Recap and review of Happy Endings – Season 3 Episode 4 – More Like Stanksgiving
Happy Endings has occasionally addressed the pasts of its central group of characters, yet I’m not sure the show has ever actually explored how these people met. “More Like Stanksgiving” reveals that the gang met on an unaired season of The Real World, which was withheld from release after one of their roommates went crazy and burned down the house. It’s a really unique approach for a group origin story, and fittingly hilarious as well, to say nothing of how random it is that this shared history has never come up before tonight (a fact which is lampshaded by the group at various points throughout the episode in borderline fourth wall-breaking fashion). To a larger extent, the episode gives us a larger window into who these characters are, but really, it’s an episode that’s simply funny, and doesn’t need to be anything more than that, given how uniformly excellent the material is, across the board.
Alex (Elisa Cuthbert) invites everyone over for Thanksgiving dinner at her and Dave’s new place. Dave (Zachary Knighton), never one to pass up the opportunity to be pretentiously self-aggrandizing, sees the holiday as an opportunity to shine light on his 1/16th Navajo heritage. When Alex forgets to pick up clams for the feast, Dave heads out to the store and embarks on an utterly ridiculous (in a good way) journey that leaves him believing he’s just experienced the full extent of the harm done to Native Americans by the white man. For instance, his car and wallet gets stolen by a middle-aged couple dressed in pilgrim outfits (as part of a show they’re trying to get to) whom he’d been trying to help out. Then he attempts to barter with the manager of the fish market, who trades Dave the clams and a blanket infested with cat hair. Ultimately, this journey culminates in Dave getting arrested for scalping his tickets to a Rock Bottom Remainders (a band comprised entirely of bestselling authors, such as Stephen King and Amy Tan) concert for the money that was stolen from him. Dave-as-tool is always great, and his grating trumpeting of his 1/16th Navajo heritage is as good here as it was in season two when it first reared its head as what seemed, at the time, to be a one-off plot. Thankfully, however, hardly any character quirk on this show is one-off.
Take Max (Adam Pally), for example. While being gay isn’t exactly a character quirk, his constant need for validation for having come out in the first place is a key facet to Max’s attention-seeking personality. When the DVD of his lost Real World season comes in the mail, he makes everyone sit down and watch it, believing that it contains footage of his brave moment coming out to one of the roommates. It does; unfortunately for Max, however, a bite of a sandwich just before the big reveal leaves “I’m gay” sounding like “I’m Greg.” The rest of the group has a field day with this (“First openly Greg person on television! They let Gregs in the military now!”), and Max can only scowl as his moment is ruined. It’s hilarious less for the payoff than for everything else building up to it, such as the Real World video, which shows Max as boyfriend to an overly horny Penny (Casey Wilson), and desperately searching for ways to avoid intimacy. Adam Pally and Casey Wilson have outstanding comedic chemistry, and it’s always a thrill to see them get setpiece scenes together, as they never fail to steal the show.
Penny has a plot of her own this week, as she comes into conflict with Alex over what they both perceive to be Penny’s lingering feelings for Dave. This has never been a strong story thread when it’s been addressed in the past, and this episode doesn’t really close the book on the storyline completely, although it purports to. But there’s plenty of comedy to be had from the miscommunication, such as Penny’s overcompensation for everything that comes out of her mouth, as she tries to assure Alex that Dave not moving his stuff in after four weeks totally isn’t weird at all. Alex, for her part, is the MVP of the episode, from her dancing turkey, to using a sex swing as a dining chair, and lastly, her occasional quirk of napping with her eyes open, which is one of the best sight gags the show has done. After a spat that involves an argument about Dave that somehow involves the fragile state of a nation recovering from the Tom Cruise film Vanilla Sky, Penny and Alex come to an understanding that whatever feelings Penny might have had for Dave are now firmly in the past. It’s a tidy ending to a storyline that should probably feel more consequential than it does. However, because Happy Endings so often thrives from the static nature of its characters, it doesn’t seem strange that the storyline doesn’t feel nearly as important as it should.
Lastly, Brad (Damon Wayans, Jr.) and Jane (Eliza Coupe) get into a fight over revelations learned from the Real World video: Jane discovers that Brad had a negative first impression of her, and Brad learns that Jane hooked up with him in the dark while thinking he was one of the other roommates in the Real World house. Brad and Max were the only two official castmembers on the show, with Dave, Jane, Penny and Alex all visiting the roommates during the season, and this is apparently the time when Jane, in full Gwen Stefani garb, meets the dreadlocked Brad. It’s exhilarating to see what great chemistry Damon Wayans, Jr. and Eliza Coupe have even when they’re being adversarial with one another, as they are here. I especially enjoyed the running gag of everyone trying to deflect attention from serious matters by referencing Brad’s weird “penis greeting.” In typical Brad/Jane fashion, the couple realizes that while their initial hookup was an accident, it wasn’t a mistake. It’s a trite resolution, but it works because, first and foremost, it’s working from a solid comedic foundation.
“More Like Stanksgiving” is neck-and-neck with last week’s “Boys II Menorah” for best episode of the season so far, and it’s exciting to see the show getting better from one episode to the next. There’s something to be said for how difficult it is to pull off low-stakes comedy, but Happy Endings not only pulls it off well, it practically runs the genre.