When Happy Endings wrapped its first season last year (in a funny wedding episode with a nice helping of heart, much like this one), it was still proving itself. Sure, there’d been some great episodes, but a lot of shaky ones, too, especially ones from early in the season that ABC shuffled to the end of the run, making them all the more jarring. But here we are at the end of season two, and it’s obvious just how assured Happy Endings has become.
On the surface, this is a very busy episode, with almost every character wrapped up in some sub-plot all during a super-elaborate wedding. We’ve got a plot twist: Brad loses his job, the first really big paradigm shift any of the characters has gone through (I assume it’ll lead to some fun directions for him next season). There’s some romantic intrigue: hints of the theoretical love triangle between Dave, Penny and Alex that we first got an idea about in “The Shrink, The Dare, Her Date, And Her Brother.” There’s a guest appearance by Brian Austin Green, if that floats your boat.
But there’s also plenty of space for the weird digressions and rapid-fire joke-making we want from Happy Endings. Consistently, the most impressive thing about this show is how much it crams into 22 minutes, and this finale is a particularly good example. I don’t think I was aware that Derek had a boyfriend, let alone was getting married, but that may well have come up in a previous episode. Either way, who cares—once I figured out whose wedding it was, I just rolled with it. Makes sense that Derek would have an elaborate wedding, and sure, if his betrothed is having money problems, that works, too. Even when a lot of plot info is being thrown at you, it’s fine, because it’s all in service of some nice elaborate jokesmanship.
The most intriguing, and least surprising, thing about this episode was the ending—Dave and Alex holding hands, hinting at a possible romantic reunion. I wasn’t predicting the manner of their reunion, or even that the sexual tension would be between Dave and Alex necessarily. But the show has experimented this season with its long-term arcs, and the season finale is the perfect time to really get something going. I was worried we’d be subjected to really soapy stuff—a well How I Met Your Mother has gone to too frequently as of late. Thankfully, there wasn’t too much of that, and Alex and Dave’s reunion was subtly hinted at more than anything else.
I could have done without Penny mistakenly thinking that Dave and Alex had gotten together by walking in on them in the hotel room, a twist we’ve seen literally hundreds of times before. The general idea is sound: Penny realizes that the idea of her and Dave getting together is fundamentally flawed because Alex is still their friend. But the execution could have been less hackneyed. That’s pretty much my only complaint, though. If the show wants to toy with getting two of its single characters together, that’s fine by me—I’ll reserve judgment until we get into the irritating partner-swapping that started going on with Rachel in the final seasons of Friends.
One more comment on the idea of Penny and Dave—it could be a colossally bad idea to get those two together on the show. Not that I think it’ll happen soon, but because Dave remains Happy Endings worst-defined character and so much of Penny’s persona is defined by being single, it could just end up coming across as weird. On the other hand, maybe breaking Penny out of the single-lady storylines and giving Dave something to do other than make steak sandwiches and look like an idiot would be the right call. Since this is a show about people sitting around making jokes, I don’t know that it really matters what configuration they come in. Apart from Brad and Jane being married, almost anything else would probably work.
Man, I am not spending enough time discussing this episode, which I really did enjoy. Max was the only one operating with an entirely silly plot (wrestling with reuniting with his all-male Madonna cover band and worrying about his chubbiness), but that was still pretty much solid gold. Everyone else balanced craziness with something grounded. Brad loses his job (Larry Wilmore had been warning him for weeks, but he was too wrapped up in Wilmore being nice to him to notice), but has to overcompensate to throw Jane off the scent. Jane manages to take over the wedding after being excluded from the party, but has to deal with Brad’s news (mostly she’s being her usual type-A self, though).
Best of all, I thought, was Penny’s bittersweet situation, echoing last year’s finale “The Shershow Redemption” where she moped about being single at a wedding. The high point of that episode, and really of Happy Endings season one, was Max telling her not to worry about it. We don’t quite get that here—Brian Austin Green subs in to cheer Penny up as a Skype table buddy turned date. But I think this show knows it can’t have its cake and eat it when it comes to mocking Penny’s single life. Sure, her weird optimism about her constant stream of crazy boyfriends is an essential part of what makes her funny. But there’s got to be some movement, be it toward Dave or toward something else. I dunno if Brian Austin Green will work in the long term, but he’ll do for now, I suppose.
What really made the episode click was just that Happy Endings magic—lots of weird, elaborate jokes mixed into the dialogue, some fun spins on a classic sitcom setting (the madcap wedding), and a big closing setpiece (Max and Mandonna singing Like a Prayer) that makes sense, even though it’s totally ridiculous. Happy Endings is good at finding a new spin on the old joke. Penny being hit on by a creepy old guy at the wedding isn’t much, but when it’s happening over Skype, then it works.
I don’t know if I’m supposed to be worried about Happy Endings’ chances for a third-season pickup, but ABC would obviously be foolish to drop this show, which has developed into one of network TV’s strongest comedies. I’m just not going to worry about it and assume that everything will proceed as planned. As a series finale, I guess this wraps things up in a vaguely satisfying manner, but it’s obviously not intended as such, and there’s much more ground for the show to explore in future years. Here's to it!
(BTW: Apparently, there's going to be one more standalone episode that has nothing to do with anything airing sometime in the next month or so. ABC is so weird.)
- Max has a new website, www.thingsthataregay.biz. “I tried to get .gov, but it was taken.”
- Jane keeps sliding from under the couch to make outdated jokes, like “I haven’t seen anything that choreographed since Colin Powell’s UN testimony on WMDs. Am I right?”
- Best sight gag of the episode: the insane smile of Berger, who would definitely go on an office-wide killing spree.
- Alex thinks Wilder Valderamma is pronounced Wilver Valmerando. “So now my motto doesn’t make sense? I wanna buy a condo with Wilver Valmerando?”
- Mandonna was one of the great all-male Madonna cover bands. “Right up there with Madonald and Material Earl!”
- But Max says that part of his life is over. “Though I will always love Sean Penn, no matter how creepy and thin his mustache gets. It’s like a Hulked-out, roided-up John Waters.”
- Brad has always had his life planned out. “Bank $100 mil, then become the first black sheriff on Mars. Or Arizona. Whichever comes first.” “Come on, man. Mars.”
- Chris (Green) broke his legs ski-boxing. “It’s a sport invented by energy drinks.”