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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2010-2011 season. Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season (or one that didn't make the cut) and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. Keep in mind that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on the original sales presentation which was screened to us privately or supplied by a third party NOT an informational, not-for-review screener provided by the network in question.]
HAPPY ENDINGS (ABC)
(written by David Caspe; directed by Anthony Russo & Joe Russo; TRT: 25:44)
The network's description: "Forget who gets to keep the ring - when a couple splits, the real question is, who gets to keep the friends? In this modern comedy, a couple's break-up will complicate all of their friends' lives and make everyone question their choices. When life throws you for a curve, hold on tight to the people you love. Every circle of friends has someone who's the gravitational center. For years, perfect couple Dave and Alex drew their friends in and held them together. Now that they've split, does this group have the stuff to stay together? Or do Max, Brad, Jane and Penny have to choose sides?
Suddenly every event is a negotiation... like, who gets to go on the annual ski trip? There are a lot of big questions to be answered, but this group has been together so long, somehow, little by little, they'll figure out how to hold on, even though their center is split up. It helps that Dave and Alex have agreed to stay friends. But there will definitely be other complications down the road - like Penny's long-suppressed feelings for Dave. What is the waiting period for dating a friend's ex? This show isn't afraid to ask the embarrassing personal questions that inevitably arise in every long-term, close-knit group of friends."
What did they leave out? That about covers it.
The plot in a nutshell: "Today was supposed to be the greatest day of my life," Dave (Zachary Knighton) explains. "Instead it turned into a bad Matthew McConaughey movie." You see, one of his fiance Alex's (Elisha Cuthbert) co-workers, Bo (Travis Van Winkle), has decided to crash their wedding and declare his undying love for her. And improbably she leaves with him, destroying Dave in the process. Left to pick up the pieces then are their respective friends: Max (Adam Pally), who's gay and still sensitive about being overweight in college; Penny (Casey Wilson), who's hopelessly single; and Brad (Damon Wayans Jr.) and Jane (Eliza Coupe), who are happily married and working on conceiving their first child. Said quartet isn't thrilled about the prospect of their group having to split up, especially Penny, whose 30th birthday party is next week.
A week passes and Dave is but a shell of his former self, unkempt and listening to Indigo Girls on a perpetual loop. Our gang ultimately decides to intervene, thinking a night out will snap Dave out of it. This of course backfires as Dave, after learning Alex went on their tropical honeymoon with Bo, decides to hook up with Jackie (Mikaela Hoover), a random club girl - complete with "Stay Grounded" tramp stamp, and declare her his new love. Meanwhile, Alex eventually returns - sporting "white trash tourist braids" - hoping to explain herself and her actions. It seems Dave wasn't exactly the best boyfriend and she ran because she was afraid they'd be trapped in the same lethargic routine for the rest of their lives. Dave of course wants to hear none of this and, after Alex finds out about Jackie, they're at war with Max, Penny, Brad and Jane trapped in the middle.
What works: It's actually kind of a fun, relatable concept - four pals trapped between the two friends who brought them together. Our four heroes are paralyzed by the awful behavior of Dave and Alex, but can't help but want to restore their previously comfortable status quo. "I wouldn't even know how to [make new friends]," Brad notes. "What do you do just like walk up to random people and go, 'Hey, blah-blah-blah, sports!'" And to the show's credit, there are some fun moments: Bo's faux hero's journey to break up the wedding is amusingly bad romantic comedy-esque (stuck in traffic, break out the rollerblades!); while Brad and Max have a solid back-and-forth (Brad, while at the altar: "I feel like we're supposed to kick this guy's ass or something." Max: "You do it, you're black, he's probably already scared of you." Brad: "Yeah but you're gay and chubby, no one will see it coming.").
What doesn't: While Dave and Alex seem purposefully cartoonish, Max, Penny, Brad and Jane's quick journey from actual people to one-dimensional themselves is particularly disheartening. Penny descends from the friend that's always-a-bridesmaid (on single life: "It's just a bunch of poor guys with weird sexual stuff and even when you do it they still don't call.") to shrill single (she stages an elaborate hoax to convince her new beau - played by Ryan Sypek - she's not only 26 but Jewish); Max goes from bluntly honest pal to overly aggressive asshole (he keeps on insisting Penny's new boyfriend is gay); and Jane, after a few drinks, breaks down from steadfast wife to hyper neurotic all with the blink of an eye.
And while some of the above is blamed on the aforementioned Dave/Alex split, there's an overriding sense that reality is being thrown under the bus in favor of cheap jokes. All of the characters ultimately come across as selfish and mean in a way that's not very endearing. Throw in a deus ex machina ending that inexplicably undercuts the past 24 minutes...
The bottom line: ...and you have a decidedly mixed bag.