[Review based on "The Shrink, the Dare, Her Date and Her Brother" (2.10), "Meat the Parrots" (2.11) & "Makin' Changes!" (2.12).]
The precept that comedies need time to discover their niche is better exemplified by Happy Endings than almost any other show in recent memory (Parks & Recreation notwithstanding). Initially written off as a tired Friends rehash and lumped in with CBS's failed Mad Love, it developed into one of the punchiest comedies and the heir apparent to How I Met Your Mother's thirtysomethings-in-a-big-city niche. The show's subtle jokes (unacknowledged with pauses or a laugh track) help keep the audience focused on the humor, drawing focus away from many of emotional moments to pass by unnoticed.
In the last three episodes, many of these moments have come from Dave and Penny storylines. "The Shrink, the Dare, Her Date and Her Brother" and "Meat the Parrots" form a mini-arc that helps define the relationship between the two by examining first their dating lives, then their parents'. For most of "Shrink," the A-story explores the acceptability of dating a friend's before teasing a Dave/Penny romantic pairing. One of the key ways that the show's writers have built trust is their awareness of Happy Endings's influences and their willingness to invert some of those shows' tropes -- such as Friends's revolving door of romantic pairings and will they/won't they teases. The writers use the sitcom nature of their show (in which the status quo is usually maintained across episodes) to drop the romantic pairing while still developing their closeness into a sibling relationship in "Parrots".
Viewing these episodes together helps to offset a tone that might otherwise seem uneven. Although Happy Endings rarely dispenses with its light and jokey attitude, the two episodes preceding "Makin' Changes!" built to more serious and meaningful moments at the end (especially "Parrots"). In contrast, each of the storylines in "Makin' Changes" is played off for silly laughs, even the A-story about Penny's dating life. However, focusing on Penny's dating woes provides continuity with the rest of the season and helps reestablish the show's status quo.
Having a continuing theme throughout each of these episodes' main storylines lets the show get away with sillier and unconnected B- and C- plots. The old-Brad/Jane dress-up let the show explore some of the backstory of its strongest pairing. It tied in with main plot by discussing the way significant others change each others, deviating from many Happy Endings episodes (which often only bring the different plots together at the bar at the end). The storyline ended sweetly with the couple realizing how much they changed each other. This sentiment felt more earned than the C-story involving Alex and Max staging an intervention for Dave's V-neck addiction. The climax was played off for laughs as a parody of over-the-top reality shows, but it caused some of the gags to become predictable, such as the unwitting intervention counselor and the (though the hidden backwards V was gold). The revelation that Dave used V-necks to escape bullying was a bit forced but suitable for the silliness that led up to it.
From a superficial standpoint, Happy Endings appears to be an updated Friends: a similar premise and use of character pairings in a single-camera format without an audience to fit current tastes. However, what keeps the show fresh is the subtle connecting threads between the episodes. These connections let the characters and relationships develop subtly, allaying fears that the show's later seasons will feature characters that haven't changed since the pilot. This sets it apart from its other great influence, How I Met Your Mother, whose protagonist Ted has reverted to the character from the first season.
Grade (based on all three episodes): B+
Quotes/Quips/Quibbles: (feedback requested - too glib?)
- "Do you know what's under his hockey jersey?" "A Family Guy tattoo?"
- Brad telling Jane to strap in (no, seriously) fell a bit flat for me.
- Emergen-tee, on the other hand, just entered my functional vocabulary
- Alex moment: "You understand what's happening here, right?" "Yes. Maybe. Let's say it at the same time."
- Alex moment #2: "Oh my god. That's four Vs. That's almost five!"
- "Uncle Rich!" "Wait, my Uncle Rich?"
- Alex moment #3 (lots of great ones this episode): "What's a baker's dozen?" "Eleven" "Thirteen" "I think my baker's ripping me off."
- Never was a big Jackass fan, but I enjoyed Brad's mousetraps/cupcakes challenge
- "Aah. That's my good nipple"
- Looking back, the "Penny changing the guy" plotline wasn't my favorite - seems a bit tired.
- Though it was a bit predictable, I enjoyed the Brad & Jane clothes joke near the end.