A benefit of wearing your television addiction proudly on your sleeve is that you are often asked for show recommendations by family and friends. Telling people what to do is fun, but telling people what to watch is the sort of bossing around I was born to do. I take the task (probably way too) seriously, tailoring my recommendations to the following questions:
- What are your favorite shows?
- What streaming services do you use?
The first question is a no-brainer; it helps me identify the type of TV viewer I’m talking to and keeps me from recommending Jane The Virgin to a die-hard Boardwalk Empire fan. The second question is one that has become necessary only in the last couple of years, as Neflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, HBO Now, Showtime Anytime, etc., have become to new normal method of watching TV. These days viewers can access large quantities of pre-paid, relatively-cheap television content without having to get out of bed. Subscribe to a mix of streaming services (Netflix + Hulu + Amazon Prime + your roommate’s parents’ HBO Go password) and the possibilities seem endless.
They aren’t, though. Not by a long shot. There is a long list of awesome TV shows not currently offered on prepaid streaming services, many of which I would be recommending left and right under different circumstances. I rarely do, since I’m afraid if I suggest one of these shows to people, they’ll only reject it in favor of something with five whole seasons only a click away.
I know my frustration is irrational and pretentious (not being able to recommend shows to people is not an actual problem/ how do I think I am?). I’ve nevertheless decided to channel it into a new blog series. Consider this the inaugural “The Best Shows I Wish You Would Watch, But Won’t Hold My Breath About” post. We’ll start with the one nearest to my heart, but I consider them all worth the cost of a Netflix DVD subscription.
It’s hard for me to narrow down a single favorite television series, but I’ve watched Happy Endings at least three times in as many years, so it’s definitely in the running. Happy Endings’ story is a tale as old as Star Trek: though beloved by critics and a small, but passionate fan base, the experimental network show was cancelled after too-few seasons. Thanks to word of mouth and some cryptic tweets, HE hasn’t exactly faded into obscurity since it left the air in 2013, but it hardly seems to have achieved the cult-classic status it deserves. I personally believe HE could be as popular as Arrested Development if it were more readily accessible, and I harbor a lingering resentment against Sony (the show’s production company) for not working out a streaming deal that would make that so.
Accessibility is key to Happy Endings popularity growth. The show doesn’t look particularly exciting, or even original, on paper, making it even less likely a prospective fan will do the footwork required to watch it. HE is about a close-knit group of 20-something friends livings in a major city, in this case Chicago, who must awkwardly navigate their group dynamic when one of the central couples breaks up. Even with that caveat, Happy Endings sounds like a cheap Friends knock-off (in fact, both pilots feature brides leaving grooms at altars).
Unlike Friends, Happy Endings was a single camera comedy with no laugh-track, but the comparisons between the two shows are so easy to make it seems the latter must have been created in the former’s image. Both have a Type A female (Jane/Monica), her silly yuppie husband (Brad/Chandler), a hot heartbraker (Alex/Rachel), a brokenhearted dreamer (Dave/Ross), a wacky single girl (Penny/Phoebe) and an unemployed slob (Max/Joey). That being said, it didn’t take long for HE to establish itself as much weirder take on the six-friends-in-their-late-20s sitcom format. Within a few episodes of the pilot, Jane and Brad are getting propositioned for a four-way, Alex is dating the homeless man with a strong Skeet Ulrich vibe, Dave is wearing toe shoes while singing a 12-minute math-based love song, Penny is taking a Jazz Kwon Do class, and Max, the lazy, sports-obsessed slob, is super into dudes.
The best way to describe what makes Happy Endings so special is to quote my friend Kelly, the only person I have successfully convinced to watch the show (which I was only able to do by hand-delivering the first two seasons on DVD). Kelly says Happy Endings is like one big inside joke, a spot-on observation for a number of reasons. For starters, like Arrested Development, Happy Endings’ scripts are full of self-referential humor, multi-layered quips and easter eggs best appreciated through multiple viewings. The show keeps getting funnier once you seen enough of it to be “in on the joke.”
More impressive than that, HE perfectly captures the role inside jokes play in any close knit group of friends.. At times the central six characters almost speak in their own language. For example, early on in the second season Penny and Alex describe something as “so cute,” using an exaggerated Valley girl accent. By the end of that season, when this scene takes place, Penny and Alex have turned “so cute” into “suh cyuht,” an actual schtick. The audience has witnessed the evolution of an inside joke, not only between the characters Penny and Alex (and Dave, also in the scene), but for the writers and actors who were tickled enough to bring “suh cyuht” back into the mix. It is very inclusive comedy, which is why I watch it at least once a year.
Finally, what makes Happy Endings the most like an inside joke is that it doesn’t sound very funny to someone not in the know. It comes off as trite and takes a few episodes to shake off it’s derivative rom-com vibe. Still, I cannot emphasize how big the pay off is, especially for anyone who is a member of a close-knit group of friends with a tendency to say weird shit to each other that only you think is funny. If all three seasons were available to stream on Netflix, if more people could blow through those first shaky episodes and get to the good stuff in one lazy Sunday, I’m confident Happy Endings could take its rightful place as one of the best half-hour comedies of this so-called Golden Age of Television. To me, HE is a perfect example of how a network show can experiment with a familiar, outdated format and get a final product that is sharp, refreshing and unlike anything else on television.
The DVDs are only $7.99 a season. Please watch it.