[Review based on "Makin' Changes!" (2.12), "The St. Valentine's Day Maxssacre" (2.13) & "Everybody Loves Grant" (2.14).]
While Happy Endings has always been a show about the entire group, there are certain characters whose relationships receive more attention. Brad and Jane are a reliable source, but the show most often turns to Penny or Dave for stories about dating life. The arc continued in "Everybody Loves Grant" is a welcome focus on Max and hopefully portends a better balance as the series continues (hopefully this will also include more relationships for Alex).
The new dynamic of Grant (coupled with the show's customary joke-a-minute style) helped to mitigate the fact that the plots were once again pretty generic. This episode put the cast together for most of the episode (like last week) with each subset of the group focusing on a different aspect of Max and Grant's relationship. Brad, Jane, and Penny competed for Grant's affection as the perfect couple to double date with. This has been covered in other shows (like the How I Met Your Mother episode "The Sexless Inkeeper") and didn't really add anything to the conceit. Dave worried about whether he lost the role of cool guy to the new person in the group, while Alex tried to stop Max from preemptively break up with Grant. These are sitcom mainstays, but the jokes help keep this from becoming an episode-sinking problem. This is similar to Cougar Town (which I've just started watching and will include in the regular review lineup once I become more familiar with it), which also improves on its 40-somethings hangout plots with jokes and sentiment.
The inclusion of Grant in the group in the past couple episodes helps the show create humor when its characters don't really change much. As Dave (the cool guy) said this week, Max is the lazy one, Jane is the type A one, Penny is the single girl, Brad is the married one and Alex is the one with the store. These general descriptions haven't really changed since the show defined the characters in the first season. This works well for comedy as it allows the audience to easily recognize the humor of the situation that the characters are in. However, it's unsustainable in the long-term unless the show can commit fully (such as in animated shows, whose characters never change). I would expect the end of this season to set up to events that will shake up the dynamic that this season has built.
Grant has served this role well as he brings out different sides of the group that we haven't seen before. Last week was the first glimpse of Max in a real relationship, which was expanded on this week as we saw him nervous and over-analytical. We also saw the effect Grant had on the rest of the group as they either tried to impress him or compete for the spot as the cool guy. I think the perfect length for this sort of guest-star relationship arc is four or five episodes - not long enough to define the season for one of the main characters, but long enough to be a real character instead of part of an episode's setting.
I think the reason that the Grant arc feels big for this show is that it's a relatively insulated show set in a small world. Unlike Parks & Recreation, which has a myriad of Pawnee residents and locales to draw from, How I Met Your Mother, which has its extensive mythology and history of extended guest arcs, Happy Endings pretty much only has its main characters to draw from (plus Megan Mullally). The show will have to develop other aspects to sustain itself in its third season and beyond.
- Usually the timeline for sitcoms is ambiguous on a weekly basis, interestingly this episode explicitly stated that 2 weeks have passed
- I didn't like the "preemptive breakup" idea, even knowing that the writers wouldn't carry it out. The trope wasn't subverted enough to justify including it. Same as what happened with Dave last week
- Alex moment of the week: "Can’t help it, I love the sound of bones crunching. I feel like a god, I can destroy life."
- "No, the Ericksons always want to talk about their kids" "Yeah, we get it, you made a mistake and called it Todd"
- "What kind of vibe are we giving out that makes every couple want to sweeten our sheets?"
- Easter Egg: Max wore a shirt saying "3rd Annual Spring Smackdown," which refers to next episode - the friends wait for Jane & Brad's annual Spring Smackdown to see when winter will end
- "I mean I see those colors in my head and they don't make sense, but then I see them on him and it's like nothing else does"
- "Every group needs a Dave" "Yeah, like in Dave Matthews Band, Carter Beauford is the Dave!" - personally, I think Stefan Lessard is the Dave.
- Another great explanation from Dave: "Well, you know how heat lowers and the whole heat inversion thing"
- "I think I would know if I was being redemptive - we're not in Europe"
- "Thank you, you're smarter than you are tall! Good day, tiny madam!"
- Penny thought her teacher boyfriend was a pharmacist
- "I wish I could just chillax like Dave. Which reminds me, Dave, what is it going to take to win you over? You're impenetrable!"