Can 'Happyish' Get Deep While Still Being Funny? The Showtime Series Skirts The Line Between Comedy & Tragedy
Comedy is all around us, even when we might not see it. In time, situations that we didn't find comedic before become situations we can laugh at. Showtime's newest series, Happyish , manages to skirt that line between tragedy and comedy right off the bat in its series premiere. The show — which is labeled as a comedy — manages to go pretty deep beyond surface comedic content. Within the first moments of the premiere, Happyish's main character, Thom (played by Steve Coogan) is talking about the definition of happiness.
But the reason why the pilot doesn't make me want to roll my eyes is that it seems to be self-aware of the depths it goes for a comedy, which actually manages to make it even more funny. The show seems to be incredibly aware that it is not a documentary on the Pursuit of Happiness, it's a dark comedy starring Steve Coogan and Kathryn Hahn. It isn't acting with an authority, suggesting it has any idea what happiness actually is, because does anyone really know?
"What is happiness?" is a question I think millions of people are looking for the answer to. It's a different answer for everyone, but for Thom (Coogan), finding any new level of happiness is as not-going-to-happen as his non-skinny jeans. Ellen Barkin, who plays a very over-the-top headhunter, meets with Thom in the first episode and tells him he's met his "Joy Ceiling," something that I'm already looking forward to as an adult. At a certain age, she explains, a person cannot get any happier. They've hit the peak of happiness, and from the sound of it, it's all downhill from there.
Again, this is a comedy.
So why does it work? Because the comedy is in the fact that Thom is miserable and he knows it. He is slowly being pushed out of work — at an ad agency, that Thom says is nothing like Mad Men, thank you very much — with the new addition of twenty-something employees who are selling a younger, hipper, crowd. Basically, everything Thom isn't. Enter the age-old conundrum of old meets new. There's also comedy in whether Thom will start conforming to the younger crowd the new creative directors are appealing to, or if his pants' width will remain the same. (Spoiler: Thom buys a tie-dye button down shirt, eventually, so the times are a changing.)
The tongue-in-cheek nature of the show, which presents a miserable man, being thrown into even more miserable situations, all while philosophizing the concept of "happiness," could strike out if it becomes a show just about the conflicts of old and new. That itself has been done before. Where I'd like to see Happyish go is in the direction of Thom conforming more and more to the younger crowd and continuously searching for that happiness. Whether he finds it there or not, it doesn't even matter. As long as Happyish continues to be self-aware of its own depth, it will make me laugh.
Images: Courtesy of Showtime; Mark Schafer/SHOWTIME