Happy Endings’ one disadvantage, on paper at least, is that it’s pretty boxed in when it comes to romantic intersections with its characters. Jane and Brad are married, and any kind of serious trouble in that relationship would feel out of place. There’s Dave and Alex, of course, but then Max is gay, leaving Penny as Dave’s only other romantic option, and that ain’t gonna happen. It’s not like I need a sitcom full of eye-rollingly stupid will-they/won’t-they relationships, but I do enjoy it when a show like Community toys with the hints of chemistry between its similarly-aged characters.
But it turns out Happy Endings can do it too! With a knowing wink, some crazy cut-away jokes and a bucket of punchlines thrown in, of course! Penny and Max’s special bond got tested in “The Code War” with the appearance of his high school beard Angie (the lovely Riki Lindhome of musical comedy act Garfunkel and Oates), leading (in a convoluted fashion) to the genius idea of Alex developing a crush on Max, which makes a weird sort of sense. As jerky as he can be, since he has no interest in having sex with Alex, he won’t be annoying and pushy in that department, plus he’s kind of a huggable hairy teddy bear type.
Elisha Cuthbert is best playing Alex as a buffoon, and she got some prime buffoon material here as she fawned over Max in increasingly absurd ways (my favorite was near the end when she got him a harmonica and played it enthusiastically). Cuthbert has always been the weakest link on this show comedically, but these last few episodes are demonstrating that the writers have found the best ways to write for her. She’s ditzy and childish, but not in that sometimes-creepy way like Zooey Deschanel on New Girl. Basically, Alex acts as the voice of rationality enough that she’s not a lame “dumb blonde” stereotype. She’s just clueless about specific things, I guess. I still have some problems with Cuthbert but I do think she’s improving, which is great for the long-term health of the show.
Penny, on the other hand, almost always a standout, got handed a stinker of a plot here that didn’t go anywhere and recycled the same joke, and the same punchline, even, over and over again. Jealous of Angie, she resolves to act like her best friend, so she can hate her all the more. Every time she engages in this behavior, she snaps out of it and asks her friends what she’s doing and says she’s sick and so on, and that’s it, repeatedly. Sure, we get some cute stuff at the end about Angie being Max’s last straight girlfriend and Penny being his first gay girlfriend, but I think that the episode could have had more fun with Penny and Angie’s invisible rivalry.
Lindhome was mostly left on the sidelines here, which was both too bad and kinda weird considering that she was part of two plotlines: Penny’s jealousy and Dave dating her, which enraged Max to the extent that he declares a “code war” where all codes, not just the “bro code,” are ignored. It was a cute spin on a tired sitcom standard (who hasn’t invoked “the code” at one point or another on a multi-camera show?), and I could have done with more of it. Dave almost knocking down a load-bearing pillar (which horrified even Max) in violation of the building code was the biggest laugh of the night, so I’m surprised the writers didn’t cook up a ton more examples. Hell, they had like five insults for Dave’s permed hair, which I will now list:
“You look like Keri Russell after she ruined Felicity.”
“You look like John McEnroe’s sister.”
“You look like a huge lesbian.”
And, from Brad and Jane, simply, “Temple Grandin!” and “It’s Pat!”
This is in an episode that also had a ton of Brad nicknames for his “work wife” Vanessa, which I simply couldn’t write down quickly enough, but I remember “Vannecessary Roughness” being a particularly good one. The Brad/Jane storyline was terrific, mostly on the backs of Wayans and Coupe, who are proving that they can work magic with pretty much anything. Jane’s mouth-in-hand flirting was the highlight, but Brad’s impression of his mother tweeting and his brief Mr. T voice came close. As broad and non-gooey as this show is, they’re an impressive example of a realistic married couple on a sitcom whose chemistry never feels forced. As I mentioned, the very idea of a semi-serious storyline where they are tempted by someone else is just ludicrous, at least in my eyes.
I laughed a lot this week, but “Code War” wasn’t entirely a hit. Most of the lines landed, and everything zipped along as good as ever, but I just wish there had been a lot more storyline weight in certain areas and a lot less in others (sorry, Penny, but you can’t be my favorite every week). It’s funny that a frequently laugh-out-loud Happy Endings only gets a B from me, but that shows how much this show has adjusted its grade curve.
- The great Eddie Pepitone was the crazy podcasting dude (doing his podcast on a video camera); Hayes MacArthur, formerly of Perfect Couples, was Jane’s work husband.
- Max and Dave agree: “Hair band” is a much better tone for taunting than “playground.”
- Alex's date Jack invited her over for sex at 11 pm, to her confusion. “I thought maybe he wanted to have a late European dinner!” “Look how he spelled come over,” Penny says. “I thought it was the European spelling.” Saucy.
- Max likes it when his friends hang out. “It's like when Mike Myers and Kanye West tried to raise money for Hurricane Katrina!”
- Jane can’t do graffiti. “Every time I draw genitals, it ends up looking like Brad Garrett.”
- Max wants to draw a Hitler moustache on the Michael Jordan statue, so he’ll look like present-day Michael Jordan. Good call.
- Alex is cured of her Max crush by watching him eat a chicken parm shirtless. As he says, if you want to love him, “You gots to love all of it!”