Where to Watch: YouTube
When the wisps of internet fanfic and longshot dreams suddenly solidify into something tangible and a long-demanded reunion or revival of a beloved series actually happens, it's usually just...a case against reunions and revivals. The harsh truth especially stings when it's concerning a cult favorite, a lesser-known jewel whose brilliance was cut short before the run could even really get started. Surely, with so much left in the tank, those creative juices only ferment the longer it's shelved, right? The reality is, what we're witnessing during almost every great TV show's peak is lightning in a bottle, a perfect storm of creativity that even its cast and creators can only hope to even halfway re-create elsewhere once they move on, much less duplicate in the same space and manner years later. All of that is to say, creator David Caspe and the six actors who comprised ABC's hang-out sitcom Happy Endings are aliens then, because they took those realities and punted them like Jack Black did Ron Burgundy's dog. The Happy Endings reunion, which aired on YouTube this Tuesday, is marvelous.
For much of the show's 2011 debut season, Happy Endings seemed like nothing more than another feeble-Friends lite; ABC's bizarre decision to air much of the season out of order didn't help. Viewers like myself saw potential and stuck around, though. Late twenties/early thirtysomethings falling in and out of love in a big city was hardly novel but Happy Endings' humor was weird, specific, weirdly specific, occasionally heartwarming and always bizarre.
By Season 2, the series found its voice and the tenor was organized lunacy. I've been rewatching the series on and off during the pandemic; it's marvelous to see I wasn't inflating the series highs through college-era nostalgia—the opening scene of Season 2 alone is a self-contained masterclass in banter and physical comedy. The banter between the cast—consisting of Zachary Knighton, Elisha Cuthbert, Adam Pally, Damon Wayans Jr, Eliza Coupe, and Caspe's now wife Casey Wilson—is a rapid-fire exchange of pop culture references that ranged from an incisive flip of a usually obvious joke to crate-deep allusion you would not expect on broadcast TV. Series MVP Pally quietly broke new ground as Max, a gay man that subverted cliches at every turn. Wayans Jr and Coupe often contested his throne as Jane and Brad, the group's married couple who often found their gender roles reversed. Wilson's aptly named Penny Hartz often provided the plot hijinks in her perennial search for love in all the wrong places. Knighton and Cuthbert exemplify some of the show's best strengths. In Season 1, Knighton's jilted Dave registered the least personality—so by Season 2 he was defined as the try-hard always searching for identity and security. As for Cuthbert, once her Alex left Dave and had nothing interesting to do after, she leaned all the way into being the endearing village idiot, always a half-step behind the self-referential jokes the rest of the group volleyed. The actress once most famously known as Jack Bauer's joyless daughter was now eliciting some of the biggest laugh-out-loud moments, holding her own against more classically trained comedians.
Then, as is usually the case with something that feels too good to be on network TV, Happy Endings was canceled after three seasons. And once revival culture set in, the show was among the most consistently petitioned, both figuratively and literally. The cast and Caspe are routinely asked; the routine answer is that they all stay in touch, and would love to, schedules and opportunity permitting. Pally visited the Watch Less podcast this year and offered some of the most reassuring news yet, attributing the absence of an official limited new season to near-misses in schedule roulette. Still, most reunions are just pale imitations. Better to take those near-misses as a sign and just rewatch the glory days, right?
Against all odds, especially the biggest one—you know, staging a reunion OVER ZOOM—Happy Endings came back with a 30-minute victory lap that feels like it was written in 2013. Cuthbert especially slithered back into Alex's ditzy skin as if only seven months had passed instead of years. But the whole cast is firing on all cylinders, with a plot and new life circumstances that play into their characters perfectly. Alex WOULD be a Corona-truther. Penny absolutely would be in love with an Essential Worker—I yelled when she revealed she keeps a wedding dress ready to go at a moment's notice, almost as hoarsely as I did at the byzantine mechanics used to set Dave, clueless as ever, up with a new restaurant that spells out...COVID (he even bought merch). I wouldn't dream of spoiling how the episode inserts a reference to one of 2019’s best films into the proceedings. Pally manages to fuse his Streetwear Dad IRL persona in with Max's new status seamlessly. Coupe and Wayans Jr. are as intensely wacky, and horny, as ever.
Throw the old adages and statistics out. If this is what the gang could cook up across disparate computer screens, confined by a ravaging virus, when this all ends, Hulu or whoever else would be stupid not to throw them a bag and a 10-episode order. Happy Endings is the exception—nothing has changed. —Frazier Tharpe