The Best Sitcom You’re Not Watching

by thethreepennyguignol

Well, it’s summer, allegedly. And that means that we’re all reclining into our requisite summer viewing: light comedy, twenty-minute snippets that we can finish up quickly at the instigation of an impromptu beach ukelele party or something. Is that what people do in summer? I’m Scottish, I honestly couldn’t tell you if summer is some sort of elaborate joke at my expense and has been this whole time. Is it? Mail your answers on a postcard to my cat’s litter tray.

But yeah, what I’m saying is, I’ve been spending a lot of these long evenings watching comedies, because my anxiety blossoms under the warm summer sun like flowers in bloom and I must do anything I can to distract myself from the screaming void within because I’m a cool, chill chickadee who likes to Have Fun.

And beyond my usual stream of warm, snuggly, familiar sitcoms (Frasier, Bob’s Burgers, The Simpsons, to name but a few), I’ve been rewatching a sitcom that I can’t believe I don’t hear more people talking about, and that’s the fucking brilliant Happy Endings.

Now, I first came across this show on its original release back in 2011, and I promptly ignored it and vowed never to watch it since it seemed so fucking tropey. The marketing was all soft-serve, edgeless Americana crappery that seemed set to repeat on Channel Four every time I happened to be visiting my family back home after I’d moved out – little did I know that my family would move to Vietnam, and I would wind up loving Happy Endings with a ferocious passion. Twist? Twist.

Happy Endings kicks off with Alex (Elisha Cuthbert – yes, that Elisha Cuthbert) leaving her fiance, David (Zachary Knighton. No, not that one. I’m not sure which one you’re thinking of) at the altar, and the pieces that their friend group (Eliza Coupe, Damon Wayans Junior, Adam Pally, and Casey Wilson) are left to pick up in the aftermath. Right from the off, it’s a show that, with the rejection of the big, fancy, romantic wedding episode, directly ignores the proscription of every other classic sitcom I’ve seen, and it just goes harder from there on out.

I’m really into shows with a meta-textual element to them, and this decade has been the primo generation of TV that knows just how to TV. Happy Endings is one of the first I’ve seen to really use the weapons sitcoms have sharpened against the very shows that made them with such deadly effect – to call it a lampooning would be far too gentle a term to describe what it does to those motherfuckers. Created by David Caspe, and directed by frequent collaborators the Russo brothers (as in, the ones who made the Avengers universe what it is today, for better or for worse), Happy Endings a show with huge, cinematic ambitions and ideas that are focused in on the unbelievable nonsense that sitcoms put forth as normalcy.

And this all comes together in the way they deconstruct those characters. Quirky single girl Penny (played by Casey Wilson) briefly dies in the opening of season three, much to the amusement of her friends. Gay best friend Max (Adam Pally) is a monstrous hyper-slob on a perma-scam to ruin the lives of the people around him. David, who would be the handsome, dashing leading man in any other show, is an abjectly pathetic loser trying to paper over his own cracks with manufactured quirk. They’re terrible people, openly so, and the show embraces that, embraces the utter awfulness that’s required to make sitcoms work.

Happy Endings should be held up there with the likes of Community and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, in terms of its complete subversion of sitcom tropes, and yet, it’s been somewhat lost to the annals of comedy history. I put a lot of this down to the fact that it was so grossly missold on its first release, and since then, none of the stars have gone on to do anything notable enough for people to dredge through their back catalogue and check out this brilliant hidden gem. But hey, summer’s in early days yet – you’ve still got time to get on this. Go forth and hide out in your house, dear friends, and discover one of the best sitcoms I’ve ever seen in the process.

If you like my work, please consider supporting me on Patreon!

(header image via Vox)