“Happy Endings” dares to ask bold questions like, “Can a show about six friends succeed when only two are likeable?” Follow ups: “It’s really hard to write female characters, isn’t it?” and “Are we ‘Friends’ yet?”

“Happy Endings”
Wednesdays at 10 p.m.
ABC

The series stars six quirky friends: three men and three women. The women are all terrible. There’s the oblivious and melodramatic Penny (Casey Wilson, “Saturday Night Live”); the overly aggressive and always on Jane (Eliza Coupe, “Scrubs”); and the if-she-has-a-personality-it-hasn’t-come-out-yet Alex (Elisha Cuthbert, “24”). All of these women are incredibly boring, have only one joke and feel like caricatures imagined by men — which, to be fair, they are.

Then there are the guys, who at least fare somewhat better. There’s Alex’s ex, the equally lacking-in-personality Dave (Zachary Knighton, “FlashForward”); Jane’s husband, the stereotypical black guy (except when it’s convenient for him not to be), Brad (Damon Wayans Jr., “My Wife and Kids”); and the witty, not-at-all-flamboyant gay guy, Max (relative newcomer Adam Pally, who has played multiple characters with “douche” in their credited name).

Of these six, Max is the one who is consistently endearing and funny. It is refreshing to see a gay man on television who, even though all his plotlines seem to center around his sexuality, defies the stereotypes much of television has furthered. He’s a slob, he’s clever, he’s a good friend. And he brings out the best in everyone else, especially Brad, who is only funny when interacting with Max. Fortunately, they get paired up often. Unfortunately, not often enough.

And the other four characters are beyond saving, even by a character so wonderful as Max. Penny and Jane especially are simply intolerable. This isn’t a drama, so there doesn’t need to be character growth, but hasn’t “Community” shown that a sitcom is so much better when there is? Penny and Jane are dumb and obnoxious, get into trouble for being dumb and obnoxious and then find resolution by continuing to be dumb and obnoxious. If this is how the “Happy Endings” writers perceive women, you don’t want to meet the women in their lives.

Without strong characters, it’s hard to have funny jokes, but some of the jokes wouldn’t fly even with a well-developed cast of goofballs. There’s too much reliance on vaudevillian physical comedy, bad puns and people being stupid in the face of situations wherein they can’t afford to be stupid. It’s all loud noises and funny faces (and out of nowhere, a surprising number of Judaism jokes). Even though many of the characters are supposed to be smart and accomplished, Max and Brad are the only two who ever have smart jokes. And that’s a big problem.

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