How to binge watch... 'Happy Endings'

The Internet's favourite sitcom, cancelled after three seasons in 2013, still wins over new fans every day

How to binge watch... 'Happy Endings'

[ABC]

Why binge Happy Endings?

Make no mistake, comedy is hard. Making someone laugh is tricky enough, but making millions chuckle is a feat so difficult that it literally takes rooms of the wittiest people on the planet crafting situations so unnaturally naturalistic, interpreted by actors with perfect comic timing, and editing by people who know what they’re doing to make a sitcom work. And sometimes they even have to add a laugh track just to bully your personal prejudices into agreeing that something is funny.

All this means that in the current golden age of scripted television, comedy is arguably one of the worst served genres. In an era of prestige drama with budgets running well north of $100m, critic-friendly sitcoms have become a bit more po-faced, becoming more and more dramatic and utterly divorcing themselves from traditional sitcom beats. Take Girls or Divorce on HBO, two 30-minute comedies that, arguably, land even fewer jokes than an average episode of Mrs Brown’s Boys, they just make them count. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt or Bojack Horseman offer world-weary mediations on the nature of life punctuated by moments of surreal comedy, but are in no way as re-watchable as the comfortable 20-odd minutes spent in the company of Friends.

Which brings us to Happy Endings, arguably the best sitcom of the last decade you’ve never even heard of. The single-camera ensemble about six pals in Chicago dealing with the aftermath of one of them leaving another one at the altar is one of the most popular TV shows on the Internet, with a global cult following still so pissed off that it was cancelled in 2013 that they still mount the occasional campaign to get somebody to bring it back. Silly and warm, but wickedly funny, it’s the kind of show you’d want to put on in the background when sick or hungover, because it’s impossible not to fall for its charms.

Buoyed by a cast of actors so game to embrace the individual quirks of each of their characters and by increasingly and bafflingly ridiculous subplots, any TV fan worth their salt owes it to themselves to give it a go.

How long will it take to watch?

The first season of Happy Endings started as a mid-season replacement, so is only 13 episodes long, and across all three seasons, the entire run adds up to a paltry 57. This adds up to just 20 hours and 54 minutes of viewing time, meaning that a keen viewer could easily pull off a binge over a single weekend. For the more modest consumer working off three episodes a night or so, it should take about a fortnight.

Where can you binge it?

Here’s the bad news, watching Happy Endings is going to require some effort. It isn’t available to stream on Netflix. Nor is it available on demand on Sky. While all three seasons are available on Amazon’s streaming service, the one that is (still) unavailable to Irish viewers. The seasons are available on DVD, though only the first one was released in Region 2, meaning if you want to watch the second or third, you’ll need to have a multi-region DVD player to hand. Plus that’ll set you back at least €60, provided the online retailers even deliver to Ireland. Look, we didn’t say this was going to be easy... But some episodes are available on YouTube if you’re willing to ignore international copyright laws.

Any hurdles to overcome?

The biggest issue anyone has to overcome with Happy Endings is how poorly it starts, with the first six episodes of the run being the kind of generic sitcom that neither demands nor deserves your attention. Getting through them doesn’t take very long, but it also doesn’t reflect the direction the show begins to take as everything begins to jell together. The show is very much a late bloomer.

But by the end of the first season, Happy Endings hits a strong comedic stride, coming back for its sophomore run better than ever, hitting the ground running and wildly playing with the traditional format, heading off in directions you really won’t expect. If you manage to stick around that long, you’ll race to the finish and rue every moment knowing that an abrupt and unsatisfying end is nigh.

Who steals the show?

Each of the principal six does excellent work across the lifetime of the show, bringing distinction to each of their characters. What could be one-note roles develop into something more engaging and complicated. The nicest surprise, though, is Elisha Cuthbert as Alex, the cold-footed bride who kicks the show off when she dumps Dave on their wedding day. To begin with, she’s nothing more than a ditzy sitcom blonde, Cuthbert – best known for playing Jack Bauer’s perma-suffering daughter Kim on 24 – showcases the kind of comedic physicality and timing you will never see coming, mining the absolute most out of the role of the group’s dim-witted fool.

A scene to sample:

From the midpoint of the show’s third season, the clip below shows how the characters interplay works when the show is at its strongest. Max (Adam Pally), the group’s freeloading gay, has been pulling pranks on them for years, so they decide to get him back by tricking him into believing he’s won the lottery. It, as one might expect, does not go to plan...

What to follow it up with when you’re done?

If you make it to the end of the binge, you’ll have really taken Happy Endings to your heart, so you’ll need something to help you through the crushing bitterness of a show that got cancelled mostly because ABC kept moving its schedule around and its audience could only seem to find it through online piracy. The likes of Scrubs and Parks & Recreation, both prime examples of shows that take a while to find their footing, will make for perfect substitutes. Or try the criminally underrated Don't Trust the B**** in Apartment 23, another cult favourite cut down in its prime.

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