If the miserable, aggressively unlikable characters from the series were reviewing it they would call it a total piece of s—. There would be swearing. I’ve never heard so much cursing and I’m a Leafs fan.
The series, which airs Sundays at 9:30 on Showtime and streams exclusively in Canada on CraveTV, revolves around Thom Payne (Steve Coogan), a depressed ad man in his early forties. There are many references to historical thinkers such as Thomas Payne (the first episode is titled, “Starring Samuel Beckett, Albert Camus and Alois Alzheimer”). This may be an attempt to elevate the series. Do not fall for it.
Payne hates his life and feels he can’t be happy. The best he can aim for is “happyish.” His wife (Kathyrn Hahn) and co-worker (Bradley Whitford)–they’re happyish too.
His friends are also miserable. They swear a lot too. This gets old really fast.
Happyish was originally developed as a series starring Philip Seymour Hoffman. TV beat writers gathered in Los Angeles for a TCA press tour were shown a clip a year-and-a-half ago with Hoffman as Payne. It was a scene where the ad man is confronted by the Keebler Elves of cookie fame. Payne’s smug new boss wants to ditch the elves after 47 years. The elves swear at Payne and curse out his boss. It had a My World and Welcome To It, James Thurber kind of charm (that’s me trying to elevate this review) and, more important, was funny. With Hoffman as the lead, the series looked promising.
This sneak peak strategy at press tour, however, is the kiss of death. The series never lives up to the funny clip. A dozen years ago, FX teased us with a clip from a series starring John Corbett called Lucky. When the full pilot was screened six months later, it became clear that the two minute clip was the only funny part of the series.
In the case of Happyish, the fall off is so monumental no one else will ever attempt this at press tour again.
In any event, Hoffman died and the series should have died with him. Not that what remains is all Coogan’s fault. The British writer/comedian has played boorish dolts before. Alan Partridge is a boorish dolt, but Coogan always found a way to make him sympathetic, which was quite a trick. Hoffman may have been better in this role, but the role is so unworthy of both of them lets not drill into this any deeper.
There are talented people behind Happyish. Ken Kwapis directs and is a producer. The man has The Larry Sanders Show, The Bernie Mac Show, The Office and Outsourced on his resume. Because of this, I watched a second episode of Happyish.
The creator/writer is Shalom Auslander, who won acclaim with his book, “Hope: a Tragedy.” The man knows from happyish, but there’s a darkness with this series that seems so forced and relentless that it seems more like it came from the author of “Hope: a Travesty.”
It may be that my reaction to Happyish is a generational thing. I have a similar, adverse reaction to Girls and to the new Billy Crystal comedy The Comedians. Much of the humour in these shows, to me anyway, seems rooted in darkness and negativity. This idea that everything sucks and life is desperate–woo man, pass the remote.
Anyway, do not watch Happyish. Read instead this feature I wrote last week for The Canadian Press which allowed me to write about the launch of the series without really saying anything about it. That made me happyish.