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Saturday, October 27, 2012

Happy Endings not just for dummies

Grade: 89%

ABC’s HAPPY ENDINGS returns this week with “Cazsh Dummy Spillionaires.” This being a sitcom, there aren’t a lot of huge, game-changing moments. But there are some really amusing moments, great one-liners, and plenty of laughs courtesy of one of the best comedy casts on television. I guess what I’m saying is, it’s funny. Very funny.

It will not be surprising to learn that Max (Adam Pally) and Penny’s (Casey Wilson) plot is the most outlandish of the three in the season premiere. Penny is hurt falling down a bunch of stairs, and Max takes advantage of her injuries to move in on the hot physical therapist. This goes as far as drugging her and putting off her doctor’s appointment, keeping her in a body cast longer than necessary.

Does this stray HAPPY ENDINGS away from realism? Yes, yes it does. Unlike Better Off Ted and Community, sitcoms that paint in broad strokes, and never try to pretend they are real, HAPPY ENDINGS has the illusion of reality because it’s just about a bunch of friends, bringing to mind shows like, well, Friends. But it straddles the line between being relatable and being hilarious. Somehow, it manages to stay a series that people believe, even after outrageous events occur. What’s more, it manages to not always be completely obvious that what is happening would never happen, until one stops to think about it.

This is a deft trick that few can pull off. Laughing at Penny falling down the stairs and ending up in a body cast is cartoonish. Yet, because of the way the “ahmahzing” cast sells it, it doesn’t take viewers out of the moment. Max relishing in the fact that he’s mocking the film Misery makes him seem harmless, even when what he’s doing is unthinkably horrible. And the pay off at the end makes it all worth it.

Similarly, Brad (Damon Wayans Jr.) lies to Jane (Eliza Coupe), making her think that he is unemployed, spending his days at home, pursuing hobbies. The lengths to which he must go to convince her of this are crazy, and the fact that he doesn’t get caught sooner than he does (it doesn’t spoil anything to tell you that, as everyone knows she will, Jane finds out) is nothing short of ludicrous. But again, seeing Brad soaking wet in a suit, covered in bubbles, is enough to make you forget that HAPPY ENDINGS isn’t something that could occur if you just had the right group of friends.

I think the reason that the show can sell this is the authentic relationships and strong level of heart. Even when characters are being mean or lying to each other, viewers can totally tell that they love each other deeply. The actors have such fun in the roles, playing together, it’s impossible not to have fun watching them. They interact so well that they come across as real people, even when real people wouldn’t perform the actions that they do.

In the third story this week, HAPPY ENDINGS plays it a bit safer, going with a well-worn thread. Dave (Zachary Knighton) and Alex (Elisha Cuthbert) announce that they are in a casual relationship, sleeping together, but not committing to one another emotionally. This goes exactly how one would expect it to, with both dating other people, and seeing each other dating other people, and then getting jealous. It’s completely predictable, and it’s been done a million times.

Yet, like the rest of the episode, it works with these particular performers. It helps that Penny’s role in the triangle is kept subtle, not overdone, and played sweetly. It also helps that Dave and Alex totally cheese to the camera, providing contrast. But whatever the reason, it doesn’t completely feel like an old premise, even though there is no denying the entire time that it is.

HAPPY ENDINGS is back in its best form, maybe a little goofier than when we last saw it, but every bit as entertaining. New episodes air Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.

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