Saturday, April 25, 2015

HAPPYISH Will Make You Happy-ish

Article originally written for Seat42F.

Thomas Paine was one of our Founding Fathers who inspired revolution against Great Britain. Thomas Payne was a bookseller and publisher, not all the important in the grand scheme of things, but still remembered with a small paragraph on Wikipedia. Thom Payne (Steve Coogan, Philomena) is a little bit of both, an insignificant man who is becoming obsolete, but bristles at the thought and really doesn’t want to let it happen. Showtime’s new half-hour dramedy, HAPPYISH, is his story.

As HAPPYISH begins, Thom is turning 44, not old enough to be an executive like his boss, Jonathan (Bradley Whitford, The West Wing, Trophy Wife), nor is he young enough to be into the social media scene, like the young Norwegians who just bought the advertising company Thom works for. The latter would like to force him, in the nicest way possible, to adapt to their mindset, but Thom just doesn’t want any of it. He’d rather write a book or rant about how things used to be.

It seems likely that Thom’s story will ring rather familiar to viewers of a certain age. Many people may keep themselves from flying off the handle as Thom does, but it has to be frustrating to be asked to keep up with a rapidly changing world on top of everything else going on in one’s life. Thom is married with a young child; he doesn’t have time to be accustomed to twitter, and justifiably thinking it is stupid, why should he? But that’s the position he is in for his career, and one has to keep paddling or drown.

Thom’s home life doesn’t make things much easier. His wife, Lee (Kathryn Hahn, Parks and Recreation), is loving, but not all that satisfied with the way Thom’s ED pills and antidepressants interact, making them less effective. His son, Julius (Sawyer Shipman, Adult Beginners), isn’t a bad kid, but he’s young enough that he still needs a lot of attention from his parents. Neither of them are obstacles per se, Thom glad to have them in his life, but they certainly divide his attention.

Despite all of the misery, HAPPYISH is very enjoyable. Part of that is the cast, which includes recurring players Carrie Preston (True Blood), Andre Royo (The Wire), Molly Price (Third Watch), and co-star Ellen Barkin (The New Normal). Hahn is absolutely fantastic, and the rest all make the proceedings more fun. Thom may be unhappy, but those around him aren’t always, and they are able to play off Thom’s broad actions well. It’s a really good group of players.

Seeing Coogan play the role, it’s hard to imagine Philip Seymour Hoffman as Thom, though Hoffman starred in the original pilot before his death. Coogan, as he must, completely owns the role and uses his talents to help shape the character. Coogan is a different type of actor than Hoffman was, and while HAPPYISH might have been good without Coogan, it would be a different show. I think this version is likely funnier. I’m glad, seeing the product, that Showtime decided to move forward with this project even after losing its star.

It’s funny that HAPPYISH premieres now, so soon after HBO’s Togetherness ended its freshman run. I feel like the two shows share a lot of DNA, having similar themes and quality. While Togetherness is more of an ensemble and HAPPYISH has a stronger, more singular lead, both capture an authentic spirit in a moment where they are especially relevant. I don’t know that both are needed on the air, but I’d be hard pressed to say one should be cancelled over the other.

HAPPYISH premieres Sunday, April 26th at 9:30 p.m. ET on Showtime.

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