TV: ‘Happy Endings’ and ‘The Paul Reiser Show’ — a sarcasm that wears srsly thin


‘Happy Endings’ premieres premieres Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on ABC. (Bruce Birmelin/ABC)
April 12, 2011

It’s body-dumping time in these waning days of the television season, when the networks drive down the dirty back roads of their prime-time schedules, find a ditch, pop the trunk and leave behind a couple of lifeless comedies — in this case, “Happy Endings” and “The Paul Reiser Show.” It’s ghastly what’s in those Hefty bags.

“Happy Endings” (debuting on ABC on Wednesday) is yet one more ensemble comedy about a group of mostly lovelorn, neurotic urbanites who all talk so fast and so cuttingly mean to one another that you wonder whether the show isn’t some secret endorsement of cocaine use. Their sentences open with the overabundantly sarcastic “Really?” (Srsly?) and are saturated with references to popular culture in a “Scrubs”-y/“Community”-esque attempt to delight the young’uns. In a later episode, this wearyingly snide style includes such repartee as the following: “I didn’t know [she] was Jewish.”

“Only in the face,” the other replies.

Oy. And vey? What does that joke even mean?

Anyhow, Elisha Cuthbert (hapless Kim Bauer from many seasons of “24” ago) plays Alex, who ditches her fiance (Zachary Knighton as Dave) at the altar, “Graduate”-style, after a man rollerblades down the church aisle and begs her to run away with him.

“Even I think rollerblades are gay, and I had sex with a dude last night,” murmurs the wisecracking gay friend, Max (Adam Pally). After Alex runs off, humiliating footage of the wedding FAIL plays on YouTube.

I could swear NBC body-dumped a sitcom last year with the same initial premise. Fact is, shows like this will never stop oozing out of Hollywood’s groupthink writing rooms. “Perfect Couples,” “Better With You,” “Traffic Light” and now “Happy Endings” — each of them flat and mediocre in their own not-very-special way.

The remaining Happy Enders — assembled very much in the tradition of their ancient ancestors, “Friends” — retreat to a bar to try to figure out what to do and how to cohere as a clique in a sea of awk-wardness post non-nuptials. After Dave spends a week mourning on the couch among unopened wedding gifts, Alex returns from the tropical honeymoon they were supposed to take together, seeking forgiveness. “I can’t believe you got the white-trash tourist braids!” Dave fumes at Alex’s Bo Derek-esque ’do. “You look like ‘Predator.’ I feel like you’re going to rip my spine out and keep my skull as a trophy.” (Every joke in the show is a pile-on.)

Uneasily, the group reconvenes — at gyms, at bars, at a restaurant for Penny’s (Casey Wilson, recently of “Saturday Night Live”) 30th birthday party, which is she is billing to her new love interest as her 26th birthday, because 30 is such a repellent notion. After the evening goes horribly wrong, the gay one, who seems able to speak only in Facebook update cliches, proclaims it the “Best. Night. Ever.” (Srsly?)

But that show is a dream compared with the creaky overdose of Aleve that comes with “The Paul Reiser Show,” episodes of which will gum up NBC’s Thursday night lineup for the next several weeks.

Here, the actor plays “himself” in his “everyday life,” which means he plays a menschy former sitcom star noticing (and kvetching about) the many tiny inconveniences of life and social ookiness in the wealthiest part of Los Angeles.

You mean like Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm”? Yes — and so like it, in fact, that David himself appears in the middle of Reiser’s pilot episode, sneeringly, as if to lift a leg on the whole enterprise and mark his territory.

Meta-Reiser talks about how he once starred on a popular sitcom called “Mad About You” (Helen Hunt’s mom jeans, New York apartment, Cousin Ira — it rings a bell) and now he’s grown so comfortable and professionally inactive that he cannot think of an answer to write in the box that asks for “father’s occupation” on a form at his kids’ school. That’s what passes for an existential crisis in West L.A., smack in the middle of a very wide entitlement streak, and, in the most unimaginative way possible, it also passes for prime-time programming.

Desperate for something to do, Meta-Reiser decides to audition as the host of a new game show called “Start Thinking,” but he finds the contestants so stupid that he cannot possibly accept the job. As the cast of “Happy Endings” might snark: Really. Srsly? He finds them stupid. Really.

Happy Endings

(two 30-minute episodes) premieres Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on ABC.

The Paul Reiser Show

(30 minutes) premieres Thursday at 8:30 p.m. on NBC.

Hank Stuever has been The Post's TV critic since 2009. He joined the paper in 1999 as a writer for the Style section, where he has covered an array of popular (and unpopular) culture across the nation.
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