Binging rarely ends well. Binge eating is how unwanted food babies happen. Binge drinking is how inhibitions and memories are erased. Binge-watching a TV show can take over your life. Which is exactly what happened a few years ago when I fell in love with Happy Endings. Not unlike my shameful adventures in binge drinking, I had quite the hangover after making my way through all available episodes of the US sitcom (it ran for three seasons from 2011 – 2013). More than a year later, I still can’t shake the show’s aftermath. With the release of Happy Endings creator David Caspe’s latest show, Marry Me, these pangs of loss have resurfaced.
Marry Me stars Casey Wilson and Ken Marino (above) as Annie and Jake, an opposites-attract couple. After six years of dating, they finally get engaged during the pilot episode… but not before a few quintessential, OTT sitcom-style hiccups. Surrounded by an eclectic group of friends who both hinder and support their relationship, the first four episodes of the debut season see Annie and Jake working to overcome a series of amusing scenarios that stand in the way of their future bliss. Marry Me wants us to know that together, these crazy kids are gonna get through whatever life throws at them.
I concede that I’m a staunch defender of How I Met Your Mother, and do love a good romcom (of which there have been a bevvy of newbies on the box lately – the glorious You’re the Worst, for example). However, I’m not convinced that Marry Me can sustain a whole series on its marriage-relationship premise. It’s not that I lack faith in Caspe or the show’s lead cast, but I am sceptical about the long-term potential of a couple comedy in which the girl is desperate to get engaged, but her dude is taking his sweet bro time. It feels regressive, rather than nodding knowingly towards an existing comedic tradition (prove me wrong, Marry Me!).
While I love the leads – they’re ace performers and physical comedy masters – neither Marino nor Wilson (Caspe’s spouse IRL) have ever been focal sitcom leads. Other than the latest bottle episode where a hurricane forces the entire cast into a storage cage for its duration, Marry Me isn’t really framed as an ensemble comedy, which puts a lot of pressure on its leads. It pains me to say this of two very talented actors, but thus far the sole chemistry between them is in the opening credit sequence.
I adore them both. So much. Ken Marino is forever golden when shining among a troupe of fellow oddball characters. The minor, ego-driven weirdo roles he’s played on Veronica Mars or Party Down are particularly memorable. Casey Wilson’s career to date includes a short-lived stint on SNL, and a recent surprise appearance as the hysterical neighbour triplet-mom in Gone Girl. But she really made her mark as Penny Hartz in, you guessed it, Happy Endings where she was ah-mah-zing in an ensemble cast of six.
So what is this Happy Endings I’m going on about? I’m glad you asked. Happy Endings was a knowingly witty show about a serially silly group of codependent friends (above) – Penny, Max, Jane, Brad, Dave and Alex – living in Chicago. Kicking off with a pilot in which Alex (Elisha Cuthbert) ditched Dave (Zachary Knighton) during their wedding ceremony for a guy on rollerblades, Happy Endings steadily became a show about lasting friendships between some kinda horrible but truly awesome oddballs.
Initially, Alex was a diluted runaway bride character, and Dave the boring dumped dude with a penchant for V-neck t-shirts. They were insubstantial compared to the show’s other, fully-rounded characters: gloriously misanthropic Max (Adam Pally), arguably ‘the most important gay [character] on TV’; the incredibly sexy married couple of Jane (Eliza Coupe) and Brad (Damon Wayans Jr.); and ostentatious Penny, their perennially single girlfriend who turned 30 every year. But the writers soon carved out a place for Alex, as the tiny girl with a penchant for binge eating ribs and delivering killer non-sequiturs. Dave remained pathetic, lame Dave – but that was totally his thing (his star turn came in the episode when he Freddy Kruegered the group’s dreams… with sex).
While the initial wedding day scenario introduced us to the group, Happy Endings eventually expanded to explore the different meanings behind the words ‘Happy’ and ‘Endings’, beyond nuptial connotations. By the end of season one, the repercussions of Alex and Dave’s break up were all resolved. Every so often across the seasons, they would briefly reunite romantically (or sexually), or a character would make a gag about Dave being jilted, but this was always peripheral. Their relationship never defined the show – the group of friends as a whole did, and the cast dynamic was what Happy Endings fans loved most (although the rapid fire jokes and pop culture references were up there too).
After the show’s premature cancellation, fans were conflicted as ghosts of Happy Endings past started appearing on New Girl (Wayans Jr in the role he initially turned down to play Brad) and The Mindy Project (Pally, in a role that will never come close to Max’s sardonic majesty). I was suffering from character-attachment withdrawals: happy to see the actors’ faces again, but devastated that those faces were attached to different characters.
The greatest challenge a Happy Endings fan will encounter when watching and critiquing Marry Me is the inevitable comparisons between the two shows. Beyond the integral and obvious (Capse as creator, Wilson as star), Marry Me’s gags and plots have had a Happy Endings-lite sensibility. The most recent episode invoked Penny’s birthday curse with its ‘anniversary curse’ storyline, and Derek – the super camp recurring character from Happy Endings – has popped up as a one-liner gag, creating some universe-bending character overlap, and serious internal conflict right here *points to self*. It feels like a painful reminder of what we’ve lost, rather than a rush of excitement for what we’re gaining. Talk about da-ra-mahhh.
NBC has already extended Marry Me’s season, and it’s rating well in the States, so this is might just be my Happy Endings hangover grumbling. Sitcoms take a while to find their place and sort themselves out, so maybe I should hold off on judging Caspe’s latest offering too harshly. So far, though, I’m not ready to commit.