Recap and review of Happy Endings – Season 3 Episode 7 – No-Ho-Ho
Happy Endings has spent a fair portion of its third season thus far filling in the gaps of the gang’s past, while also occasionally reorienting what we already know about them, such as when we learn that the gang met when Max (Adam Pally) and Dave (Zachary Knighton) were cast members on an unaired season of The Real World. In “No-Ho-Ho”, we learn that Jane (Eliza Coupe) has been lying about her actual birth date, letting everyone believe that it’s July 16, when she’s actually a Christmas baby. The secret comes out when the group goes out for the regular round of drinks, and the server recognizes that Jane’s ID is fake, imprinted with a false birthday. It seems perfectly in character with the kind of person Jane is, that she’d go this far out of the way to conceal the secret. Jane has been among the pricklier characters in the show’s canon, yet she remains remarkably relatable in her disappointment in having to share a birthday with the biggest holiday of the year. Even if we haven’t lived that story ourselves, Jane is motivated by the desire to be understood, as her friends (even her sister) will never truly understand what it’s like for her. This is not to say that sharing your birthday with a major holiday is some traumatic event for anyone (hell, one of my best friends on the planet is a New Year’s baby), but for this character, it sort of makes sense that it would be. And because the character is so invested in it, we never question the inherent absurdity of the premise. The comedy also helps. I mean, it’s not like Happy Endings isn’t one of the funniest shows on Earth right now.
The majority of “No-Ho-Ho” deals with Jane attempting to overcome her neuroses about her actual birthday, particularly now that the rest of the gang knows, and have been going out of their way to make a big deal out of it, throwing her a surprise party that a frightened Jane ruins by macing the entire gang. The episode is chock full of similar gags about Jane’s prickly nature, but it also highlights how her marriage to Brad (Damon Wayans, Jr.) balances out much of her neurotic personality, as he goes out of his way to try and make her feel included. It’s one of TV’s sweetest pairings, with a lot of what works about the pair being distilled down to how silly both are. But also it’s because they each have this longstanding desire for acceptance that is sated by the other. However, what’s funny about the episode is “irritable Jane”, in which she continually expands upon just how obnoxious it is to get one present that is meant to stand in for both Christmas and a birthday. It’s kind of scary how easy it is to imagine Little Jane sitting her parents down and explaining that this “one gift for two holidays” business just won’t do, as Jane tells us she did. It speaks to just how strongly Jane is written, as a character and as a comedic presence in the show. And the resolution, in which she stumbles upon a bar where a celebration is being held for those with Christmas birthdays, is fittingly sweet. Particularly when she realizes that it’s really not such a big deal after all, and leaves the festivities to meet with Brad.
Speaking of Brad, he has a pretty funny story of his own, serving as Max’s sober companion as the latter attempts to kick his addiction to egg nog. The image of Max dumping cartoned egg nog into his mouth with one hand and brandy with the other is as hilarious as it is nauseating, especially after a disgusted Brad mentions that he’s seen Max marinate chicken that way. Honestly, the egg nog related setpieces are fantastic, particularly the one in which the egg nog hose affixed to Max’s back goes haywire, spraying the gang with the stuff as Max shouts “MY NOG!” I’m normally not one for food-related comedy, but Adam Pally has a weird way of making that sort of comedy land, and in a big way. But he’s not the only person making lasting comedic impressions this week, as Alex (Elisha Cuthbert) has WAY too much fun wrapping and unwrapping presents in preparation for Jane-Mas. Cuthbert has really grown into the role, making Alex as significant a comic fixture on the show as any of her castmates, whereas she had previously been a relatively thin character in the early goings of the series, more archetype than actual character. She’s really become a staggeringly good comedic actress.
In other developments, Dave helps Penny (Casey Wilson) shop for a present for Pete (Nick Zano), and I’m wondering if anyone else caught a hint of jealousy from Dave, regarding Pete’s relationship with Penny? The potential, unexplored feelings that exist between Dave and Penny is an issue that gets brought up at least once every season, and then routinely dropped, and it resurfaces here, somewhat. Dave and Penny are illustrated as being very close, and Knighton and Wilson have an effortless chemistry as friends that’s quite heartening. That said, I’d be interested to see if it actually has the potential to work as well in a romantic setting, as I’m genuinely curious as to how well the pairing would translate onscreen. As it stands now, we have Dave discovering that perhaps he doesn’t know Penny as well as he thought (incorrectly assuming she would hate Pete’s gift of “a big-ass candle”), in addition to realizing just how good Pete is for her. Pete, for his part, seems honest in his desire to fit in with the group (going along with the gang’s awkward Happy Birthday greeting to Jane even though he doesn’t understand it), which will likely make it harder for Dave to hate on the guy. This show doesn’t really employ serialized elements the way a show like How I Met Your Mother does, so I’m wondering if the show will stick with this plot thread, or if it’s merely a one-off that we might come back to later, at some point.
“No-Ho-Ho” isn’t a Christmas episode in the traditional sense, but it’s every bit as funny and warm as you’d want a Christmas comedy special to be. The episode’s end tag is fantastic, as it employs a running sight gag in the episode of a breakdancing Santa ornament that Brad owns, with the gang getting into a dance-off with the ornament in a scene that I wanted to rewind almost as soon as it was over, if for no other reason than to see Elisha Cuthbert krumping versus a toy. The last image is of the gang gathered together around the ornament, and it’s such a wonderful little pose that the half-second frame could almost serve as a Christmas card. The show doesn’t do serialization the way other sitcoms tend to, but there’s still an abiding warmth at its center that strengthens the comedy around which the show is built. This is a strong entry into an even stronger season.