Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 4, 2015)
Showtime’s Happyish focuses on Thom Payne (Steve Coogan), an advertising man fighting middle age, depression and the oppression of youth. At last – a show that connects to my life! This 2-DVD package includes all 10 of Season One’s episodes. The synopses come straight from the DVD menus.
Starring Samuel Beckett, Albert Camus and Dr. Alois Alzheimer: “The day after his 44th birthday, Thom comes under pressure to rebrand himself when his agency hires a pair of young Swedish creative directors to evolve the company. Dani (Ellen Barkin), a headhunter, advises Thom to admit that he’s hit his joy ceiling.”
What to think of a series debut in which a Keebler elf shoots himself in the head – and the lead human character gets it on with an elderly female elf? So far, I think it’s a show that’s trying too hard to be different, a factor abetted by the pretentious title and the pseudo-edgy dialogue. Happyish boasts enough talent for me to continue to give it a look, but the pilot doesn’t inspire me with great confidence.
Starring Marc Chagall, Abuela and Adolf Hitler: “Thom loses his couch and gets a lesson in corporate America from Jonathan (Bradley Whitford) – it involves German pornography. The Swedes push a new campaign, and Lee’s (Kathryn Hahn) bubble is invaded when her mother sends Julius (Sawyer Shipman) a package.”
Two episodes in and I’m still not feeling Happyish, though I think I should be into it. Normally I’d like a comedy with a dark edge, but Happyish seems too cynical even for me. “Chagall” offers a few minor laughs – mostly during a discussion of how to make the Keebler elves more “real” – but otherwise it doesn’t do much to entertain.
Starring Vladimir Nabokov, Hippocrates and God: “When Julius gets ill, Thom’s Catholicism and the GEICO Gecko offer dueling takes on the meaning of suffering. MGT departments begin the downsizing process, and a shit fan hits New York Life.”
Happyish aspires to be great satire, especially when it mocks the advertising world. Occasional nuggets amuse, but I still think the show believes it’s smarter than it is. The continued trend toward ugly characters and gratuitous profanity makes “Hippocrates” another tough episode to embrace.
Starring Sigmund Freud, Charles Bukowski and Seven Billion Assholes: “While waiting for the mothership that left him on this shitty planet to return, Thom is overrun by assholes. The Swedes continue to castrate him at work, Jonathan introduces the official Nazi handbook at a meeting and Julius gets suspended for hitting Fitzgerald Miller (Jeremy Zorek).”
Is it possible to enjoy a series that consists of nothing other than bitter, unlikable characters? Yes, but it’s tough, and so far, Happyish can’t pull off that trick. The personalities aren’t amusingly nasty – they’re just ugly, self-absorbed and cruel. That’s not a good recipe for an entertaining series – four episodes along, I’m losing patience.
Starring Josey Wales, Jesus Christ and the New York Times: “When Thom’s train strikes and kills a commuter, he gets a life lesson. Gottfrid (Nils Lawton) questions Thom’s priorities when he misses a morning meeting. And Lee finds a new studio with a Holocaust survivor landlord.”
Bitch, moan, complain, argue, whine, whine, whine – there’s Happyish in a nutshell. Like earlier episodes, some mildly funny moments pop up every once in a while – here mainly through the landlord’s absurdly tragic life – but otherwise, we just find more of the unrelenting misery without redeeming comedic value.
Starring Helen Keller, Moses and Lenny Bruce: “A new store at the local mall sends Lee into a tailspin. Thom takes over a campaign and consoles Larry. And the Swedes attempt to steal Lorna (Hannah Hodson) while offering Thom another big account.”
How can I relate to a character so miserable that he can’t even enjoy auditioning underwear models? That’s Thom – and Happyish - in a nutshell. “Moses” actually almost allows some joy to enter the picture, but it remains a minor component and can’t relieve the show’s general misery.
Starring David Ogilvy, Anton Chekhov and Gluten Enteropathy: “Thom travels to LA and promises Julius he’ll bring him back a toy. Lee gets a new cell phone and comforts Julius when Thom is forced to stay in town until the next week by Gottfrid.”
Thom and Lee: two self-important, pretentious douches who’re convinced they’re the only ones who are “real”. If Happyish took the logical approach and mocked them, it might work, but it follows their side and treats them with the self-seriousness they desire. As usual, a few moments entertain, but too much of the show feels like the writer’s smug rant against modern society.
Starring Rene Descartes, Adweek and HRH The Princess of Arendelle: “Thom gets forced out of his office for the new ‘Ideation Room’. Lee vents on Frozen while helping out as lunch mom and meets Sandy (Susan Kelechi Watson). James Deen gives three fool-proof tips on success in porn/corporate America.”
Julius asks what we all wonder: “Mom, why are you so angry?” The better question: who thought it’d be a good idea to base a TV series around bitter, unlikable, smug, irritating, condescending, self-righteous characters?
In other words, “Descartes” offers more of the same, though it may even be worse than usual, as the running commentary from Deen delivers the self-conscious faux cleverness that makes this series so tough to take.
Starring Mr. Mike, Joseph McCarthy and Alfred Bernhard Nobel: “Thom finds out a terrible thing about Larry. Fear is the next Army tactic but Thom – too shaken about Larry – wants to quit. Thom meets with Dani for advice. Lee takes Julius to Hebrew school.”
Happyish attempts even more philosophical depth than usual here, as the episode gets into religion. As always, it flops. The episode attempts the standard satire but ends up as toothless and predictable.
Starring Christopher Hitchens, Philip Larkin and Josef Stalin: “Thom writes a story involving meaning, underpants, a church and a cop. Then he quits.”
Mercifully, S1 of Happyish ends here. While I’d like to say it goes out on a high note, that’d be a lie. Yes, “Hitchens” attempts to finish the season with more positivity than usual, we don’t care enough about the characters to invest in these events.
I went into Happyish with high hopes that it’d provide intelligent comedy, but instead, I found a series obsessed with its own perceived cleverness. Happyish’s smug condescension makes it a consistently annoying enterprise.