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Friday, February 24, 2012

Happy Endings - 'The Butterfly Effect Effect'

This week, on ABC's Happy Endings, "The Butterfly Effect Effect," the gang wait for Brad (Damon Wayans Jr.) and Jane (Eliza Coupe) to have their annual fight to signal an end to winter. Assuming that they have grown past that phase, Brad and Jane instead stage a fight for their friends' benefits. But with their hearts not in it, it does not have the intended effect, as everyone can sense something off about the situation. Though, soon enough, a real fight between the couple breaks out, and balance is restored.

It's a little weird that everyone is so involved in Brad and Jane's relationship, isn't it? Sure, on ensemble sitcoms where two of the ensemble are married, their private lives are always minimized in favor of group dynamics. Happy Endings has done a pretty good job balancing the parts up til now, but the events of "The Butterfly Effect Effect" just seem a bit too intrusive into the union. Of course, friends will be there to comfort Brad and Jane during any rough patch. But when everyone else gets involved in the fight so much, it just feels wrong.

Not to mention the fact that Penny (Casey Wilson) and Dave (Zachary Knighton) actually try to goad the fight into existence. Other shows have proved that selfish, uncaring characters can be funny (see Seinfeld and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia). Happy Endings is different because the group is infused with a sense of loving warmth. They may tease one another, but they don't actively try to sabotage the others for their own gain. Again, until "The Butterfly Effect Effect."

Meanwhile, Max (Adam Pally) has gone into a bear-like state of hibernation. He stumbles around the apartment with a full beard, bundled up, eating honey with his hands. There's also a cheap gay joke in here somewhere that, thankfully, the episode avoids. This whole thing is very, very funny, allowing Pally some of his best visual gags yet, but it doesn't make sense for his character. Where is his boyfriend? How long has Max been allowed to hide in the apartment? Surely, not for long. Just last week he was shown out and about. Then he just drops the whole act when the others tell him to. It's a great one-note joke, but doesn't fit in the continuity.

It's not that "The Butterfly Effect Effect" is a bad episode; the main actors in Happy Endings are far too good for that. It just feels like it's an episode of a different series. It loses the spirit of many of the characters just for the sake of a few laughs. This could be chalked up to winter doldrums setting in, and the characters not feeling like themselves, but if so, there needs to be some explanation of that on screen. Instead, winter is touched upon, but not used as an excuse for personality changes. In this, Happy Endings fails to live up to the generally high standards that the series has been setting.

That is, until the last minute of the episode. When everyone makes up, and they all force Brad to buy them dinner at the Chop House, the true tone of the show returns. Which is why it is so glaring that most of the rest of the half hour doesn't match up. The series remembers its identity at the last moment, and pulls itself away from this side trip. Good course correction, but it's a shame it needs to be made at all.

Happy Endings airs Wednesdays at 9:30 p.m. ET on ABC.

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