“Happy Endings” had a rough start last year, as it tried to rejuvenate the tired sitcom setup of a group of young adults living in nonsensically spacious apartments in a big city. Nevertheless, the show managed to attract a cult following, most likely due to the strong comedic background of its cast: Two members are Upright Citizens Brigade veterans (Adam Pally and Casey Wilson), and Eliza Coupe gained popularity as the wickedly insensitive Dr. Denise “Jo” Mahoney on “Scrubs.” Even so, most critics were surprised when ABC renewed “Happy Endings” for a second season.

Happy Endings

Season Two Midseason
Wednesdays at 9:30 p.m.
ABC


The start of the second season proves this show truly deserved its renewal. It sticks to a simple yet effective formula, managing to pair together any combination of these characters and make it work, something few shows pull off in their early seasons.

“Happy Endings” is different from the typical friends-in-the-big-city sitcom in that there probably won’t be any inter-ensemble relationship drama or love triangles. Max (Pally) is gay, Jane (Coupe) and Brad (Damon Wayans Jr., “The Other Guys”) are married and Dave and Alex are split for good (hopefully). Very few sitcoms pull off trying out romantic pairings of main characters, but the writers of “Happy Endings” don’t have to worry about these balancing issues. Instead, they have the freedom to bring on countless noteworthy guest stars to play the love interests of the main cast, which is always fun for the audience. The writers give a knowing wink to the lack of Ross and Rachel-style relationships in “The Code War,” in which Alex starts crushing on Max and does all sorts of bizarre things to try to win his affection, like buying him a harmonica.

As former lovers, Dave and Alex, Zachary Knighton (“FlashForward”) and Elisha Cuthbert (“24”) used to be the show’s weakest link, with comedic timing that was never as precise as their castmates in season one. Their disastrous wedding-day breakup catalyzed the show, and much of the first season focused on them. But the writers have figured out Dave and Alex work best when they’re not in scenes together, and the focus has switched to the ensemble. This allows the whole cast to prove its abilitiy, Dave to become a more engaging character and Alex to have some hilarious lines.

This season has also shown a vast improvement in physical comedy. The days of cheap rollerblade-wedding crasher moments are gone, and they’re replaced by smoother, simpler scenes — including the juxtaposition of Penny’s ice cream-fueled breakdown against the backdrop of an authentic 1920s housewarming party and the shellfish bloodbath in the season premiere. The Halloween episode similarly highlights physical comedy with Max and Penny’s slightly creepy mother-and-baby-conjoined costume getup.

Not needing to rely on a particular gimmick or style to stand out, “Happy Endings” is refreshingly uncomplicated. It leans on the strong chemistry of its actors and upbeat, well-crafted dialogue that sets it apart from many of this fall’s new sitcoms, whose leads pump out irrelevant jokes amid contrived lines.

As long as “Happy Endings” sticks to its formula and continues with its zippy pacing, it will stand out against similar sitcoms. The premises aren’t necessarily groundbreaking, but the rapid-fire jokes and well-meshed cast do the trick, making “Happy Endings” one of the most consistently funny sitcoms this season.

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