(The show loved to invent surreal celebrity endorsements.) After greeting them with a hug, Dave asks, “Whore’s Bath?” to which Penny replies with a line reading that will forever change the way you hear Au Bon Pain. Why? Also, some impressively silly wordplay — like Brad referring to “my Busch,” his faux cologne Busch, by Kyle Busch, and Alex accusing Penny of stealing her My Morning Jacket jacket. (Seriously, come on, you’ll love it). The rise and fall of Dave’s speakeasy doesn’t matter long term; Max breaking it off with Grant for wanting different things, Alex reconnecting with Dave, and Penny’s private realization all do. After spending time with boyfriend Grant (James Wolk), man-child Max realizes that a grown-up relationship involves adult decision-making and literal horse-holding. Let them grouse that the first season aired out of order (you can find the correct one on Reddit!) and that the third had episodes burned off two at a time for no good reason. This visual gag is Happy Endings in one GIF-able moment. In this one episode, foundations are laid for meaningful trajectories with a breathtaking jokes-per-second ratio. With his boyish good looks and goofy sensibilities, Knighton would be the sole lead on any other prime-time show; plot lines would default to Dave navigating life after being left at the altar by Alex (Elisha Cuthbert) in the pilot. Plus, the characters are so well drawn that while this episode airs in the back half of the second season, you could show it to any nonbeliever and they would get it. So please, let devotees talk you into watching it. (She nervously remarks that her “gross” fantasy is a romantic fireside proposal and “not at all a reference to [her] subconscious desires.” Cue the orchestral rendition of “Baker Street.”) As the trio conspire over brunch, Jane hisses that he’s “Freddy Krueger–ing [them] … with sex!” cuing an enthusiastic entrance that causes the three to scream. It delivered the formula that TV viewers expect while leaving them breathless after each deranged pun, meta-joke, and niche cultural reference. But this is Happy Endings, where his unfailing commitment to increasingly ludicrous personality traits places the joke on Dave. Draaaaamaaa! As ditzy Alex tries to improve herself, she leans into it way too hard, then overcorrects by sleeping with ex-fiancé Dave. Despite the razzing, married couple Jane (Eliza Coupe) and Brad (Damon Wayans Jr.) stop by, flanked by pals Max (Adam Pally), Jane’s sister Alex, and Penny (Casey Wilson), who’s on a sugar-free cleanse she read about on Teri Hatcher’s Tumblr. Except for a streaming service to revive it, which would be, to borrow a phrase, Ah-mah-zing. There’s also plenty of slapstick that can happen only in the world of a TV show (Penny hoards food on a ceiling fan!) as well as payoff from guest star Colin Hanks playing an Entourage-y version of himself. While making plans to visit the pop-up bar, the rest of the Happy Endings gang reflects on Dave’s earlier “stupid ideas.” (Insert cutaways to plans for boxer thongs, changing his name to Dustin, and, oof — proposing to Alex.) Withering insults are this group’s love language. Newly cleanse-committed Alex and Penny decline. It’s all there. Except for Penny’s, since she may have real feelings for Dave. The next morning, Brad and Jane gasp awake after having sex dreams about Dave set to the saxophone riff from “Baker Street.” (Brad’s also features the faux male fragrance Busch, by Kyle Busch.) Penny and Alex have embraced their lifestyle changes with varying results: Airheaded Alex is thrilled that her vertical leap has improved, while Penny, in a flashback, considers climbing off Jane’s balcony. What else could you want from a sitcom? Happy Endings is as warm as it is wicked, as charming as it is absurd, and just so funny. If you’re among the former, you’re likely used to the latter’s insistence that the network failed this gone-too-soon favorite, which you should totally stream tonight. Dave is wearing a hat and a striped sweater and waggling his fingers hello. Happy Endings is streaming on Hulu. Even the concept of his success happens at his expense; the man owns a steak-sandwich truck called Steak Me Home Tonight, but it takes off only once he has parked and converted it into a theme bar. This expertise is on full display in “Cocktails & Dreams,” the Season 2 episode in which Dave (Zach Knighton) secures a liquor license for his food truck. This is possible because Happy Endings transcends sitcom expectations even as it plays by the rules. Oh, and Alex joins a cult run by smarmy nemesis Avi (guest star Paul Scheer). Colin Hanks as (a dumb, boring, obnoxious version of) himself. It feels like a stand-alone episode in a lot of ways, but its high jinks are a sufficient springboard for the series’s future. With exceptional chemistry from its leads, rapid-fire dialogue, and pleasantly predictable twists, Happy Endings — which premiered ten years ago today — was genuinely weird and wonderful from the jump. Come on! When Max needs advice, he goes to Penny, crudely reminding her of their “romantic” past. Related
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Tags: Photo: ABC
There are two types of people: Those who haven’t watched Happy Endings and those who are obsessed with it. As it turns out, “Whore’s Bath” isn’t an accusation but the gin-based cocktail special. The leads’ interlocking histories are touched on enough for viewers to get a sense of how they initially came together and, better still, considering how they talk to and about one another, why they stayed close. In the end, their mystery is solved: The authentic speakeasy cocktail they drank includes turpentine, and the erotic dreams are thanks to a little friendly poisoning. From loopy gags and goofy conspiracies to real introspection and character growth, it does it all in absurdist fashion. To me, “Cocktails & Dreams” represents everything Happy Endings had in its arsenal. But by the time Alex dips from the cult (pre-orgy!) and snaps out of her Whore’s Bath–induced reverie soundtracked to “Baker Street,” she’s relieved — until she sees that Dave’s in bed next to her for real. What’s not to love? While Jane and Brad have stopped sleeping to avoid Dave-centric dreams, Penny, who has bailed on the cleanse, struggles after experiencing them herself.