Recap and review of Happy Endings – Season 3 Episode 5 – P & P Romance Factory
I think I might be running out of ways to say that Happy Endings is consistently one of the funniest shows on TV. Comedy, being subjective, is a hard thing to really pin down, but episodes like tonight’s “P & P Romance Factory” illustrate how the series works at different levels of comedy, simultaneously: from the absurdist bent of Max’s (Adam Pally) vendetta against a “handshake betrayer”, to Penny’s (Casey Wilson) faux-romantic subplot concerning her attempts to conceal a concussion from a new suitor, to the relatively touching exploration of marriage in evidence via Jane (Eliza Coupe) and Brad (Damon Wayans, Jr.). And throughout, there’s Alex (Elisha Cuthbert), alternating between moments of wisdom and ditzy gaiety (proclaiming her foosball supremacy with a random vuvuzela), while Dave (Zachary Knighton) does what Dave does best: taking himself way too seriously. It really is an episode that demands viewership, even if you’ve never seen the show before. More than any other sitcom on television, Happy Endings doesn’t require anything more than a passing familiarity with the show, if that, to have a good time. However, the show frequently rewards loyal viewership with frequent callbacks and in-jokes, so there’s plenty to reward both casual viewers and diehard fans. To simply call this was one of the funniest half-hours of the TV season so far would be to sincerely undersell its manic energy. It’s going to be hard to explain just why the episode is so funny, once again drawing attention to the subjective nature of comedy, but this show really is operating on a whole other level.
The episode takes its title from the couples name that Penny comes up with for herself and her potential new beau, Pete (Nick Zano), whom she meets at a bicycle store while shopping for a helmet. Penny, who’s had a comically unfortunate history with head trauma, needs to wear a helmet at all times as the result of a lingering concussion from her tumble down the stairs in the premiere. The lengths to which she goes to conceal her helmet necessity from Pete is staggering, as she plans dates that require protective headgear, ranging from a Segway tour of the city, to a picnic in a construction zone. This commitment to secrecy eventually causes Pete to bail on the relationship, causing Penny to come face-to-face with the prospect of perpetual singledom, until she vows to win Pete back, realizing that “I have helmet. Helmet doesn’t have me.” I don’t know if Nick Zano’s Pete is going to become a recurring character, but I really wouldn’t mind if he did. He’s among the very few outsiders who seems to understand the quirkiness of the group from the get-go. Sure, he was initially reluctant to continue seeing Penny on the grounds that she was acting like a “weirdo”, but his reticence seemed rooted in his suspicion about why she was acting so strangely. Once Penny came clean with him, he immediately accepted her, which is a lot more than could be said about some of the other interlopers that have come across a member of the group (or the group as a whole). He might not make for an interesting permanent fixture on the series, but he’s more than okay for now.
The funniest story of the episode, however, isn’t the plot from which the episode gets its title, but instead from the angst of Max, who holds a vendetta against a self-important tool named Brody, after the man counters Max’s fist-bump with his palm, turning Max’s fist into a “turkey”. Max cannot abide this profaning of the rituals of handshaking, and so he stews in his anger, eventually telling Dave the story of how, in the fifth grade, a popular boy punked him with the old “Down Low, Too Slow” trick, leaving him forever changed. Upon hearing this story, a flash comes over Dave’s face, and he retreats into his own horrific memories, as if he’s experiencing a severe bout of PTSD. As he reveals to Max, it’s his fault that the boy punked him, for, you see, Dave was the one who invented “Down Low, Too Slow.” The weight of his guilt and the thought of the horrors his invention has wrought sends Dave into a downward spiral, downing glasses of Sangria at the bar, where Max and Alex find him, and where Dave resolves to help Max have his vengeance against Brody. It’s exactly as ridiculous as it sounds, but it’s absolutely worth it for Dave’s story of the origin of “Down Low, Too Slow”, which involves him tricking a female classmate, who dies later that year, “‘My Girl’ style. Bees.” Alex has a fairly keen observation when she rationalizes that Dave is suffering from delusions that no one has taken the time to disabuse him of, such as Max’s childhood assertion that “LMNO” was one letter or Alex’s continued phonetic pronunciation of “Wednesday” as wed-nes-day. There’s practically nothing about this subplot that I don’t love, despite the fact that it doesn’t really have a payoff. It pretty much just ends. In a resolution mirroring George Costanza’s episode-long preparation to one-up a colleague in Seinfeld episode “The Comeback”, Max one-ups Brody by hacking off his “turkey” hand for “Thanksgiving”, only to get one-upped himself when Brody tops his fist with “mashed potatoes.” The storyline is damn-near sublime in its frenetic absurdity.
The Jane/Brad arc isn’t as uproarious, but it has one of the episode’s more touching moments. Jane is trying to get into the “boy’s club” at the car dealership at which she works, under the Car Czar (Rob Corddry). She fails to make much progress until she throws a dinner party and invites the Car Czar, her fellow employees, and all of their wives, surmising that Brad’s skill with husbands will allow her to seem cool by association. Unfortunately for Jane, the opposite happens, as Brad falls in with the wives. However, she succeeds in joining the fraternity anyway, upon discovering that all she really needs to do is engage in a bit of spousal trash-talk with the other husbands. The subplot has some great lines, as Brad delivers Jane a salad he made for her “with Balsamic so old it’s a burden on its children”, and Jane initially blowing her shot with the boys by ruining their enjoyment of a racy pic by “to think that she’s somebody’s daughter”. Her Jack Nicholson impression is also pretty fantastic, as brief as it is (basically amounting to her pulling back on her forehead, wrinkling the side of her mouth, and saying the word “Lakers”). When Brad realizes he’s being trash-talked behind his back like the other trophy wives, he throws himself into the role, showing up at the dealership in shorts, a sweater-vest, and adopting a lilting cadence to his speech, making a scene by throwing himself onto the hood of a showroom car and unveiling the pet piglet he’s purchased. This eventually leads to a conversation in which Brad explains why he feels betrayed, saying that they’re partners in this relationship, which brings about a change in Jane. She tells off the Car Czar, and arguably TV’s finest married duo is back to normal. It’s unusual for the show to get sentimental in that fashion, but it’s a fitting resolution to the storyline, and one that resonates amid all the off-the-wall zaniness.
“P & P Romance Factory” is as good an episode as any for Happy Endings to make its claim as TV’s funniest sitcom. Whether you believe it or not is entirely up to you, since comedy is very much the domain of an individual’s personal tastes, perhaps more than any other genre. But even if you don’t think the episode is among the funniest half-hours of TV this season, it’s likely that you’ll still find something to enjoy about this episode, and maybe the show, as a whole. Happy Endings has a similar structure to some other shows on TV right now, but it’s really not like anything else on TV.