It’s not fair to compare Happy Endings to Friends, because the influence of Friends can be sensed from most contemporary sitcoms—and a lot of the time it’s probably not even intentional. But everyone watched Friends and every studio exec remembers its success, so it’s not weird to feel it seeping into shows like this one, even though Happy Endings is way more structurally audacious and fast-paced.
Still, “More Like Stanksgiving” is a Thanksgiving episode, there’s all kinds of relationship drama between the core six friends as everyone sits down to watch their appearance on The Real World 10 years ago, where each character is in hideous, but hilarious, period clothing. The Real World: Sacramento is the kind of bizarre twist this show can put on the classic Friends trope of the “old prom tape” from that one episode where Ross and Rachel make out for the first time, or whatever (it’s been a while since I saw it). Apparently, Max (still in the closet) and Brad (wearing dreads and a righteous attitude) were on a season of The Real World that was abandoned after a crazy person burned the house down. The brief glimpses we see of this crazy person are some of the episode’s biggest laughs, and I wonder if they’ll ever follow up on her.
There’s the usual wink-wink about how ridiculous it is that this has never been mentioned before, but the show easily gets away with it because it’s never been too specific on how its characters met each other. So we get to see an awkward Max trying to avoid making out with the hysterical Penny (a bit of a played-out joke), Dave looking like “an extra from Singles,” Jane decked out in horrifying Gwen Stefani garb, etc.
And what would this long-lost tape be without some crucial revelations? It turns out Brad thought Jane was an annoying “Kerkobitch” the first time he met her, because he was a chill Real World contestant and Jane was her usual type-A self under the pink wig. Additionally, it turns out Jane was actually hunting for someone else (Jared, who had “a booty on his chin”) when she snuck into Brad’s bed one night. It’s all very cute and silly, with both parties pouting at each other in the present and then getting over it, which is about as dramatic as Brad and Jane’s relationship is allowed to get.
Max’s excitement to see his big moment of coming out (which he keeps falsely claiming would be some sort of milestone) is dashed by the bite of sandwich he took before delivering the news, which makes it sound like he says “I’m Greg.” The sandwich thing is very true to Max, but I felt they could have done more with the moment rather than turn it into a weird throwaway joke. Max’s present-day discomfort in front of Penny about his closeted life is more interesting, and maybe one day we’ll get another flashback centered around that bombshell dropping. Not that I don’t want this show to be broad and silly, but Adam Pally and Casey Wilson have such good friend-chemistry that they could make it work even if it’s slightly more serious stuff.
The real Friends material comes in Penny’s angst over possibly sabotaging Alex and Dave’s relationship, which is nicely defused by Max’s disinterested dismissals of her concerns. Penny’s “always been a bit of a saboteur,” she says, so maybe that’s why she’s planting doubts in Alex’s mind about Dave not moving his stuff into the apartment yet. Again, the show doesn’t let things get too serious—Alex and Dave seem to be okay by the end of it, and Penny apologizes and once again puts the issue aside (although probably not for good)—but I do like that the writers are trying this stuff out and keeping it from disrupting the show’s overall tone.
To keep things from getting too serious, Dave goes on a Native American misadventure where he gets screwed over by everybody and barters his way to a police station, sadly not learning the lesson that he should stop pretending it matters that he’s 1/16th Navajo. That was one of Dave’s best subplots from season two, and its reappearance in a Thanksgiving episode was timely. Really, anytime Dave is used well is a big win in my book.
Still, even though I laughed a lot and enjoyed the Real World stuff, this felt like a bit of a mixed bag, going for a lot of things and not quite hitting the mark with any of them. But I have to give the show props for continuing to branch out while retaining its up-tempo quality, rapid-fire style.
- “You don’t understand, you weren’t at the first Thanksgiving.” “Neither were the Navajo.” “One of our many snubs.”
- Alex bought clamps instead of clams for Thanksgiving. “Why would I want clamps on Thanksgiving?” “I don’t know! For clamping stuff!”
- Alex has an ergonomic work hammock. “That’s a sex swing.” “The guy at the yard sale clearly said it was for taking care of business.”
- Brad tries to assuage Jane’s fears about The Real World: “They really edit stuff to make you seem like a jerk when you really just love your wife.”
- Dave got robbed, but he needs to buy clams. “I’d call the cops, but apparently they won’t take you to get clams, because they aren’t a taxi service for idiots.”
- Dave’s attempts at bartering fall on deaf ears: “This is a… real store.”
- “It was 2002, it was such a crazy time. We were all still reeling from the events surrounding the film Vanilla Sky. I mean, what was reality?” “I’m so tired of people using the events of Vanilla Sky to defend everything!”