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Seen Anything Good? - Happy Endings

Welcome to Seen Anything Good? A monthly series where I tell you which shows to binge-watch when you need help coping with the state of the world.

I miss my friends. I know that’s not a new or particularly insightful thing to say, and maybe a year into the pandemic I should be used to isolation, but I’m not. I don’t think that I’ll ever get used to it. I miss getting coffee and teasing my friend about their crush on the barista. I miss getting dressed up for nights out together and having to borrow someone else’s slutty top because I spilled a Straw-Ber-Rita on mine. I miss that thing where someone mispronounces a word and then everyone else spends the rest of the day trying to slip their malapropism into conversation. I miss it, and I want it all back.

It’s not like we don’t communicate at all. We have Zoom hangouts and send each other silly memes on Twitter, but it’s not really the same. I feel disconnected in a way that’s hard to even explain. I guess I took for granted being able to see my friends every day. I didn’t realize how much you lose when you can only communicate through a screen. Our connections cut out, or we speak over each other and end up missing what everyone was trying to say. And none of us are willing to pay for an actual Zoom subscription (it’s $150!!!) so our meetings get cut off after 40 minutes, anyway. Conversations feel less organic when we’re all watching a countdown in the corner of the screen.

As much as I’ve tried to keep in contact with everyone, it hasn’t been easy. There are close friends that I’ve drifted away from in the past year, now that we’re not able to just grab lunch every few weeks and catch up. It’s especially hard because we’re all at different points in our lives, with wildly different schedules and priorities. Some are moving to new cities, or starting their careers, or settling into relationships, and others (myself included) have just sort of been sitting around for a year, waiting for something to happen. Every attempt at a conversation fizzles out when neither of us has anything exciting to report, and then suddenly we’ve gone months without speaking. It isn’t anybody’s fault, but it still stings. I can’t shake the feeling that when I said goodbye to them, it was the last time that we would ever see each other face-to-face.

But I can’t spend all of my time moping. Sometimes I need to shake off the sadness and find something that reminds me of better, happier times - the good parts of friendship, rather than everything that makes it feel so impossible right now. I require goofy sitcom escapism, where I can turn my brain off for 25 minutes (plus commercials) and watch friends get into easily avoidable but hilarious hijinks. And Happy Endings is perfect for that.

Image via ABC

I consider myself a connoisseur of underrated sitcoms of the early 2010s. I’m a Suburgatory stan. I’ve seen every episode of Cougar Town, and I would defend Don’t Trust the B---- in Apartment 23 with my life. But out of all of those, Happy Endings is my absolute favorite. It’s also, in my opinion, the most likely to become a cult classic in a few years. Don’t you want to be able to say that you watched it before it was cool?

The show follows the Friends model (or the Living Single model, if you want to be accurate), with a group of quirky friends trying to navigate relationships, careers, and whatever misadventures they manage to get themselves into in the big city - Chicago, in this case. There’s the power couple made up of neurotic, type-A Jane, and her more laid back husband Brad, relationship-obsessed Penny, slacker Max, bimbo rights pioneer Alex, and… Dave. He’s technically the lead, but like Ross Geller and Ted Mosby before him, he’s sort of necessarily bland in order to highlight the other character’s personalities. But it works, and it only makes things funnier when the rest of the gang has to act as the voice of reason against one of his misguided ideas (like declaring that fringed jackets are his “new thing” or trying to open a restaurant with a 70-page menu).

While the show starts off with the premise of trying to keep the group intact after Alex leaves Dave at the altar, it drops that set-up pretty quickly and shifts into a more traditional ensemble comedy, really letting the actors play off of each other. The result feels like a perfect capsule of 2010s comedy - lightning-fast one-liners, absurd cutaway gags, and a mix of cynicism and warmth that reminds me of a real friend group. It’s the only show I’ve seen that can make a running joke out of calling someone a “stupid idiot” and have it feel affectionate rather than just mean. A lot of that comes from the genuine chemistry between the cast, which features Adam Pally, Casey Wilson (the best part of Gone Girl), and sitcom royalty Damon Waynes Jr. (Fun fact: Waynes Jr. left New Girl in order to appear on Happy Endings, so this show is also inadvertently responsible for the creation of Winston Bishop. Everyone say thank you, Happy Endings).

In so many ways, the characters in Happy Endings remind me of my own group of friends. They spend their time hanging out at their favorite bars and restaurants, complaining about jobs and relationships, and they’re always there to support one another when they need it. At the same time, they don’t hesitate to call out when somebody is being completely delusional, and to me, that’s true friendship.

Despite its many strengths, the show was kind of set up to fail. The first season was aired almost completely out of order in an attempt to create more stand-alone episodes, but mostly just made it really hard to keep track of what everyone’s doing. After that, it was continually bumped between different time-slots to make room for more popular shows, and after 3 seasons it was unceremoniously canceled in 2013. Still, it’s grown a pretty substantial online following since then, and the cast even reunited for a pandemic special in 2020.

Ultimately, Happy Endings is a fun, endlessly quotable show - seriously, I still find myself saying “ah-mazing” in Penny’s voice all the time - but it’s also a testament to the importance of friendship. It’s especially comforting to watch now when I’m so far away from my friends. If I can’t be with them, at least I can watch Brad, Jane, Alex, Penny, Max, and Dave for a little while and hope that when I finally see my friends again, we can have half as much fun as they do on Happy Endings.

The show is serialized, meaning that the episodes are supposed to be watched in order, but really, you can jump around a little without missing much. I’d recommend starting with these episodes to get an idea of what it's like:

Season 1, Episode 5: Like Father, Like Gun

Brad goes to extreme lengths to get his father to say “I love you.” Meanwhile, Penny tries to impress a hot Italian guy but discovers that she can only speak Italian when she’s drunk. Casey Wilson does some really fantastic drunk-acting in this, and it’s fun to see Damon Waynes Jr. play opposite his actual dad!

Season 2, Episode 2: Baby Steps

Jane becomes obsessed with finding her “daughter” after realizing that the egg she donated in college might have actually become a person. Alex tries to impress a group of teens who start buying the baby clothes in her shop to wear as crop tops. It’s both hilarious and vindicating, as someone who often holds up crop tops while shopping and says “wow it looks like this was made for babies.” It’s less funny when I say it, but it really works on the show.

Season 2, Episode 16: Cocktails & Dreams

The friends panic when Dave’s food truck finds unexpected success, and they all start having sex dreams about him. Meanwhile, Alex gets way too into a new fad diet, and Max struggles to commit to his “perfect” boyfriend. Plus, there’s a running joke about Colin Hanks, which is exactly the kind of low-profile specificity that I find funny.

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