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A Binge-Watcher’s Guide: Should I Watch Happy Endings on Hulu?

To be honest, until a couple of days ago I had forgotten about Happy Endings, ABC’s Friends-esque sitcom about six late twenty-somethings living in Chicago. It was on the air from 2011 to 2013, running for three seasons and 57 episodes, ultimately killed by ABC’s idiotic scheduling decisions during the third season.  That really wasn’t that long ago, but by this point the majority of the show’s cast already have more recent canceled sitcoms on their resumes, i.e., Benched for Eliza Coupe, One Big Happy for Elisha Cuthbert, Weird Loners for Zachary Knighton and Marry Me for Casey Wilson. 2 Broke Girls and New Girl are the only sitcoms left standing from the freshman class of 2011, and all the broadcast networks have since switched over to family sitcoms, the more ethnically diverse the better.  So, even though it’s only been a couple of years Happy Endings now seems like a show from a slightly different era.

That doesn’t mean Happy Endings isn’t still great.  Without any advanced warning, Hulu added every episode of the show on New Years Day, and I’ve been binge-watching ever since, realizing that I somehow had never seen around half of the second season.

For many, this is probably their first exposure to the show, and they might be wondering why so many people on Twitter have been using Happy Endings-related phrases like “The Year of Penny” and “Ah-mazing” all weekend.  Here’s a quick guide for those thinking about giving the show a chance:

Premise: When Alex (Cuthbert) leaves Dave (Knighton) at the altar, their friends, including Alex’s sister and her husband, are torn over who to support, but eventually they all learn how to co-exist again and proceed to have typical sitcom shenanigans.

Characters: Alex is their Rachel, Dave is their Ross (i.e., the boring one), Jane (Coupe) is their Monica, her husband Brad (Damon Wayons, Jr.) is their Chandler, Max (Adam Pally) is their chubby, gay Joey and Penny (Wilson) is their Phoebe.

Who wouldn't want to save these 6 psychopaths? Come on - don't you want to know what the hell is going on in that picture?
Dave, Alex, Penny, Max, Jane, Brad

Are the Friends Comparisons Overblown?: Kind of.  The gender breakdown (3 guys, 3 girls), limited settings (impossibly spacious apartments, local restaurant as the hangout spot), lack of racial diversity (although they do at least have one black guy) and preoccupation with the love lives of the six, mostly lifelong friends invite the obvious comparisons.  Heck, the pilot centers around a runaway bride.  How can you not compare it to Friends?  However, the characters aren’t nearly the carbon copies of their Friends counterparts as you might think, e.g., Alex and Penny each have aspects of both Rachel and Phoebe.  Once you move past the surface level similarities, you’ll stop comparing these characters to what we’ve seen before and accept them for who they are, recognizing how uniquely hilarious Penny and Max, in particular, tend to be.  Plus, in terms of sheer jokes-per-minute, Happy Endings has Friends beat hands-down, although the downside is that its characters sometimes feel like mouthpieces for a room full of sitcom writers determined to make every single line of dialogue into a joke, likely laughing to themselves about how clever they are.

The famous Friends reference:

What’s a Typical Happy Endings Scene?: The chronically unemployed Max, who hates kids, agrees to be a mall store Santa.  While in costume and walking through the city with Penny, he enters a store to buy his favorite gay porn.  As Penny waits for him outside, a teenager tries to steal her purse, but when Max walks out the teenager immediately stops, explaining that he can’t in good conscience mug someone in front of Santa.  While Penny and Max marvel at the unexpected power he wields over others while in his costume and pledge to find some way to put this power to good use, we see that same mugger stealing a lady’s purse in the background, with Penny and Max completely oblivious.

Do I Have To Watch In Oder Or Can I Jump Around?: It’s probably best to start with the pilot as it perfectly introduces all of the characters and the general tone.  After that, beyond Penny’s yearly pledges for self-improvement, the on-going romantic tension between Alex and Dave, and Max, Dave and Jane’s gradually shifting occupations there aren’t an overabundance of serialized story elements you have to keep track of.  That being said, unlike many sitcoms Happy Endings was remarkably self-assured from the get-go meaning it’s not as if the early episodes are examples of a show still finding itself.  The cast’s insanely good chemistry is understandably more pronounced in the second and third seasons, but it’s still better than most shows in that first season.

Little problem, though: ABC ran the show out of order, so much so that a season 2 episode actually ended up airing during the third season.  As far as I know, the DVDs presented the episodes as they were meant to be aired, but Hulu used ABC’s original air dates as the guide for how to arrange the episodes.  So, when you watch the first season on Hulu you’ll get to the ninth and tenth episodes and wonder why the heck Dave is only just now moving out of Alex’s apartment (answer: because what you’re watching are actually the show’s second and third episodes).  It’s a bit annoying, but the show so rigidly avoids serialized arcs that the episodes being out of order shouldn’t be a huge deal.  Even the officially Happy Endings Twitter account joked about it:

That being said, just know that what Hulu says is episode 12 of the first season is actually the season finale, and it works so much better if you actually watch that specific episode when it was originally meant to be viewed, i.e., at the end of the season.

What Are Some of the Best Episodes?: Just picking one episode per season, how about “Like Father, Like Gun” in the first season when Damon Wayons guest stars as Brad’s dad, and Penny discovers that she can speak Italian but only when she’s drunk, “Cocktails & Dreams” in the second season when everyone in the gang starts having sex dreams about Dave and “Kickball2: The Kickening” in the third season when the gang becomes ensared in a kickball context with Max as the team coach.

Could It Ever Come Back?: Maybe.  There was a very long, Twitter-fueled April’s Fool Day joke last year implying the show’s return was imminent forcing co-creator and co-showrunner David Caspe to clarify that while all involved won’t rule out some kind of return or one-off special nothing was actually in the works.

The Best of Penny

The Best of Max

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