‘Happy Endings’ Is the Most Underrated Sitcom on Television
SPIN visited the set during the filming of tonight's season finale
If you are not watching ABC’s Happy Endings, then you are not alone. But if you are, then you understand its many charms — or it’s one particular charm, which is a genuinely energetic ensemble. During the first two seasons, which felt more like one since it debuted in early 2011, the series generated the kind of buzz that will accompany a good show for as long as it’s overlooked (like everything, once acknowledged, it’s in danger of being called overrated). But for the moment, Happy Endings has official underdog status, or as star Adam Pally put it during SPIN’s set visit a couple of weeks ago: “We’re just the half-hour after Modern Family.”
Pally, who plays the brutally sarcastic Max, shares his character’s tendency for bluntness: “We haven’t been publicized by our network. We don’t get commercials or billboards.” Yet despite that, the series manages to do all right in the ratings, which is in large part thanks to the talent and chemistry among the cast members. Just the night before our visit, Pally and costar Elisha Cuthbert got in trouble for disturbing the peace at the Langham Hotel in Pasadena, California, where they have been filming the season finale, which airs tonight (after Modern Family).
For those who haven’t seen the show, Pally’s description pretty much nails it: “Friends meets 30 Rock.” Six thirtysomethings, living in Chicago, initially dealing with the aftermath of the cancelled wedding of two of the group’s core members — so far, pretty familiar, even to the cast. “On the show, Max was labeled a Joey,” says Pally, sitting on the patio near the hotel lobby, wearing sunglasses in the shade (he’s slightly hungover). “But I think he’s more like Phoebe. He’s an eccentric.”
Pally, along with costars Eliza Coupe and former SNL star Casey Wilson, has a background in improv; all three started out at the Upright Citizens Brigade in New York. Damon Wayans Jr., meanwhile, dabbles in standup. And Cuthbert, who was a colossal drag on 24, is just really, really funny — and disarmingly tomboyish in person. (As Alex, her mannerisms and subtle asides might be the best part of the show. For those who have watched, both the invisible hula-hoop move and the Renee Zellweger face were her own doing.) Their shared sense of humor both on and off set tends to turn standard gimmicks, like when Max starts a limousine company to make some extra money, into absurdist nuance, with Coupe (Jane) and Wayans Jr. (her husband, Brad) vibing off each other’s impressions as Max’s fake tourist clientele.
When she talks, Coupe exudes the same wiry physicality as her character, Jane, and she describes herself as being similarly neurotic. “We’ve seen these characters before, ” she says. “Everyone’s seen these characters before. But every single one of us plays our character against type. Jane is basically as ruthless and abrasive as Max, she just can’t admit it.” Wayans Jr. refers to Brad as “the gay character that the show wants. Max is the straightest gay dude, and Brad is the gayest straight dude. ”
A guy wearing a blonde Madonna ponytail, circa her cone-bra era, cruises by the food table. He’s a member of Mandonna, Max’s tribute band from college with whom he’ll be performing “Like a Prayer” in tonight’s finale, which unfolds, like last year’s, at a wedding. A wheelchair-bound Brian Austin Green is chatting with Wilson in the corner —s he’s playing her character’s love interest (the wheelchair is a prop). While the show’s chances for a third season are very good, it hasn’t been officially renewed just yet, so this could possibly be the last episode ever. But it’s too good for that to be true. Among many things, fans will want to see how a speculated romance between Alex’ s ex, Dave (Zach Knighton) and Penny (Wilson) work out. “The people that watch feel a certain ownership to it, so we have a very small but strong fanbase, and I think that comes from feeling that they’ve discovered it,” says Pally. “That’s a positive. But Arrested Development was like the best show on television, and it got cancelled after three seasons because it didn’t have enough support.”