Recap and review for Happy Endings – Season 3 Episode 3 – Boys II Menorah
I can’t even front on Happy Endings. This show is remarkable, and episodes like “Boys II Menorah” make a case for this series being TV’s funniest. The episode follows Max (Adam Pally), the king of having jobs you didn’t know were jobs (such as Funeral Seat-Filler), as he takes Brad (Damon Wayans, Jr.) under his wing, bringing him in on his latest business venture: as a bar mitzvah hype man. The job more or less consists of pumping up the crowd and maintaining a jubilant atmosphere, which seems easy enough when you’re as gung-ho about your craft as Max. But things quickly go pear-shaped when Brad is let in on the act, and quickly becomes the breakout star of the two. While it’s not an overt parody, this segment of the episode functions as a mock showbiz downfall story, with Max upstaged and replaced by an admirer of his work, All About Eve style, and while Adam Pally isn’t exactly Bette Davis, he gives the episode’s best performance, alternating between jealousy and outrage. And it all stems from Brad “stealing” Max’s big signature dance move, meant to resemble the spinning of a Dreidel.
This A-plot leads to the episode’s best bits. Boys 2 Menorah’s synchronized dance routine is ridiculous yet scarily effective with the pre-teen crowds, because, as Max explains, white people love black people, hence why they’ve been appropriating their culture for centuries. I also got a particular kick out of Max getting deadly serious with Brad about the rigorous amount of training and commitment it would take to perfect his dance moves, just before we flashforward to fifteen minutes later, where Brad is finishing up his flawless run-through of the routine. The time lapse gag is an easy joke, but that’s because it works. Maybe I’m just a man of simple comedic tastes, which isn’t beyond the realm of possibility, but the joke works almost every time I’ve seen it used, no matter the show. Now, because this is a showbiz-type story about the breakup of a popular act, Brad gets noticed at his first performance, and offered a gig performing at a future bar mitzvah under the condition that only Brad performs. And so Brad takes the gig, deepening the rivalry between he and Max. This culminates in their final blow-off in which they try to undermine one another’s act at the bar mitzvah (with Max trying to get the kids to “raise the roof,” for instance, while Brad insists that “the roof is on fire”). Brad and Max eventually work things out, leading to the episode’s tag, a music video by Boys II Menorah that’s uproariously absurd. The song itself is positively inspired, essentially adopting the “Step 1…” part from “Dick in a Box” and extending it to an interminable amount of “steps” to having a good bar mitzvah (with most of those steps being a secret). The song is so persistent in its instruction that it’s actually kind of genius. At the very least, it’s the episode’s funniest segment, with the smash cutaway from Brad’s dry heave really punctuating the bit.
As for the rest of the group, Alex (Elisha Cuthbert) tries to spice up her and Dave’s (Zachary Knighton) love life with help from Jane (Eliza Coupe). As in all things plotted by Jane, this ends in complete disaster, when she tries to organize a “whisk” away with Dave in order to surprise Alex, which results in Alex mistaking Jane’s made-up, novelty plane tickets for the real thing, and winds up getting arrested at the airport. The show has finally found roles for Dave and Alex that work, with Alex as the adorable ditz, and Dave as an emotionally self-important tool. It’s great characterization on both parts, and Cuthbert and Knighton really nail their scenes tonight, with Alex getting progressively more desperate to infuse her relationship with excitement (trying to get Dave to paint the house with her in a sexy outfit) and Dave proving to be a hard egg to crack (he whines about his LASIK when Alex gets paint in his eye). They eventually get through the rough patch, realizing that they don’t really need the big, fancy expenditures of sweeping romance, and it’s great for how it integrates Jane’s experience as a married woman into the proceedings, since it allows her to take a more overtly helpful role, even though her plans are a well-intentioned failure. That said, Jane’s presence is always welcome, particularly because it results in several cutaways to her roleplaying fantasies with Brad, in which she dresses as a sexy police officer and pulls Brad over, before getting pulled over by a real officer herself (that officer, ultimately, turns out to be one half of another couple enacting the same roleplaying fantasy. These jokes are like Russian nesting dolls sometimes).
There’s also a subplot involving how Penny (Casey Wilson) is catnip to young Jewish boys, for whatever reason. Casey Wilson is gorgeous, and Penny is a pretty awesome lady, so it shouldn’t be as believable that Penny can’t find love as it ultimately is, but Wilson infuses Penny with a pitiable quality that makes her come across as desperate, despite all that she has going for her. Though it would be nice to see Penny finally enter into a worthwhile relationship, her endless search for love will never stop being funny, whether it’s being propositioned at the bar by a Jewish teen, to nearly exposing her breasts to a group of boys after misinterpreting their request for a ride to the mall. Penny is one of my favorite characters on television, and these kinds of character-oriented vignettes are why.
Happy Endings continues to be one of TV’s strongest ensemble comedies, and though the dynamic among the group doesn’t shift as often as it does on other comedies, I’m not sure it ever really needs to. This is a show that is at its best when we get to just hang out with these people. It’s the comedy equivalent of comfort food – except a pint of Ben & Jerry’s never made me laugh this much.