Ah, there we go. After two middling episodes that had me wondering if the bloom was coming off the Happy Endings rose, here was a much more satisfying hour with some big plot movement and an episode centered around a classic sitcom formula (game night) that still managed to do a bunch of original things with it. Perhaps predictably, we also saw the end of the Penny/Pete romance—unsurprising as Nick Zano had not gotten much character development, but handled nicely and with the right amount of melancholy (not too much) for a show like this.
I’m going to focus more on the first episode, “She Got Game Night,” because it’s riotously funny and it’s also way more dramatically compelling. A brief cameo from Mary Elizabeth Ellis as the dreadful Daphne sets everything in motion—her seemingly cheerful assessment of Penny and Pete’s whirlwind romance is enough to plant a seed of doubt in Penny’s mind, which leads to an ultra-competitive night of couples gaming between Jane and Brad, Penny and Pete and (delightfully) Max and Scotty, who happily admits to stalking Max, giving the platonic pair a surprising underdog advantage.
Happy Endings always does best when it’s allowed to be silly for 15 minutes and slightly more serious for five. So we get 15 minutes of awesome nonsense, like Jane’s alpha-dog approach to the wedding game, Scotty’s horrible impression of Condoleezza Rice, and some surprisingly good material for Pete for the first time ever (his favorite food is Pork Pork, or two pork chops). Eliza Coupe and Damon Wayans Jr. have such good chemistry as Jane and Brad, they’re even great together when they’re sucking at being a couple. The biggest laugh of the episode is probably Jane’s elaborate description of Brad’s favorite meal, which he happily nods along to before revealing “I put soup.”
Then of course, the whole thing turns on a dime when Penny tells Jane she doesn’t want to marry Pete, for all the reasons we could guess: It’s too soon, he’s a nice guy but she doesn’t love him, she doesn’t feel it in her gut, etc. This is an unsurprising decision, which is too bad but probably right for Happy Endings—something truly dramatic and sad wouldn’t fit with the tone of the show. Penny is definitely sad, but it’s also totally the right call and it spares us an awful wedding episode where everything spirals out of control. Happy Endings knows it can never do an episode like that again because it played on that trope in its pilot.
So Penny breaks up with Pete in spite of the two of them knowing a tremendous amount about each other, and she gets exactly the right kind of support from her friends. Max is his usual pain-in-the ass self throughout the episode, but his moment of compassion doesn’t feel forced, since he’s just telling Penny the truth—she made the adult decision and she should just be happy about that.
Meanwhile, Dave and Alex hunt around for a psychic to tell Dave how to live his life, the first Dave/Alex story I enjoyed in quite a while. When the two silliest, least level-headed characters are put together one of them has to be a little less stupid, and when that’s Dave I often find myself bored, since Zach Knighton is no fun as a voice of reason. Elisha Cuthbert does a better job balancing Alex’s typical kookiness with a dash of reality and I liked that even she could barely stand being with the tarot card reader.
“The Storm Before The Calm” is a lot less interesting, mostly because it’s constructed around a fake musical written by Penny in the aftermath of the breakup. It’s always hard to stage an intentionally bad play and what we see just isn’t bad enough—the best gag is that the surrogate for Pete is called “Clete,” but everything else is just boring.
But I was intrigued by the message behind Penny’s play: She’s worried that she’s a monster because she dumped Pete out of nowhere. So often the story with Penny is that she screwed up in some weird way, or scared a man off, or didn’t realize she was dating a jerk. This time, her insecurity is focused inward and feels very realistic, so I’m almost disappointed the show didn’t get to flesh that out in a more interesting way.
Still plenty of decent antics in this one. Alex and Max get sucked into a “tastemaker” scam that means they wear hipster frames that Max obsessively “cleans” with spray-on conditioner. Dave and Brad get into the world of the theatre and Dave starts talking into a Dictaphone to record his genius criticisms like “Brigadoon? More like Brigadon’t.”
I just wish the final setpiece felt more worth it. The return of Derrick is a bit of a let-down, and the decision to make the play a musical (which hadn’t been mentioned before we saw it performed) feels like a cop-out, because singing and dancing are usually gonna seem cheesy and lame. But Penny’s epiphany about herself is enough to carry this one home.
“She Got Game Night:” A
“The Storm Before The Calm:” B
- Max throws the unbreakable piñata on the street to finally destroy it. Included are some wonderful off-brand candies including Two Musketeers and Reeste’s Peanut Butter Clorps (Scotty’s favorite).
- “I think there’s glass in my Senior Mints. And my Sophomore Mints.”
- Dave tells everyone about his psychic. “Dave, for a leading-man type, you are taken with some outlandish behavior,” Penny muses. But his psychic moved to Arizona and can’t help him over the phone. “She has to read my energy in person, don’t you know how science works?” “Hey. You know I don’t.”
- Alex can’t stand the tarot reader. “We’ll leave when we’re good and ready. Which is right now, because I’ve been ready to go for quite some time.”
- Brad initially blames Pete for the breakup. “Did he cheat? On you? On a test? On his diet? Of course not, look at him, he’s a knockout.”
- Max remembers walking in on Penny’s post-breakup cocooning. “I haven’t eaten pancakes since.” “You’re eating pancakes now.” “I haven’t eaten waffles since.” “You’re eating those too.” “I gotta get my life together.” “You’re a mess!”
- “If you can’t make superchicken, it’s cool.”
- “You have the hair of a Greek shipping magnate’s worthless son.”
- Brad has dabbled in theatre before. “I haven’t really kept up with my acting, apart from memorizing all of Taye Digg’s monologues from Private Practice, but that’s just to stay sharp.”