Happy Endings: TV Review

Happy Endings Still Cuthbert 2011
Mitch Haddad/ABC

HAPPY ENDINGS - "Like Father, Like Gun" - Brad's uptight dad (guest star Damon Wayans) is in town for some serious health tests.  When he gets an all-clear, he cuts loose with a new lease on life, something Brad has a hard time adjusting to. Meanwhile Penny meets a gorgeous Italian guy (Alex Valente); the problem is, he doesn't speak English, and Penny, who once  studied in Italy, finds she can only speak the language when she's drunk, on "Happy Endings," WEDNESDAY, MAY 4 (10:00-10:30 p.m., ET) on the ABC Television Network.

With so many other similar romantic comedies on the dial, why bother with one that doesn’t quite measure up?

The ABC sitcom, starring Elisha Cuthbert and Zachary Knighton, centers on a group of pals grappling with life's ups and downs.

Somewhere in the strange algorithm of romantic comedies on television, three has been judged the correct number for maximum laughs. You can splice them up any way you like, but mostly there’s a married couple, a couple on the verge of being engaged, then a pair of people who are single.

All six often have time to go out or otherwise engage each other. They often sit at booths together and talk about their lives, sometimes mocking each other. There is supposed to be laughter. 
Often there is not. But that never discourages writers and producers from trying the formula over and over again.
Which brings us to ABC’s newest sitcom, Happy Endings. No, let’s back track. It actually brings us to this entire network season, with its Perfect Couples on NBC, its Traffic Light on Fox and yes, Happy Endings on the alphabet net. Not to be left out, CBS launched Mad Love but gets extra for focusing primarily on two couples instead of three (but loses those points in that it seems awfully familiar to the BBC series, Gavin & Stacey). 
Is four too many? Well, it’s no record. So it could have been worse. And there have been far worse seasons, seeing that Traffic Light is actually quite funny on a regular basis and Mad Love has its moments. (Perfect Couples was awful and an awful waste of talent.) 
Happy Endings is neither awful (though at times it seems to aspire to such depths) nor hilarious. The pilot contains a number of funny lines but not enough to encourage you to see the next one. Having done that for you, rest assured that any initial hesitation was your gut telling you it hasn’t gone out of whack. Happy Ending’s subsequent episodes were decidedly less funny than the pilot and quickly deflated any good will those randomly funny one-liners instilled from the pilot.
And yet, if you’re encouraged to continue, here’s the premise, familiar as it may seem: Dave (Zachary Knighton) is on the altar with his bride-to-be, Alex (Elisha Cuthbert), who then decides to run away. This stuns their friends, the inter-racial married couple Brad (Damon Wayans, Jr.) and Jane (Eliza Coupe); and their single friends Penny (Casey Wilson) who is desperate for a relationship and Max (Adam Pally), the smart-aleck gay friend who defies the sitcom stereotype of the super-obvious gay friend.
Cuthbert, best known for being unintentionally hilarious on 24, proves here that she can adequately step into the sitcom universe, though she’s not given much to work with. Knighton is ostensibly the comic of the bunch and gets to milk a lot of sappy stuff about being left at the altar (staying home drinking, etc.). But it ends up being Pally who gets the best lines here, such as they are. Wayans Jr. often serves as Pally’s straight man or sounding board for riffs on relationships, most of which you’ve heard before, except maybe the term “chicksand” instead of “quicksand,” a reference the writers seem to be in love with since they call it back so often.
Look, the occasional funny joke isn’t enough to launch a sitcom anymore. And obviously, with so many other similar romantic comedies on the dial, why bother with one that doesn’t quite measure up? If anything, Happy Endings is a 30- minute endorsement for Traffic Light, a far superior sitcom.
Email Tim Goodman at Tim.Goodman@THR.com.