That was a slightly unusual episode of Happy Endings, in that it started slow. That’s not to say the quips weren’t firing from minute one, but I wasn’t really feeling things until after the first ad break. Maybe because none of the plots struck me as too original -- Penny dating Dave’s therapist (the lovely, but slightly underused Ken Marino), Alex and Brad not having much in common (how many times did Friends do that with its mis-matched characters), and Jane and Max giving themselves an excuse to act like nutcases and dress weird.
But “The Shrink, The Dare, Her Date and Her Brother” came together rather nicely and seemed to be attempting something a little more formal than the usual 22 minutes of wackiness that the show excels at providing. It wasn’t perfect, but it’s interesting to see the show test its boundaries like that and I’d be happy to see more of it in the future.
Now, we did have some pure, unadulterated zany behavior with Jane and Max’s fight over the sweater they both owned (it’s baggy and casual for her, tight and sexy for him). Somehow this leads to a bet where they dress each other in ridiculous outfits and see who’s less vain and will crack first. It’s ridiculous, but in typical Happy Endings fashion, it’s all set up so quickly that it makes perfect sense once it’s happening. So, we’re treated to Max in an all-white ensemble, replete with suspenders, fuzzy hat and Princess Di T-shirt that Jane dubs as “Jamiroquai before Labor Day.” Jane’s was not quite so ridiculous, just hopelessly dated and mismatched, and by the end of it they’re in their underwear -- it’s a perfectly solid C-plot for the show.
Max and Jane have had such spats before, but this was definitely a week with the least common pair-offs: Alex and Brad, and Penny and Dave. In Alex and Brad’s case, the idea was that they have very little to talk about -- much like Ross and Phoebe, or Rachel and Chandler (surprisingly, there’s a bunch of different Friends pairings that never worked). I could have done with a little more awkwardness, because Damon Wayans Jr. is really good at playing uncomfortable, and Elisha Cuthbert is great at being unaware of things.
But things have to resolve pretty quickly, because there’s a time limit to these sitcoms, so sure enough Brad and Alex find each other at a romantic comedy called “That’s The Way It’s Gotta Be” and bond over their love of the genre. This is supposed to be surprising news, but Brad’s more delicate side has been explored quite a bit on the show already, so the reveal didn’t really work for me. But I liked how the episode blended the rom-com they were watching with Dave and Penny’s misadventures, even walking them by the movie’s fountain set for the closing shot.
So, Penny dating Dave’s shrink, Rick Rickman? That did nothing for me. Ken Marino’s great, but he vacillated between smarm and charm and never really settled on how douchey his character was supposed to be (very douchey, was my impression). Dave’s fear that the shrink would spill all his secrets was a reasonable one, but not too interesting from a comedic point of view because this show is all about airing everyone’s embarrassing secrets and as far as we know Dave isn’t hiding anything big.
So they take things to the next level by having both Rick and Penny’s child psychologist diagnose their respective clients with a case of holding lingering torches for each other. Which, as far as I can tell, is entirely out of left field. I don’t remember any kind of flirty behavior between those two, and just last episode, they were dropping the hint that Dave and Alex still had something between them.
But this week, we had Dave repeating that he had “dodged a bullet” in Alex, who was acting especially dumb. And even though Dave and Penny both blew off their shrinks’ diagnoses, the writers clearly want us to think about it, at least entertain the concept, for more than a second. If you bring Alex into the mix, that’s a love triangle and some serious Friends territory, and I have no idea if the show is interested in going there or if it’ll never come up again. As a one-off, though, it was both confusing and interesting, which was not what I expected from our welcome back to the show. But I’m not complaining.
Among the cast of “That’s The Way It’s Gotta Be” were Sarah Wright, who I loved on In the Loop and plays Jerry’s daughter in Parks & Recreation; Michael Cassidy, who I remember best from The O.C., and Nate Torrence, of Studio 60 and Mr. Sunshine.
Brad gets stuck with the check. “What is the point of having white friends?”
Among Brad and Alex’s awkward dialogue: “So, stamps went up again. Unbelievable.”
Penny loves being stalked. “What do you wear to a stalking? Stockings? No, that’s too on the nose.”
Max has a thing for varying professions. “I’ve dated bailiffs, monks, jockey, and my personal best is a butcher, a baker, and a candlestick maker, and yes, they were all in my tub at the same time.”
Alex plans to prank Jane. “She’s gonna be super-easy to fool because I’m super-easy to fool and we’re sisters.”