I started 2015 with the best binge possible, a seemingly endless stream of love and laughter via the cancelled-too-soon Happy Endings. Committing to the dozen or so shows I resolved to finish this year has been difficult now that I finished three joyful seasons in Chicago with Brad, Jane, Max, Penny, Alex, and Dave.
The show is all highs and no lows, even though the 2011 pilot begins with Alex (hilariously) leaving Dave at the altar. If it sounds like Friends, that’s fair: Alex wasn’t ready to marry Dave, and they needed to find themselves before they could find each other, just as Rachel needed to find herself and a job before she could waffle around with the worst guy in Manhattan.
Yep, Happy Endings, tragically unappreciated, is better than Friends. Of course it is. Happy Endings is legitimately funny, and never plays to the lowest common denominator. You can start at any time and never feel like you missed out, yet it rewards longtime fans with snappy callbacks, long cons, and cheery recurring foibles.
The characters of Happy Endings are fully-realized (and will never self-actualize) from the start but are given opportunities to break free from their tropes (this happens most often with Brad, who is black, and Max, who is gay). Everyone is at their absolute worst and usually taken to task for it (like that time Penny initiated a Pile On with her boyfriend’s friends, or the time Max ruined his roommate’s life).
Since I threw down the gauntlet: The problems with Friends is that it’s sexist, too white, homophobic, transphobic, boring, and not funny. Rachel, Ross, Monica, Chandler, Phoebe, and Joey are bad people in a bad way. The very worst part about Friends is Rachel: She abandons her life of privilege (but not really, not ever) and goes from rejected at 12 interviews to a dream job in Paris. Rachel should have said to Ross what she said to Gunther: “I love you too, probably not in the same way.”
I’ll let Lisa Love take it from here:
Life Pro Tip: Always go to Paris. If you don’t like it, come home. Maybe Mr. Big will buy the ticket for you. Maybe Mr. Big will say, “I love you and you love Paris, let’s live here.” (We can see why I’m not bound for a writer’s room.)
What set Happy Endings apart from NBC’s Friends replacements (Endings premiered the same year as the similar and swiftly cancelled Better With You, Mad Love, Perfect Couples, Traffic Light, and Friends With Benefits) was its big heart, its gleefulness, and its frank acknowledgement that it was about bad people having a good time. ABC missed an opportunity when it canceled Happy Endings in 2013 (and mistakenly picked up Marry Me, which shares creator David Caspe in 2014), but thanks to Hulu, we can pretend (both?) never happened.
Watch it on Hulu.