The 25 Best TV Episodes I Saw This Year (#20)

Happy Endings - "Spooky Endings"

“Happy Endings” was not supposed to work. At least, ABC certainly didn’t think so, delaying the show to be a spring replacement. If you don’t think that’s a death sentence, bear in mind that this year that this year’s ABC comedy fill-in is the execrable “Work It”, a show so terrible it led Alan Sepinwall to write "'Work It' could be seen as an insult to the transgender community, sure. But it's also an affront to all women, and men, and thinking adults." 

"Work It" received a mediocre opening number, assumably mostly from people looking in to see whether all the bashing is truly warranted. It'll be dead by the end of the year, just like ABC assumed "Happy Endings" would be. A few weeks of halfhearted promotion led up to its premiere, and the show opened to lukewarm reviews and ratings. By the time it aired, some of the cast had already attached themselves to new pilots, assuming the show was DOA.

But then, as is sometimes the case with comedies, after a few leaden episodes, things started to gel together. The show ditched their focus on the two leads and abandoned the “left at the altar” storyline that supposedly was frame the show as the producers quickly discovered that the loose, “Friends”-style riffing between the actors was what made the show most watchable. From this we learned two things:

  1. In an age where every show needs a high-concept idea in order to get onto the air, regardless of whether that idea is even vaguely sustainable (remember “Prison Break?” Those guys could not stop breaking out of prisons), we need to treat new comedies like young point guards – they need to get a feel for the speed of the game before we judge whether or not they’re going to find their legs or not. “Community” spent half a season trying to make Jeff-Britta work before finally abandoning the pilot’s premise entirely.  “Parks and Rec” tried to make Leslie Knope into Michael Scott before they recognized that Amy Poehler’s likability is not a factor worthy of being ignored. And while we’re on the subject, let’s not forget how tepid the pilot for “The Office” was either.
  2. If you must stock your show with comedy stereotypes (the gay guy, the slut, the interracial couple from vastly different backgrounds), abandon trying to mine those things for stock comedy stories. “Happy Endings” mercifully starting creating stories based on the relationships between the characters after only a few episodes, a lesson “Glee” has still yet to learn. Of course, it helps if the people playing those characters are people like Eliza Coupe, Adam Pally, and Damon Wayans, Jr. Who knew I could ever like a Wayans this much?

This episode, their first of what I hope will be many Halloween episodes, was the first step the show took this season into reviving the stories of the two former leads (Zachary Knighton and Elisha Cuthbert) as ensemble characters, which turned out to be huge success. Freed from the burden of carrying the show, both are starting to recreate their characters into looser, funnier creations with the odd quirks and jagged edges all the best sitcom characters have (Cuthbert has best line from the episode: "Hey guys. Good news! Whatever I have is not from the bird I kissed.").

I couldn't find anything memorable to embed from the episode, so here's the opening of the show this season.