“Big White Lies” S2 / E20
- B+ Community Grade
Ah, who doesn’t love a good farce? Much like last week’s solid outing, Happy Endings was on fine, but very silly form this week as Penny told a lie to avoid a slightly weird childhood friend (Mary Elizabeth Ellis, whom we all know best from It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia) and it turned into an elaborate production in which Alex is gay, Dave has a terminal disease, Jane is pregnant and Max… lost all of his money to Bernie Madoff. As we were repeatedly told, the whole thing played as an homage to light-hearted, low-stakes 80s sitcoms like Three’s Company that always had lots of people ducking behind couches or, well, pretending to be gay.
The stakes couldn’t be lower in this episode. Ellis’ character is slightly unnerving, but she’s hardly a monster—Penny just doesn’t want to come off as mean in declining her invitations to tea. Brad, Jane, and Alex all scoff at Penny’s cowardice but find themselves telling the same lies. Ellis’ character is so blissfully unaware of how annoying she is, I guess the idea of breaking that news to her is just too scary for the gang. Max is simply happy to get up to some hijinks, and Dave is the lone holdout, but can’t get his point across anyway (in classic shitty-sitcom style).
It’s a tightrope for any show to walk when the whole episode is one big meta-joke, but Happy Endings is definitely suited to that gag more than most shows. I did think there would be one example of a bait-and-switch: The lie about Jane being pregnant (which leads to a baby shower and Brad getting excited over tiny baby suits) felt like it might get resolved with some big twist where Jane is actually pregnant. There is a winking nod at that—Jane and Brad tell the gang that they’ve decided to… buy a lake house, which also figures prominently in the lies Penny tells everyone. “Guys, we’re gonna be weekenders!”
Other than that, it’s all a bunch of silly nonsense. But that’s not to disparage the episode! Max’s trash-can oven was a funny, more elaborate and dangerous version of Arrested Development’s cornballer. This was a strong episode for Max in general—his attempt to appear more stereotypically gay for the landlord (Ben Falcone, Melissa McCarthy’s husband) who suspects womanizing behavior got a big laugh out of me. Alex had her now-typical smattering of funny non sequiturs, like Daphne asking her if she feels bad for turning down the world’s greatest guy. “John Krasinski?” “Dave. I always had the biggest crush on him.” “John Krasinski?”
The real flaw was just that there were opportunities for slightly deeper storytelling that didn’t get developed. I thought it was smart to separate Dave out from the rest of the group, but he’s less of a factor in the episode than he perhaps should be. Daphne’s character isn’t quite well-drawn enough past her creepy intensity—Ellis is a funny actress and she definitely struck the right vibe, but she could have used more detail. Jane and Brad were backgrounded in general, and while they had some terrific lines in the background, I wish there could have been a smidgen more of their baby fight.
Still, I’m mostly nitpicking. This isn’t a Happy Endings that’s reinventing the wheel, and neither is it giving us anything substantial in terms of plot. But maybe we’ll get some of that next week, in the (sob) season two finale. One can only assume ABC will be smart enough to bring the show back next year. Either way, I’ll see you guys next week.
- “Just buy a lake house already so we can stop hearing about your big black dock!” Alex should have said African-American.
- Penny pretends their apartment is fixed from the fake water damage. “New floors, new paint, our vintage Italian Analyze That poster!”
- Max bakes brisket for 18 hours in his trash can. “I’m gonna call it a Triscuit.” “Triscuit is already a thing. I’m pretty sure the fumes from that will kill is in our sleep.” “In our sleep’s a pretty chill way to go.”
- “I am homosexual, super-gay.” “You’d better be. I don’t know why I care so much, but I do. I DO!”
- “Max, life is not like Three’s Company. Ah, there’s that pesky Daphne, hide!”
- Brad is very charmed by baby suits. “What does he have, a job? He’s not fooling anybody; he’s a baby!”
- Max sells his oven to a waiter. “The beauty of the thing is, it cooks the food while it burns the magazines.”