Brow Beat

Gateway Episodes: Happy Endings

The cast of Happy Endings in “Dave of of the Dead”

Photo by Michael Ansell – © 2011 American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. All rights reserved.

Summer is here, the perfect time to catch up with a few of those shows everyone is always saying you should watch. But there are so many! How can you decide which to try? You need to find the gateway episode, one you can watch without any background knowledge and which will give you a real sense of the show—and whether you’ll like it.

The pilot for Happy Endings has every bad rom-com cliché you can imagine, right down to the runaway bride. It’s also the polar opposite of almost every episode in this three-season series. The show was declared finally and completely dead yesterday, after weeks of its fans hoping for a Cougar Town-like save from another network. This is a bummer, to be sure, but also an excuse to finally sit down and watch a series you should have tuned into sooner. Just don’t watch the pilot first. Instead, try Season 1’s seventh episode, “Dave of the Dead.” It will convince you that, in the words of Casey Wilson’s Penny, the show is amahzing. (I promise, you’ll pick up on the language quickly.)

The premise will sound familiar to anyone who’s ever watched TV: Six friends in their late 20s—three guys, three girls—attempt to figure out their lives. Friends comparisons are obvious and also addressed by the show’s characters. The jokes and references are clever but don’t require Arrested Development or Community-level pop-culture mastery, keeping the buddy-comedy feel while rewarding consistent viewers. They keep the rom-comminess alive with Penny’s wacky dating stories and the failed bride (Elisha Cuthbert’s Alex) and groom’s (Zachary Knighton’s Dave) rekindled romance. But the show’s depiction of marriage is its real strength. As John Swansburg put it when describing his favorite TV scene from 2012—a colossal fight that Elisha Coupe’s Jane and Damon Wayans Jr.’s Brad put on for the benefit of their friends (it makes sense, I swear)—“at the center of the show isn’t will-they-or-won’t-they romance like Ross and Rachel’s, but one of the strongest, funniest, sexiest marriages on television.”

Even so, the show’s best chemistry is between Penny, the stand-in for the lead of every rom-com movie ever, and Adam Pally’s Max Blum. I could spend the rest of this space singing Pally’s praise Mandonna style, but just trust me. He’s the unemployed, slothful, Jewish, gay guy who no one, including Bob Benson, can resist.   

This plot of “Dave of the Dead,” like many things from 2011, is inspired by a zombie movie (or, as Max calls it, “a future true story”). While watching the movie, Dave becomes convinced that his life has become too predictable, and he needs a change. A fairly clueless guy in general, he thinks what the world is missing is a restaurant that serves every cuisine. He pitches it, gets laughed at, has a heartfelt moment with Alex, then opens a food truck instead. But this is the weakest of the episode’s three main plotlines. Meanwhile, the bear-like Max enters into a challenge with hyper-competitive Jane (yes, she’s a lot like Monica) to see who would survive a zombie apocalypse. Jane’s seriousness paired with Max’s indifference to everything apart from proving his superiority is comedy gold. (Jane’s trash talk, e.g., involves a text message about the addition she’s building on the condo she has in his brain.)

Meanwhile, Penny, in her laundry-day best, gets asked out at the laundromat by a guy named Toby. After some initial confusion—he shows up for the second date in what looks like his laundry-day best—Max explains to Penny that Toby is a hipster. “All those things you like,” Max tells Penny, “he likes them ironically.” Cue the fashion montage with Max advising Penny on the appropriate style and etiquette. (“We’re going to need to put jeans under that skirt and sweats under those jeans.”) Penny meets Toby’s friends—one has a blog about zines and the other has won the mustache contest three years in a row. They all go to a performance by a guy who plays with his left hand even though he’s right handed and is really big on the “abandoned gas station circuit.”

This episode isn’t the best of the series—we don’t get the full Brad effect, for one thing—but it’s the best introduction to the show. Its combination of real-life friendship and nonsensical (but clever) humor is what convinced me to start watching, and I have faith that it will have the same effect on you. It ends with the gang at a hipster party, and if you are not charmed by the ’90s Long Island bat mitzvah theme, I don’t know what to tell you.

Previous Gateway Episodes
The X-Files
The Sopranos
Gilmore Girls

Veronica Mars

Doctor Who
Buffy the Vampire Slayer