It has been a long time since I’ve loathed a TV show as much as I loathed the series premiere of Happyish. The premise is promising. Thom Payne (Steve Coogan) is a 44-year-old advertising executive in the midst of one hell of a mid-life crisis. He feels outrun by the millennial generation and the social media age. He, like many of us, is in search of that elusive goal of being happy. But mostly he’s angry. Very, very angry.
But I found it really hard to watch a show where everyone is miserable and angry. And it’s a one-note anger without nuance or degrees. Imagine if all the characters on House were like Dr. House. Everyone can’t be this miserable all the time. Thom fights with his co-workers. His wife Lee (the wonderful Kathryn Hahn) fights with a random mother at an indoor play space. The only person who seems remotely reasonable is their six-year-old son Julius (Sawyer Shipman).
It was also hard to get a grasp of just where all this anger is coming from. Thom’s big meltdown in front of the two Swedish dudes now running his ad agency seemed to almost come out of nowhere. There was his boss Jonathan (Bradley Whitford) telling him he needed to invest in a pair of skinny jeans, and twentysomethings talking about Steve Jobs and suddenly he’s in a full blown meltdown.
And I don’t even know where to begin with the Keebler Elves scene. It’s one of those things that’s either going to work brilliantly or colossally fail. There’s no middle ground. This one colossally failed.
Also can we talk about the language? I’m all for using the word “fuck” where appropriate. One of my favorite TV scenes ever is when McNulty and Bunk investigate a crime scene using only that word on The Wire. But there’s a tipping point where the use of the word becomes not only distracting, but also is just plain lazy writing. Halfway through the premiere, I thought about making a game of how often it was used, because it reached a point where it was every other word. We get it. You’re on cable. You can swear. Good for you. Now please try to be a little more creative.
What did I like? The marriage between Thom and his wife Lee is a nice one. These are two people who have been married a long time, and still really like each other. A nice change of pace for TV.
And I’ll admit that there’s a truth to the show’s rage. I did laugh out loud when Thom wondered “Who the fuck wants to follow pepto-bismol on Twitter?” Happyish hits on some of the absurdity of the social media age. But overall the pilot didn’t work, and it was a true waste of talent.
Other thoughts on “Starring Samuel Beckett, Albert Camus and Alois Alzheimer”:
• The series originally starred Philip Seymour Hoffman, who had only filmed the pilot before his death.
• Can we ban all scenes where middle aged parents secretly smoke pot hoping their children don’t catch them? The scene is such a horrendous cliché at this point.
• No one should be allowed to say “Fuck Mad Men”. Ever. EVER.
• I kind of have a rule that I will never criticize a child actor. They’re just kids! But I will say I hope Julius doesn’t get that much screen time going forward.
Amy Amatangelo is a Boston-based freelance writer and a regular contributor to Paste. You can follow her on Twitter or her blog.