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. For years, perfect couple Dave (Zachary Knighton) and Alex (Elisha Cuthbert) drew their friends in and held them together. Now that they've split, does this group have the stuff to stay together or have to choose sides?
For a TV sitcom that only just squeaked out its pilot embryo and made it into ABC's schedule as a midseason replacement, Happy Endings certainly seems to be having a genuinely happy beginning and middle. The Friends-like ensemble formula of three girls and three guys living through their 30s in a Chicago-via-Hollywood sound stage setting (one camera, no audience) hit its stride and developed a following quickly when its first 13 episodes were crammed on the air during spring and summer of 2011. Season two unfolded at a more unhurried pace with a full batch of 21 episodes and a sigh of relief after the show was picked up for the fall. That season three debuted in 2012 proved the show has a sturdy backbone of support from fans and the network, and this second-season set affirms how Happy Endings found its footing and developed a distinctive voice that's mostly mundane but unabashedly likable. The ensemble is cute, quirky, and easy on the eyes, and if its attempted edginess doesn't slice very deeply, at least it maintains enough upbeat patter to distract from the generic mold. Eliza Coupe and Elisha Cuthbert play sisters Jane and Alex, with Damon Wayans Jr. and Zachary Knighton as Brad and Dave, their husband and jilted fiancé, respectively. Rounding out the sextet is former SNLer Casey Wilson as the perpetually single Penny, and Adam Pally as the slovenly, gay, irresponsible, and oft-obnoxious Max. Playing mixed-up yet well-bred characters who have been BFFs since college, all the actors bring a mixture of stupidity, ego, and lovable wit. There is good chemistry that circulates among them, which is why the show was enough of a hit that we wanted to keep on hanging out with them. The scripts don't go much deeper than problems with Penny's new condo, Dave and Max's foibles as roommates, Jane and Brad's implied bedroom kinks, and Alex's trouble keeping her boutique from going bankrupt. The through line of Alex and Dave's at-the-altar split and how they're back to being friends in the aftermath isn't so much of a guiding premise in the season-two episodes. Rather, all six of them rely on an equality of ribbing, teasing, and falling back on the loving bond that makes their connections thrive. Described that way, Happy Endings sounds kind of like a gag-inducing torment to sit through. Thankfully, the scripts and appealing personas rescue the routines and are structured tightly with jokes that fall together with intelligence and ditziness in equal measure. There's a nice assortment of guest shots with actors and comedians who duck in at opportune moments. Matt Besser, Rob Riggle, Brian Austin Green, Bobby Moynihan, Michael McKean, and Megan Mullally are among the faces that augment the ensemble, as well as Brent Musburger, Ed Begley Jr., Colin Hanks, and Fred Savage (a staff director for the show), who all waltz through as versions of themselves. The only extras in the three-disc set are about 20 minutes of outtakes and deleted scenes that end things nicely for a spare, funny, innocuous show that does just fine on its own. --Ted Fry