In a TV landscape increasingly dotted with low-concept ensemble comedies that are trying to be all whip-smart and funny, it’s nice to have Happy Endings back to put ’em all in their place. This is how it’s done, folks. Does this episode feel fluffy and inconsequential? Definitely. Does it somehow, at the same time, move a lot of things forward for its ensemble? Amazingly, yes! At least for the three characters who have the potential for movement: Alex, Dave, and Penny.
Brad and Jane are always going to be excitedly married to each other. Sure, they can have one-episode fights, and maybe in the future the show will attempt something a little more serious for the couple, but anything much worse is just going to stretch credulity because we know they’re not breaking up anytime soon. In the third-season première, Brad is already at another job after getting laid off in the season-two finale, but he’s still pretending to take time off (through some elaborate Skype trick photography) because Jane likes him as a homebound hubby. So she finds out soon enough, after a few shenanigans, and apologies are made and he decides to take a real break and explore his ventriloquist act.
So sure, Brad is out of a job, but to repeat myself, we’ll never see a lot of change from him or Jane—and that’s fine. They’re hilarious as is, they work well when paired with any other character, and it’s funny to watch them apply their umber-achiever sensibility to something like being unemployed (I especially liked Brad’s fully clothed bubble bath). Also, as proof that Damon Wayans Jr. can make just about anything work, the idea of him wielding a silly comedy puppet shouldn’t really work for anyone who’s seen Arrested Development. But… that voice is perfect. And he’s called “Sinbad.” And he says things like, “That girl’s so whack, her first name should be Knick-Knack Paddy.” Against all odds, it works.
The other character who shows little potential for movement is Max, although the writers made more of an effort with him last season, briefly giving him a boyfriend played by James Walk and hinting at more arcs for him down the line. But he’s so resistant to change, and his curmudgeonly nature is so ingrained as a character trait, that it’ll be tough for the writers to really surprise me. Not that it’s been a problem yet. Max could get grating, or even worse, boring, after a while, but Happy Endings hasn’t been around nearly long enough for that to be an issue yet. His storyline this week is a little rote (he prolongs Penny’s time in a full-body cast to have more time with her hot physical therapist, Kent) but it has a couple of terrific notes. I loved that he casually drops in that he had sex with Kent during all his hijinks (something you wouldn’t expect on a network show just a few years ago) and that Penny forgives him because she did the exact same thing to him before. It might feel like a cop-out, but flipping the roles within this pairing would feel absolutely normal for this show.
So, back to the characters with potential for growth, and the burgeoning Penny/Dave/Alex triangle. Dave and Alex start the episode dating casually, pretending like neither cares if the other flirts with other people and inventing about a million different insane pet names for each other that are puns on the word “casual” (I’ll collect some in the stray observations). Now, not to grind an axe against How I Met Your Mother (which I love, although it’s now a shadow of its former self), but this is the kind of arc that would literally last half a season on that show. Here, it’s dispensed within one episode, and we end with the comic beat that Dave and Alex have, ridiculously, decided to move in together (which is also the end of HIMYM’s season-two classic “Stuff,” which is why I make the comparison).
Sounds good to me. Since the show started out with Alex and Dave breaking up, it never got to mine the comic potential of them in a relationship and all the silliness and dysfunction that would ensue. Since they are the least cool characters in the ensemble, I’d predict a lot of silliness, and probably a smattering of angst. Because as Penny (whose season two finale beau Brian Austin Green disappears after the first scene) reminds us, she’s carrying a bit of a torch for Dave too. As unappealing as Dave might seem at this point (he’s the subject of mockery in pretty much every episode), that makes a ton of sense to me.
Penny’s bipolar attitude toward singledom, veering from exuberant to miserable, is obviously terrific, and Casey Wilson has always done a good job putting a new spin on what could be a warmed-over character type. But it makes sense, especially as the years drag on, that she’d start to look around with fear and wonder about her close friends. So I’m interested to see where everything goes.
That’s a lot on the state of all these characters and not a ton on the episode itself, which is perfectly funny, has a ton of great lines, and assuaged any fears you might have that Happy Endings’ special, weird spark has died out. With the loss of its Modern Family lead-in cushion, I fear that the show will face the chopping block this season, particularly as its time-slot rivals on Fox are very similar in tone. So let’s all make an effort for Happy Endings this year, guys.
- Max snarks at Alex and Dave’s relationship—“That is the least interesting pairing since chicken piscotti and pinot grig… sorry. Been watching a lot of Frasier.”—but Alex says it’s all good. “We don’t want it to get complicated like It’s Complicated, so we’re just going to go with it like Just Go With It and be friends with benefits like No Strings Attached.”
- Among Dave and Alex’s pet names for each other: “Bro v. Wade,” “Bro-maine lettuce,” “Bro… lin. Comma James. Husband to Streisand comma Barbara,” “bro-vine growth hormone,” “Tango and Cash,” “Franklin and Cash” and “Rizzoli and Isles and Cash.” And Jane’s response: “Have fun talking like two of Scott Caan’s groomsmen.”
- Jane’s rant about the Heat winning in a strike-shortened season is phenomenal. “Also, Chris Bosh looks like one of Omar’s boyfriends from The Wire.”
- Penny rumbles Max for telling her doctor she was on vacation in Bolivia. “Lonely Planet calls it the house that Raul Julia built, and… I’m caught.”