As a sitcom blueprint, Friends has proved highly influential. With its success from 1994 to 2004, it replaced the workplace comedy as the format that made large, younger audiences feel welcome. The Buddies Hanging Out genre — call it the pal-com? — ?can range from the gleefully gross (FX’s It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) to the frightfully forgettable (anyone remember Fox’s 2006 Happy Hour, canceled after four episodes?).
Current examples of the pal-com include the deadly Traffic Light on Fox; NBC’s most underrated, now-pulled-from-the-schedule sitcom, Perfect Couples; and the one to beat for all up-and-comers, ABC’s cheerfully soused Cougar Town. After seeing four episodes of the newest pal-com, Happy Endings, I’d have to say it’s…not bad at all.
Endings’ premise is that Alex (24’s Elisha Cuthbert) left Dave (FlashForward’s Zachary Knighton) at the altar. Now their mutual friends — desperate singleton Penny (former Saturday Night Live-er Casey Wilson), married couple Brad (Damon Wayans Jr.) and Jane (Scrubs’ Eliza Coupe), and mischievous Max (Adam Pally) — try to support Alex and Dave with equal affection. The initial concept seems to be that they would find this awkward, but by the second episode, Alex and Dave are dating other people and the subject barely arises.
The punchlines come fast and furiously (credit directors such as Community’s Joe and Anthony Russo for the pace) and trade heavily on shorthand references: Dave isn’t just dating a lot, for example, he’s ”dating John Mayer-a-lot.” They spend quite a bit of time drinking and not just talking about sex. (See: Cougar Town for the new model in alcohol-fueled crudity that somehow manages to come off merely tipsy-naughty.)
Endings does try too hard to push catchphrases into pop culture. A guy is ”stuck in chicksand”; Jane prides herself on being a charmer with adults: ”I’m parent heroin”; Penny works her highest compliment — ”a-MA-zing!” — until the strain shows.
The frenzied pace, barrage of jokes, and quick cutting of Endings make Friends look, in retrospect, like a leisurely chatfest. These days, getting drunk and blabbing have replaced getting caffeine-buzzed and dispensing love-life advice at Central Perk. Whether viewers will want to make these new friends their weekly chums probably depends on how much they like being immersed in Happy Endings’ maelstrom of nutty neuroses. B