the show has its sole gay character Max be slovenly, slightly overweight, and very much into sports. While that’s an admirable way of showing that the gay community is diverse, the joke becomes pretty tired and overused super-quick (look how funny – even though the dude’s gay, he’s chubby and wears dumpy clothes!). This has nothing to do with Pally, who does a great job, and shares credible chemistry with Wilson. Also, there’s a slightly offensive subtle message imparted that gay men who are masculine and guy-like are more like real men than their more effeminate counterparts.
Happy Endings is set in Chicago, and though the writers get some of the trivia correct: there are references to the Field Museum, Bucktown, Michigan Avenue, Lake Michigan, and there are various shoutouts for streets in Chicago. But as a native, I have to say, that the outside sets practically scream backlot – they look like those old outdoor sets from the MGM studios.
All in all, though – Happy Endings is a great show. It’s funny and clever with just the right amount of heart without being treacly.