Sunday, May 19

ABC comedy show 'Happy Endings' gets a second chance after being in danger of cancellation


Watching the first few episodes of a new show is often like getting through the first few weeks with a new roommate. Maybe, at the beginning of the process, there isn’t much more than a head nod or a passing “Hey.” But for a select few of these relationships, something sparks a change, and a meaningful, enjoyable connection is established.

Many of the shows that were on the proverbial cancellation bubble did not garner a renewal in a season of little faith. But the one show that managed to get a second-chance network rubber stamp was “Happy Endings.”

Following the wacky, love-catalyzed antics of six friends living in Chicago, “Happy Endings” is like that enigmatic, first-year bunkmate. At first, they might not say much, but when the conversation starts flowing, you realize you like most of the same movies, board games and frozen yogurt places.

The pilot episode of “Happy Endings” is an over-the-top, playing-for-laughs quirk-fest that stems from the failed marriage attempt of two of the friends when Alex (Elisha Cuthbert from “24″) leaves Dave (Zachary Knighton from “FlashForward”) at the altar for another man. The two opening episodes introduce the rest of the cast and their relationships to each other, even if the scenarios and reactions aren’t terribly funny or realistic.

But once these other characters get their own story lines, the episodes play stronger and the writing hits harder. Eliza Coupe, who hopped onto “Scrubs” near the end of its run, plays Jane, Alex’s sister. As the common thread between most of the group of buddies, she helps spark the perfectly neurotic sense of comedic timing that made her previous show such a hit with younger audiences (even if a lot of them may have disappeared before she showed up).

The strongest link in “Happy Endings” is Max, Dave’s old college friend and member of the six. Played by Adam Pally, an L.A. improvisation native, Max juggles a number of different distinguishable character traits without one coming to dominate his personality, turning him into a caricature. One of those traits is that Max is gay, but the writers of the show have never allowed his sexuality to turn him into an involuntary punch line.

As has been the case with many of these cancellation bubble shows featuring returners from other programs, Cuthbert and former “Saturday Night Live” cast member Casey Wilson are utilized extremely well, given just enough to show off their comedic chops without being overbearing. Damon Wayans Jr. rounds out the group as Jane’s husband (and gets a nice episode where he gets to play alongside his famous father).

In fact, the balancing act between the six main cast members, three male and three female, may draw some comparisons to “Friends,” a show with a similar gender distribution of its core cast. Much like the opening season of that show, “Happy Endings” has quickly established a familiar set of chums who often find themselves in ridiculous predicaments. Yes, these Chicagoans may impulsively spray their apartments with Nerf guns or develop the ability to speak Italian while tipsy, but the motivations are genuine. Even Alex, who began the series deserting her fiance, has become a repentant but likable person.

Some critics, like Hitfix’s Alan Sepinwall, opted to write a second review of the entire series, claiming that the direction of the show has shifted dramatically from the opening few episodes. Perhaps the reason for bringing it back was the positive word-of-mouth surrounding the later episodes.

Every episode of the “Happy Endings” run is currently online to watch. This is one of those shows where, unlike the odd one in your triple who won’t stop leaving uneaten Rendezvous leftovers out on the desk, you can feel free to jump in whenever you’d like.

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