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Last night I made the mistake of watching Modern Family in real time. The problem wasn't that I couldn't fast forward through the commercials (though it did suck) but that I got sucked into not one, but two episodes of the new sitcom Happy Endings that followed it. Even worse, I actually liked it.
By all means Happy Endings should be one of those really bad comedies—like Two and a Half Men or Shit My Dad Says —that we make fun of people for watching. And it's called Happy Endings. Why not just call itself Friends with Benefits or Amazeballs or Epic Win or something else completely idiotic that's trying to sound cool, hip, and sexy.
Even worse, it's a blatant Friends ripoff about a group of six friends—three guys and three girls—hanging around in ridiculously large urban apartments and being funny. The thing it uses to differentiate itself is that two of the friends were in a long-term relationship and broke up at the alter. Alex (Elisha Cuthbert of 24 fame) was like a helpless girl caught in a trap in the woods and marrying Dave (Zachary Knighton) was like a mountain lion coming to eat her. So she left him at the altar. Basically that just makes this Friends circa season five after Ross and Rachel had broken up a few times.
The pilot episode was bland enough, introducing suburban married couple Jane (Eliza Coupe) and Brad (Damon Wayans Jr., making me sad that I am old enough to watch a show where Damon Wayans son is playing a grown adult) as well as wacky single Penny (Casey Wilson) and butch gay dude Max (Adam Pally). But they got in a few original jokes about couples breaking up and introduced some fairly original comedic scenarios—at least for a network sitcom.
But it was episode two that really did me in. It was actually funny and didn't rely on the "our best friends broke up" gimmick that played so heavily in the first thirty minutes. Penny, disappointed in Max's heteronormative behavior, tries to find "her gay," while fastidious Jane helps Alex try to find a new roommate and Dave has a new love interest he can't get away from. Nothing really groundbreaking, but it was handled in a winning way with modern jokes about the internet and porn mixed with some clever observations about gay culture and how men and women interact. Most importantly, it had a fresh sensibility that felt a lot less staid than the laugh track-heavy Friends of old.
People have pronounced the network sitcom dead more times than Kelsey Grammar has been nominated for an Emmy, and critics insist it needs to get more innovative in order to survive. There is nothing truly innovative about Happy Endings, and it pales in comparison to its inventively hilarious lead in Modern Family. Still it proves that taking an old formula and giving it a clever update can make for a fully entertaining half hour. Yes, I will watch Happy Endings again, but I'm not going to admit to really liking it until at least season two.