It really seems like ABC expected Happy Endings, airing Wednesdays at 10, to be a show they’d burn off and forget about. It had all the signs of the type of TV show that is tossed aside after a change in management at the network: ABC put it in a ridiculously tough slot for a new comedy (denying it the post-Modern Family slot that Mr. Sunshine got), scheduled two new episodes on some nights to burn through the episodes faster, and one of its leads – Damon Wayans’ son Damon Jr. – has already booked another pilot, Fox’s The New Girl.
But the show hasn’t done all that badly in the ratings, and if it does OK during sweeps the network might need to rethink its future. I think that’s because after a weakish pilot, it’s turned out to be quite good, one of the better comedies of the season. What it had going against it was a rather depressing premise (a Friends-ish group tries to stay together after one of their core couples goes through a bad breakup), and a three girls/three boys premise that way too many new comedies did in some form this season. Plus it stars Elisha Cuthbert, who is not funny.
Yet in the recent episodes, it pretty much works. Cuthbert and the guy her character broke up with, Zachary Knighton, are the weaker links, but the show has already more or less abandoned the original premise; sometimes you’d hardly even know the show was supposed to be about a broken-up couple. And the other four cast members – Wayans, Casey Wilson, Eliza Coupe and Adam Pally – are very good and have good characters to play. Pally’s character is particularly good: a gay character who doesn’t fit gay stereotypes, yet doesn’t seem just like a straight guy telling us he’s gay; he’s a gay character who’s portrayed as a more or less normal (but funny) person, and the episode where he tries to avoid coming out to his parents was quite charming.
“Charming” is the word for the whole show. The plots aren’t new and neither are the jokes, and sometimes the visual style has the usual problem of calling attention to itself at times (like the over-elaborate contrasts between flashbacks to a night in a bar and the hung-over “morning after”). But the characters genuinely seem to like each other, and they get laughs just by being who they are and bouncing off one another. Wilson has the wacky single-girl act down, and Wayans is a funny deadpan guy. It just feels like a show where the characters really are fun to hang out with, where a lot of shows claim lovability for characters who never do or say anything to earn it. And that air of likability goes a long way toward excusing the flaws, and making me think that this show has a chance to get really good if it gets a 22 episode season.
I don’t know if it will get that second season. As I said, ABC doesn’t seem to have much faith in it (whereas Mr. Sunshine, which I thought was quite bad, got a big build-up), and when it’s up against new episodes on other networks during sweeps, its ratings could tumble. But I think it’s earned a shot more than most of the other couples comedies.
And one thing that would make it in ABC’s interest to pick it up: Wayans’ Fox pilot, The New Girl, is said to be Fox’s favourite comedy pilot of the current crop, and a likely pickup. If ABC renews Happy Endings, Wayans will have to stay with it (unless his contract is really different from the usual actor’s) and The New Girl will have to re-cast his part. Pick up a promising show and screw over the #1 network by weakening its favourite new comedy; sounds like a good strategy.