If a comedy falls on a Friday, does it make a sound? That's the puzzle presented by Happy Endings, television's most consistently funny sitcom. A few weeks away from wrapping up a terrific third season, the ABC show finds itself banished to Fridays, its final 10 episodes being burned off two at a time. This is only the latest indignity for the series, which debuted in a new Tuesday time slot in late October to great critical fanfare and more-than-acceptable ratings. Since then it's been yanked around like a ponytail in a Serbian catfight: first adding a second original airing on Sundays at 10 p.m., and then being pulled from the schedule completely for all of February before being condemned to its current nebulous fate. Happy Endings remains as fizzy as ever, but entertainment president Paul Lee seems content to waste it, continuing a sorry network tradition of pouring out perfectly good champagne into a puddle.
That Happy Endings deserves better is almost not worth saying. The show has evolved from a tepid Friends clone into a gloriously cacophonous wonder. The cast has the best chemistry on television — from the feral attraction between hot marrieds Eliza Coupe and Damon Wayans Jr. to the sly pranking of Adam Pally and Elisha Cuthbert — but the longer the show has gone on, that chemistry has turned wonderfully corrosive. The six leads have become less Ross and Rachel — especially now that the show's inciting incident, the altar abandonment of Zachary Knighton's Dave by Cuthbert's deliriously dumb Alex, has been retconned back to contented coupledom — and more Seinfeld: an enthusiastically vicious gang that hangs out together because no one else could possibly tolerate them. As Casey Wilson's Penny told Dave last Friday with a warm smile: "You're one of my oldest friends, but if we met now we'd be enemies."
About a month ago, ABC announced it was moving the low-rated but critically beloved Happy Endings to a one-hour burn-off block on Fridays, the programming equivalent of stabbing the show in the gut with a rusty steak knife, setting it atop a sickly donkey, and waving wanly as it's carried off to whatever fate awaits it in the sweltering desert. Good luck out there, old friend! And, oh, you might want to get that hole in your stomach checked out. Two-episode blocks on Friday nights are not a vote of confidence as much as they're a phone call to the funeral parlor to inquire about grieving room availability.
Bad news for everyone's not that many people's favorite gang of Chicago-based pun-favoring best friends: ABC is moving little-watched Happy Endings — the slapdash sitcom that Grantland's own Vice President of East Coast Television and Microwave Oven Programming Andy Greenwald calls "one of the best shows on all of television" — to Fridays, where, presumably, it will die a whimpering, mostly painless death.
It wasn't a very funny week for fans of culty comedies. Within about 24 hours, ABC evictedDon't Trust the B in Apartment 23 from its Tuesday-night perch, and Fox did the same with its freshman flop Ben & Kate. Both shows have filmed episodes remaining — eight for the former, six for the latter — though neither network has announced any sort of plan to air them. The big bad C-word — cancellation — is about as popular around television these days as another C-word. (Community — what did you think I meant?) Instead, both networks are referring to the shake-ups as "rescheduling." But come on. Even Dawson knows what's up.
The Golden Globes are the one night a year when Hollywood stars are allowed to break free from the joyless, sweat-streaked struggle of their lives and really let loose. So it stands to reason that some of that celebrity good cheer should trickle down to the Hollywood Prospectus podcast, no? After a spirited discussion of Sunday night's surprisingly entertaining ceremony — including talk of the winners (Jennifer Lawrence, Jessica Chastain, anyone at home watching Jennifer Lawrence and Jessica Chastain), losers (Steven Spielberg, Hillary Clinton's husband), and WTFs (Jodie Foster's ménage-à-hamster with BFFs Robert Downey Jr. and Mel Gibson) — Chris and I welcomed a star of our own in the form of Adam Pally, co-star of TV's funniest sitcom, Happy Endings. Adam called in on his cell phone during a lunch break (he was presumably eating Greek yogurt, not wearing it) to explain why getting two new episodes of HE per week (on Tuesdays and Sundays) isn't necessarily a bad thing. While we had him on the line, we also asked him about the dirty things the writers slip past the censors, how he'd behave in the E! hospitality tent, and what's really going on with the Knicks.
It goes without saying that the Hollywood Prospectus podcast maintains a healthy East Coast bias — no matter where Chris and I call home, we’ll always have an unshakable affection for weather, Herr’s potato chips, and neck beards. But young rapper Kendrick Lamar has shaken up all our allegiances. We spent the first part of today’s pod discussing his great new album good kid, m.A.A.d. city (2:30), and our colleague Sean Fennessey’s insightful celebration of it, and the inherent differences between Kendrick’s thoughtful, complicated rap and the straight-up goon music propagated by Gucci Mane, who also released a record this week.
From there we digressed into thoughts on A$AP Rocky, MC Eiht, and Chris’s high school bad luck in baseball and at local movie theaters. We went back and forth on the highly exciting/high-risk bombshell on this week’s Homeland (21:40) and finished up with some raves for the return of Happy Endings (30:45), for our money the best comedy on TV. Just don’t tell Bodie — the one from The Wire or the one from Point Break.
On Wednesday, Marvel Films announced the director for Captain America 2: The Return of the Sepia-Stained Pectorals, due to be released in 2014. Make that directors: Brothers Joe and Anthony Russo were given the gig over fellow finalists Tim Story (Fantastic Four) and George Nolfi (The Adjustment Bureau). At first blush it may seem strange that the fraternal filmers responsible for the “Advanced Gay” episode of Community and the Arrested Development episode in which Jason Bateman and Will Arnett endeavor to track the seal that ate their brother’s hand would be given the keys to such an expensive, if retro, sports car. (The first Captain America made over $368 million worldwide in 2011. Take that, globalization!) But from a purely creative perspective, the Russos — whose previous feature credit was 2006’s failed bromance You, Me and Dupree — are actually an inspired choice. Their time on manic sitcoms like Happy Endings and especially Community provided opportunities to direct everything from bottle episodes to full-on paintball bloodbaths, and their zippy sensibilities are a good fit for the winking pop propaganda that made the first installment a surprising success. But there’s an equally clever business sense at play here as well. After dabbling with proven cinéastes for the opening chapters in their ever-expanding multiplex multiverse — Shakespearian Kenneth Branagh for Thor, '40s fetishist Joe Johnston for the first Cap, and aging swinger Jon Favreau for Iron Man — Marvel has turned to another medium entirely to find the talent capable of keeping the party going, and, more importantly, the costs down: television.
Eliza Coupe: We had a laugh attack that was honestly I don’t know. We had another one —
Damon Wayans Jr.: We have one like every —
Eliza Coupe: Well, during the scene with the workout stuff where Pally and I decided to make each other smell certain things.
Damon Wayans Jr.: Oh man! That was crazy! Don’t tell them that!
Eliza Coupe: I’m not even going there with that one. It was one of the grossest things in the world. But funny.
Damon Wayans Jr.: Basically we just laugh a lot together.
Eliza Coupe: All the time.
In the taxonomy of sitcoms there are many species. There are workplace comedies and relationship comedies, romantic comedies and anarchic comedies. Showtime even harbors a particularly rare and delicate genus, the unfunny comedy. But in the same way the Sham-Wow guy and Shamu are both mammals, all sitcoms are really one thing: family comedies. It’s a secret sauce as basic and unchanging as what McDonald's slaps on your Big Mac: Successful sitcoms are about clashing personalities forming lifelong bonds. The characters bicker, but really they love, just like families or particularly liberal cults. If the people onscreen don’t enjoy spending time together, then the audience won’t enjoy it either. The accumulated quirks, Segways, and unseen wives should serve to accentuate the chemistry, not distract from it. In other words, it should always be about the guys and the girls. Never the pizza place.
Last night's episode of Happy Endings revolved around Penny's "thirtieth" birthday, which wasn't quite a success not only because she lies about her age, but also because Penny's birthday is cursed. In a series of flashbacks, we see the evidence: a clown getting CPR when she was 7; the ill-advised gift of a pet going nuts and terrorizing the gang. This year, the curse has manifested itself in a series of misadventures involving several different choices of restaurant for the birthday celebration; finally, the group ends up at their usual hang where a gypsy woman either reinforces the existing curse or hits Penny with a new one.
Happy Endings is a show that doesn't shy from calling out its pop-cultural ancestors, and last night's episode had a lot: "Character Who Always Has a Terrible Birthday" is a classic TV trope.
Andy Greenwald writes about TV for Grantland. Fellow staffer Chris Ryan has a TV. So what better way for the two friends to spend a Tuesday morning than recording a podcast about the small screen? Listen now as they discuss the problems with The Office (and NBC in general), the horrors of Whitney and Chelsea, and the wildly differing pleasures of Happy Endings, Justified, and Downton Abbey. Also, Chris thinks Andy's morals are suspect because he doesn't like seeing people get shot in the face. Enjoy!
For over a generation, NBC’s Thursday night line up has been the gold standard for situation comedy. It’s a long, laugh-filled line from The Cosby Show and Cheers through Seinfeld and Friends to The Office and 30 Rock today. (We’ll choose not to remember the eminently forgettable Grand and Veronica’s Closet — 9:30 has always been a bit of a stumbling block.) Today, the Peacock still has plenty of reasons to be proud of its Thursday slate. The inclusion of Whitney scuffs the standard up a bit — let’s call it bronze — but Community and especially Parks & Recreation are proud inheritors of the network’s history of inclusive amusement. We at Grantland are such firm believers in the cultural importance of NBC’s Thursday nights that we have a weekly column devoted to its mirthful merit. But after a sleepless night of barely watched reruns, we awoke this morning thinking the unthinkable: is the funniest TV night of the week now on Wednesday? And does it air on an entirely different network?
The last thing J.J. Abrams produced for NBC was 2010’s sexy spy-couple show Undercovers, and that was canceled quick. But the network has just given a pilot production commitment to another Abrams show, Revolution, an "epic adventure thriller" for which no other details have been released. Abrams also has series set up at CBS and Fox this season, so either Revolution is good enough to make NBC forgive Undercovers, or they just really didn’t want to feel left out. Grade: B- [HR]
Brad Pitt has been offered a role in All You Need Is Kill, an adaptation of Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s manga comic about a soldier killed in the first day of an alien invasion and then forced to relive the day before his death over and over again. The soldier then spends that time learning ice sculpture and how to woo Andie MacDowell. Grade: B+ [Vulture]