DVD Review: ‘Happy Endings: The Complete First Season’ Assembles Fine Cast

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CHICAGO – With so many laughless sitcoms premiering this season on ABC, it’s tempting to overpraise a show that actually manages to be funny. “Happy Endings” has already received a good deal of praise from Hollywood Chicago for its top-notch ensemble and vibrantly witty banter, though it’s not quite in the same league as the shows it wishes to emulate, particularly “Friends” and “Arrested Development.”

In isolated twenty-minute doses, the show is a hoot, but if viewers attempt to watch an entire disc of this frenzied farce, they’ll be left feeling more numbed than amused. The pacing of each scene is so fast that audiences have little time to register whether a joke was indeed genuinely funny or just plain lame. There are so many verbal gags vying to be the funniest that at times the Chicago-set series threatens to devolve into a punchline competition.

HollywoodChicago.com DVD Rating: 3.5/5.0
DVD Rating: 3.5/5.0

While numerous comedies find contrived ways to create conflict between an otherwise happy couple, often through simplistic misunderstandings, the would-be lovebirds in “Endings” have a built-in reason for feuding. At the very top of the pilot, indecisive bride Alex (Elisha Cuthbert) gets wedding day jitters and abandons her groom Dave (Zachary Knighton) at the alter, leaving their friends to awkwardly pick up the pieces. Obsessive problem-solver Jane (the sublime Eliza Coupe of “Scrubs”) attempts to console Dave, but can’t help sticking a self-conscious cultural reference into her motivational pep talk. “You’re giving me a serious Howard Hughes vibe,” she says, “I feel like you’re ten minutes away from storing your urine in jars.” When Dave is later approached by a remorseful Alex decked out in “white trash braids,” his first response is, “You look like Predator!” While these lines inspire a definite chuckle, they don’t resonate any longer than the words forced upon viewers as pop culture touchstones (the season finale’s use of the word “Shershow” is particularly tiresome). Luckless singleton Penny (Casey Wilson) is a lovable goofball, but her penchant for punctuating various lines with the word, “ah-mah-zing,” just seems like a desperate attempt at creating an enduring catchphrase. Sorry, not gonna hah-ppen.

Happy Endings: The Complete First Season was released on DVD on Sept. 20, 2011.
Happy Endings: The Complete First Season was released on DVD on Sept. 20, 2011.
Photo credit: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Yet despite these annoyances, the show ultimately triumphs by coasting on the charisma of its impeccable cast. The most uproarious sequences get their comedic mileage from behavioral satire rather than easy homages. Knighton’s deadpan lip-pursing is worthy of Jason Bateman, and he’s well matched with Cuthbert, who does what she can with her thankless Sarah Marshall-like straightwoman role. As Jane’s long-suffering husband Brad, Damon Wayans Jr. exudes the suave confidence of a seasoned comedian, and his seemingly off-handed ad-libs often garner many of the biggest guffaws. Though the show lacks the authentic Chicago flavor of “The League,” it does occasionally ring true as a portrait of twentysomething confusion and cathartic friendship. The fact that Alex and Dave are already on solid civil ground by the end of the pilot should clue viewers in to thinking that the sunny couple may one day complete their marital vows in the series finale.

Perhaps the best episode of this rookie season is “Mein Coming Out,” where Max (a terrific Adam Pally) is encouraged by his friends to reveal his true gay identity to his parents, while Penny attempts to date a nice, attractive man whose last name just happens to be Hitler. It’s here where the characters’ combined personalities truly crystallize into something special, and one hopes that in future seasons, the actors will be allowed to settle into their characters a bit more, rather than just hammer out quirky quips. If only someone could take the eager-to-please writers aside and say, “Yes, you’re funny. Now calm down!”
 
“Happy Endings: The Complete First Season” is presented in its 1.85:1 aspect ratio and features all 13 episodes on a two-disc set accompanied by less-than-insightful extras. An audio commentary would’ve undoubtedly morphed into a giggle-a-thon, but it would’ve at least been entertaining. Instead, we’re treated to an unfunny mock interview conducted by comedian Mark Douglas, who bores Wilson and Pally (and the audience) with dumb musical numbers. There’s admittedly one amusing moment where he pitches a theme song for “Endings,” and ends up borrowing the melody from “Friends.” Costume designer Kerri Smith delivers some shameless product plugs by dissecting the character’s wardrobe styles, which all appear to have been purchased from the Banana Republic.
 
A brief gag reel and a remix video by disc jockey Mike Relm add little to the special features, though the discs’ eleven minutes of deleted scenes include a handful of memorable one-liners. Two additional moments were designed to precede the pilot’s opening wedding sequence: one followed Alex’s delusional ex as he left work with his rollerblades, while the other showed Alex getting gradually pushed over the edge by her friends’ well-meaning yet stress-inducing comments prior to the wedding. The scene would’ve set the wrong tone for the show because it would’ve made it seem like the friends were chiefly responsible for the break-up. Coupe again emerges as the most effortless scene-stealer, with her desperate and often misguided attempts to do the real thing. If the show proves to be a short-lived, a spin-off starring Coupe and Wayans Jr. would be a happy ending indeed.

‘Happy Endings: The Complete First Season’ is released by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment and stars Eliza Coupe, Elisha Cuthbert, Zachary Knighton, Adam Pally, Damon Wayans Jr. and Casey Wilson. It was created by David Caspe. It was released on Sept. 20, 2011. It is not rated.

HollywoodChicago.com staff writer Matt Fagerholm

By MATT FAGERHOLM
Staff Writer
HollywoodChicago.com
matt@hollywoodchicago.com

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