Category: What We’re Streaming

What We’re Streaming: Happy Endings

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.

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Yep, Happy Endings, tragically unappreciatedis 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:

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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 YouMad LovePerfect CouplesTraffic 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.

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What We’re Streaming: Triumph Thinks We Have A Wonderful Collection of Presidential Candidates…

Triumph’s Election Special 2016

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If you ever wanted to see a rousing political panel show including the Dell Dude, Chocolate Rain Guy, and Sanjaya from American Idol, this is about as close as you’re gonna get. Midway through Triumph’s Election Special, those footnote figures of yore share the stage, and are given equal footing, with professional guest commentators such as Ron Fournier and Professor Alan Dershowitz. At center, moderating this motley bunch, is Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, that resilient canine puppet birthed from the uber-eccentric Conan O’Brien universe in the 1990s and voiced by comedian/cartoonist Robert Smigel.

That a two-decade running gag predicated on a certain type of Catskills personality — one mostly dormant since the halcyon days of Don Rickles — could feel timeless is a magical feat. Whatever the sleight of hand employed, it works as Triumph’s Election Special is consistently crass and furiously funny. While much of the humor is rooted in now well-worn stereotypes of the endless election season — Christie is fat, Sanders is old, Trump is crazy, Cruz is creepy, O’Malley is… is… well, exactly — Smigel is lightning swift on his feet and a master of crowd work and takes the tropes in wild and imaginative directions — from training an admittedly game Mike Huckabee on matching barbs with Trump to a downright quaint exchange with a local Iowan who used a stall directly after Christie.

He’s also genius at reading the room, sensing levels of discomfort, and milking the awkwardness in between. The longest bit comes when he visits the University of New Hampshire, home of a handbook on bias-free language, to confront a group of woefully unprepared PC-touting students in the world’s most delicate, yet emotionally deadly, game of Scared Straight. He senses blood in the water after offering a very personal, brutal, and genuinely funny, example of “trigger words,” passes out name tags with phrases like “Renaissance Faire Groupie” and “Future Psycho Nanny” and launches into an extended riff culminating in a hilarious experiment on the dangers of weaselly language. Frankly, I tend to find jokes about PC lazy and an excuse for casual bigotry, but Smigel, through Triumph, finds the natural essence of truth in such humor.

Even the only semi-flaw in the endeavor, the show’s loose structure, adds to the unpredictability and nervous energy. In addition to Triumph’s travels — from visiting a Trump rally (with shockingly good-sport attendees) to stalking an elusive Cruz from diner to hall to field — TES2016 features funny, non-dog-puppet moments, including Tim Meadows giving his all spouting insanities like “I won’t even visit Washington if elected” to credulous restaurant patrons, and FoxNews-style attractive women fanning out with mics seeing just how big a whopper Republicans will buy (and they manage to pull in Rick Santorum, although Rand Paul sees through it).

While he can seem brusque and overbearing at times, like Michael Moore, Triumph’s greatest triumphs (sorry) draw from letting celebrities and regular souls reveal themselves. Triumph’s Election Special 2016 is both a Daily Show: Indescision-level font of political insight and a raucous, ribald barrel of laughs.

Watch it on Hulu.

 

What We’re Streaming: Dope

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One of 2015’s best films, out for rent since December, is finally available to stream on Netflix. Malcolm, obsessed with 90s culture, and desperate to go to Harvard, is inexplicably stuck with a bag of dope in this charming, funny, and uplifting comedy.

It has humor, heart, and adult situations only a Harvard-bound teenager can survive.

Pairs well with House Party and Dear White People (available at Hulu).

Watch it at Netflix.