May 4, 2013



Here lies HAPPY ENDINGS, one of the funniest comedies on all of television–foully murdered by some of the worst scheduling moves in recent network memory.  ABC began the season by sending the show (along with Don’t Trust the B___ In Apt 23) on a virtual suicide run, competing head-to-head on Tuesdays with New Girl, already a substantial hit, and Go On, which had a presold star in Matthew Perry and a Voice lead-in.  Happy Endings, which was a niche show to begin with (it was losing half of its Modern Family lead-in and scoring in the mid-2s last season), went DOA with a 1.3 average–but then things got even worse, as ABC threw episodes on Sundays at 10PM, a land previously untouched by sitcoms, then started running episodes two at a time in what it swore wasn’t a burn-off.  Finally the show’s corpse washed up on the shores of Friday night, where it’s been getting sub-1s on its way to the cemetery.  Unless some cable network comes to the rescue a la Cougar Town–a fate devoutly to be wished–tonight’s season finale will be the last we see of the series.

Which would be a damn shame.  Tonight’s 2-episode finale provided fresh proof of how absurdly smart and idiotic Happy Endings and its blissfully narcissistic, neurotic characters are.  The first episode, written by Executive Story Editors Matthew and Daniel Libman, and directed by David Caspe, had return appearances by Megan Mullaly and Michael McKean as Penny’s (Casey Wilson) mother and Dave’s (Zachary Knighton) father, who had started dating earlier in the season, and who had now decided to adopt a baby.  Outraged that they’d no longer be at the center of their parents’ lives, Penny and Dave decided to stage an audition for baby performers in order to kidnap one of them and have their parents take care of the child for a day, so they’d see how hard it was.  Meanwhile, Jane (Eliza Coupe) and Brad (Damon Wayans, Jr), determined to have some time away from their friends, tried to join a tennis club–but were foiled not just by Max (Adam Pally) and Jane’s sister Alex (Elisha Cuthbert), who turned up in a Caddyshack version of hoity-toity outfits (Alex was outfitted like Carey Mulligan in the new Great Gatsby remake), but by their own ruthless desire to beat their friends at tennis.

The season finale, written by Executive Producer Josh Bycel and Co-Producer Leila Strachan, and directed by Rebecca Asher, brought all the characters together for the wedding of Jane and Alex’s sister Brooke (Stephanie March), a control-freak so extreme she made Jane seem casual.  (In a typical meta touch, Max noted that no one had ever seen or even heard of Brooke before, accurately recalling that she hadn’t even shown up in flashbacks, leading to the explanation that by “flashbacks” he meant scrapbooks.  Actually, Max himself was the subject of what was probably the season’s best meta joke, when one character was bored to hear him described as a fresh, unusual kind of unstereotypical gay man, which is exactly how Max’s character is always–correctly–described.)  Along the way, the news that Dave and Alex, whose initial breakup at the altar had kicked the series off, were breaking up again became successively distorted so that Alex was secretly pregnant, Brad’s nonexistent mistress was secretly pregnant, and Brad and Jane were breaking up; Jane was demoted by Brooke from wedding planner (a lamination error) to program distributor (and then when she set the programs down, they caught on fire); and the girls’ mother (Julie Hagerty) tried to convince her Skype’d husband to sing along with her and the band via her iPad.

Unlike most of the best in the current wave of TV comedies (e.g., Parks & Recreation, New Girl, How I Met Your Mother), Happy Endings doesn’t make much more than a nod toward story arcs.  Sure, in the course of this season Penny was engaged and then un-engaged, Brad ran through several stages of unemployment and Jane changed jobs, and the Dave/Alex romance played out, but those developments were just coat-hangers for a barrage of gags that went by so fast that sometimes you had to rewind the DVR just to catch all of them.  The characters operate according to a consistent internal logic–Dave and Alex are sweetly dumb, Max and Penny are misfits, Jane and Brad are crazily, sometimes incomprehensibly, perfectly suited to one another–but the gags take precedence, and that may be one of the reasons the show has more of a cult following than a wide audience.

With all the platforms and networks available for televised programming these days, there surely should be one to adopt Happy Endings, which has two of the sharpest, most talented groups in comedy as its cast and writing staff.  The show may be a bit used, but it was barely touched by its previous owners, and it’s very much in its prime.  It deserves a proper ending of its own.


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."