Oh man. I am almost regretting handing out that A last week because as much as I enjoyed the vision board episode, it wasn’t as raucously funny as “Spooky Endings,” the show’s first Halloween episode (I think?). It’s a fine example of Happy Endings taking some of the oldest sitcom plots in the books, like Alex and Dave’s costumes getting mistaken for something else, or Brad and Jane’s suburban dilemma, and finding the jokes and the angles to keep them funny. Which is really what is good about the show in general. ABC actually put this one up two days early for people to watch, a move that made total sense because I can’t wait to see the episode again (I write this in advance of its Wednesday airing).
When I write out this week’s plots, they seem kinda lame and hackneyed. Penny and Max, in a costume that conjoins them, fight at a Halloween party over which one of them gets to flirt with somebody. Dave and Alex, freed from couples costuming, get in trouble with their first solo efforts, with Dave prancing around as Austin Powers and Alex, with a fluey voice and a Marilyn Monroe dress, accidentally convincing everyone that she’s a drag queen. Finally, Brad and Jane have to house-sit in the suburbs (and Eliza Coupe waddles around in an adorable bacon outfit) and debate whether they should move there when they have kids.
None of these are premises that will set the world on fire. But then they toss those rapid-fire jokes in there, they’ve got the cast gelling with each other in their best combos, and they make everything come together all beautiful, and well, it’s just a rip-roaringly fun time.
Let’s start with Max and Penny, because I think the minute I saw their demented costume, I knew I was going to like the episode. It’s a harrowingly realistic mom-and-baby deal where Max, on his knees and within Penny’s dress, has his head sticking out of a Baby Bjorn deal on her chest with creepy little hands and feet that he can manipulate somehow. This would look funny with anyone, but Adam Pally, who has kind of a baby face, is the best choice of all because he looks so dazzlingly wrong, but also just a little bit right.
It was also nice to see Matt Besser reprising his role as a Lincoln impersonator from Bad Teacher (I loved him in that movie more than anything else) and Will Greenberg (a comedian who I don’t know much about) was funny as Max’s gross-eating paramour AJ, especially in his silent take sitting in the bathroom cubicle and closing the door on Penny. My favorite moment, though, was a pretty small one that was just perfectly played and demonstrated why this is a sitcom above most sitcoms. Max, wanting to flirt with AJ some more, rags on Penny’s propensity for three-week relationships that go nowhere, and obviously gets a little close to the bone. 99 percent of sitcoms would play this as a dramatic beat, have Penny storm off, and then have them make up later. Happy Endings condenses this into a 10-second moment with none of the false drama but all of the character sweetness and it plays way more real and I just loved it.
Brad and Jane’s journey to the suburbs also filled me with glee because so many sitcoms, like Friends or How I Met Your Mother, treat moving to the suburbs once you have kids as a matter of course that isn’t even up for debate. Here, Jane’s desire to get out there made sense because of her hyper-neuroses about child-rearing, while Brad would obviously prefer the city because he has more fun there, and the episode didn’t end with them deciding, “oh, we should definitely live in x or y.” Instead, they’re basically as confused as ever after an amusing, but nightmarish experience with “big kid” trick-or-treaters. The stand-out suburban spoof for me was the convenience store where the clerk is dressed like a cop (nice triple fake-out there) but Brad’s appreciation for the quiche zone was a close second (“That thing will pay for itself in like three quiches”). No effort is made to explain how they will deal with the incredible damage being done to that nice house they were sitting, which is all the better – think of it like a Kenan and Kel episode where the destruction is just magically undone after the end.
Alex and Dave seemed like they were heading for a draggy storyline, especially once Zack Knighton showed up in that Austin Powers costume (although props for his acrobatics in that scene). But it turned out pretty well, with Cuthbert affecting a convincingly manly sick person voice and Dave’s fury at getting mistaken for Billy Joel instead of Elton John INSTEAD OF Austin Powers undoing the general lameness of making Austin Powers jokes. I know the gag is that Austin Powers is done, but I think it’s done by just about every yardstick (I just kept thinking of the U.K. Office finale). As usual, though, Happy Endings can always find the clever little jokes to keep things going – I appreciated Dave’s thrill at being able to say “He thinks you’re a man, baby!” in his Austin Powers voice in context.
That it all manages to come together is quite impressive. The writers get Max into Penny’s one-piece bathing suit, get a good laugh out of the visual, and then have him beat Alex in the drag queen contest. Even Brad and Jane get to show up and point out the coupledom in Alex and Dave’s costume (they’re linked via Candle in the Wind). I’m a little sad we never got to see Brad don his egg outfit, but Halloween episodes should obviously be a tradition for the show going forward, so maybe next year. Yeah, YOU HEARD ME, ABC!
- Not sure about the grade here. In terms of jokes, it's basically an A episode, so that's what it gets. But I can't give these things out willy-nilly!
- A lot of great lines in this one. I can’t possibly present them all, but here are some.
- Max: “Halloween is the Superbowl of drinking.” Brad: “Isn't the Superbowl the Superbowl of drinking?” “No, the Superbowl is the Halloween of football.”
- And, as a follow-up: “Halloween is the Arbor Day of urinating!” Brad: “So wait, that makes Arbor Day the Wimbledon of having sex.” “YES! You GET ME, bro!”
- I am strongly considering making my girlfriend go as I Am Sam Sean Penn in a double-Penn costume this weekend. I, of course, must be Carlito’s Way Penn.
- Apparently Jane was once addicted to riverboat pi gao. “Man, that pie gao's a tricky bitch!”
- Two Brett Butler references this week, which do need to be explained by Max for our younger viewers.
- “We're gonna get so hot we're gonna make our own bubbles.”
- Brad to hot tub: “I want me inside you.”
- The big kids demand more candy via a brick thrown through the window, but clarify: no Smarties. Clever kids.
- AJ is dressed as ZZ Top Gun.
- Penny has to accompany Max to the urinal. “Do you think now would be a bad time to ask you to shake, or jump up and down, or shiver?”
- “God gave you melons. Make melonade.”