April 5, 2012


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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It’s not all that unusual for a situation comedy to change directions in the midst of its initial season and emerge a different, and better, show:  The Office and Parks & Recreation both took that journey (the US Office was trying too hard at first to ape the Ricky Gervais original, and Parks was trying too hard to copy The Office), and probably the most extreme example in recent memory was Cougar Town, which literally changed its entire concept sometime after its pilot was done (causing its title, much to its eternal horror, to become meaningless). 

What’s much less common is for a show to stick pretty much to its original concept and tone, and yet somehow transform from forgettable mediocrity to one of the brightest spots of the TV week.  That’s what HAPPY ENDINGS has somehow managed to do, proving itself completely deserving of ABC’s most coveted timeslot, immediately following blockbuster hit Modern Family.  
Tonight’s season finale, written by Co-Executive Producer Josh Bycel and Leila Strachan, and directed by Rob Greenberg, didn’t do much to make itself a finale event:  the major plot development was that Brad (Damon Wayans, Jr) lost his job, and there was a return of the recurring possibility that Dave (Zachary Knighton) and Alex (Elisha Cuthbert) might become a couple again–and also the recurring possibility that Penny (Casey Wilson) and Dave might have feelings for each other.  Other storylines–Jane (Eliza Coupe) singlehandedly taking over the task of lowering the cost of the gay wedding they’re all attending (don’t eat the brie), and Max (Adam Pally) struggling with the question of whether he’s become too husky to perform with his old all-male Madonna cover-band, Mandonna (one of the top-three Chicago-based all-male Madonna cover bands, along with MaDonald and Material Earl)–were the show’s normal flights of fancy.  
Happy Endings has become quite skillful at walking a remarkably narrow tightrope:  on the one hand, it’s as casually surreal and self-referential as 30 Rock and almost as much as Community (tonight included knowing gags about the gang’s banter going so fast that it sometimes barely makes sense, and boyfriends of Penny’s that the others never meet and only know about through dialogue), and yet it manages to make more of its characters than the joke and concept mannequins that the leads on those other shows often resemble.  The writing, by a team headed by showrunners David Caspe (the series creator) and Jonathan Groff, is spectacularly clever (you have to love a show that describes thin-moustached Sean Penn as a roided-out John Waters) but not inhuman so.  And the actors are a phenomenal ensemble that meld together as if they really had known each other for years.  Even Knighton and Cuthbert, who were the dull pretty people of the group at the start, have shown themselves to be charmingly flaky.too  
When Happy Endings started, its pilot set-up of a wedding that imploded when the bride fled from the altar led it to be dismissed as yet another Friends knock-off; by this season, the show was feeling its oats enough to make its own Friends jokes–and rightly so.  Although the show has only been able to hold on to half of its giant Modern Family lead-in, it would be a shock for ABC not to bring it back next season (maybe in a more challenging timeslot). It certainly deserves renewal:  what we’ve seen so far should be no more than the start of its happy middle.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."