Sunday, April 26, 2015

Pilot Review: Happyish

Happyish (Sundays at 9:30 on Showtime; Premieres April 26)

UGH. Wannabe literary types and pseudo-intellectuals are going to cream themselves over This American Life commentator Shalom Auslander's new series Happyish. It's the kind of show that you can just picture patting itself on the back (if TV shows had hands... or backs, for that matter) after every "joke" it makes. You can just picture the writers rooms, full of self-important blowhards mocking the current generation for being on Twitter and Facebook while they discuss (and probably misinterpret) Camus over lunch. It's a frustrating, annoying show with nary a redeeming quality.

By now we probably know that Happyish was first developed with leading man Phillip Seymour Hoffman in early 2014, just before his untimely death. When Hoffman passed, Showtime had the opportunity to let the show die with him. Unfortunately, they didn't, so we're saddled with this tripe. Steve Coogan (probably best known in the States for playing the miniature Octavius in the Night at the Museum films) replaces Hoffman as Thom Payne (we'll get to that name in a minute), a 44 year old ad executive who is just so over everything in life, from his job to his family to his health to the Keebler elves. That's essentially the plot: an insufferable, middle-aged twat bitching about the minutia of everyday life, all the while reminding you that he's smarter than you could ever hope to be. Well, to take a cue from Happyish's opening sequence: Fuck you, Thom.

This fucking show is fucking unwatchable. Thom is a fucking cock who thinks he's got all the fucking answers, all because he can fucking rant and curse like a fucking sailor for no reason. Did all those fucks seem excessive? Because they were, just like they are in Happyish. I'm no prude, and I have a pretty foul mouth myself, so I can handle some profanity. But Auslander and his writers seem to think that cursing nonstop, just because you're on Showtime and you can, makes a show subversive. How very 1998 of you. There's nothing inherently funny or shocking anymore about people saying fuck or cck. There's nothing funny or shocking about parents calling their children assholes and pussies. That's the kind of stuff we get out of our systems in high school.

Speaking of high school, that's about the intellectual level these writers are operating on. These high-and-mighty windbags actually named their lead character Thom Payne. Like, really? You named your ranting and raving leading man after someone who wrote the best selling American pamphlet of all time, conveniently titled Common Sense? How on-the-nose can you possibly get? And then you have Thom blathering about the generational divide ("Who the fuck wants to follow Pepto Bismol on Twitter?"); the changing of the times in everything from advertising to porn ("I can't even look at a shaved pussy anymore."); and the all-too-common (and too commonly dramatized) mixing of medications, in Thom's case anti-depressants and erectile dysfunction pills. All because Thom is pissed off that he was promised "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," but that's just so darn hard to achieve! Grow a pair, you whiny, self-absorbed dipshit. Life is hard, and if you don't get that by the time you're 44, then you're seriously deluded.

Then we get to the philosophizing Happyish must do. The pilot is titled "Starring Samuel Beckett, Albert Camus and Alois Alzheimer." Does that title not just make you angry right there? If it does, then we should be friends, because you'll be as annoyed by Happyish as I am. You would think with a title like that, the pilot would be absurd, and there are moments where it is... like when Thom dreams he encounters the gun-toting Keebler elves and ends up screwing the old lady one. But to then hear Thom rant at the end of the episode about him picture Beckett getting on a commuter train... it makes no sense. And the scene accompanying the voiceover nearly made my eyes roll out of my head: Thom causes a domino effect when he drops his book, the Steve Jobs biography. But when everyone else drops their books, all you see is a bunch of tablets flying everywhere and a confused group of twenty-somethings trying to figure out which Kindle or iPad they're holding belongs to who. That's such an old person idea of what millenials are like. "They don't even read books! Everyone has their nose in their phones and iPads! They're all obsessed with technology and can't live without it! It's like they're all interchangeable!" Fuck off, man. Get some more original material.

On the subject of the material, it's hard to imagine Phillip Seymour Hoffman could have elevated Happyish at all should he have lived to continue with the series. It's a terrible, obnoxious script that does nothing but complain about everything you can think of: social media, Thomas Jefferson, porn, plastic surgery, aging, working, technology, raising children, Curious George... if I wanted to spend a half hour being annoyed at someone complaining about the dumbest stuff I can imagine, I'd just read my Facebook feed. Coogan tries to make the concept funny, but he just can't squeeze an ounce of likeability out of Thom. Kathryn Hahn does little more than yell (when did yelling become the heart of comedy?) and rant about vaginal rejuvenation, but her few scenes are memorable and welcome, if only because they're a respite from the deluge of Thom's thoughts and rants. Bradley Whitford, Carrie Preston, and Ellen Barkin are wasted in throwaway cameos that add next to nothing to the show; if they can be better utilized in the future, they may be able to save the show from itself just a bit. Not that there's much of anything any of the cast can do to make Happyish enjoyable. It's like that know-it-all, surface-level thinker we all had in our undergraduate liberal arts classes. They think they're waxing poetic, really getting to the root of mankind's problems... but, ultimately, they're just full of shit.

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