Almost every show is guilty of some wild misfires when it comes to casting parents. It’s such an easy opportunity for a famous guest star that sometimes shows will miss the mark and crowbar someone distractingly famous into a role, perhaps under network pressure. But Happy Endings is keeping a pretty strong streak going by introducing Christopher McDonald and Julie Hagerty as the heads of the Kerkovich household—Damon Wayans as Brad’s dad was obvious but wise, Megan Mullally’s chemistry with Casey Wilson is undeniable, and I even liked Alan Rachins and Caroline Aaron as Max’s parents in season one.
Because it would be too complicated to have both mom and dad possess a mix of Alex’s next-level ditziness and Jane’s type-A lunacy, you can instead draw a line from Pa Kerkovich to Jane, and Ma to Alex. Casting Hagerty is a real stroke of genius (what’s she even in these days? It took me more than a second to recognize her) because she has that same space-cadet energy that Elisha Cuthbert has been nailing for the past year after her shaky start. Apparently Mrs. Kerkovich taught Alex everything she knows about eating like an insane person who doesn’t know where her next meal is coming from, so most of the humor came from that, but I just liked seeing Hagerty do her thing.
Mr. Kerkovich is more your classically scary dad—his favorite things are the Chicago Bears, bass fishing, and Chevy Chase as a talk-show host; he responds to Brad’s pathetic attempts at small talk with “Why would you say that?,” and he’s never laughed at anything that isn’t Gallagher. But I like Christopher McDonald in just about anything and he did well selling his manic laughter after Jane injures herself trying to smash a watermelon with a giant mallet.
The plot of “To Serb With Love” is typically thin, but there’s a little bit of Dave/Alex relationship advancing to be done, as Alex admits they’re dating again, a fact she has been hiding out of embarrassment (dad still seethes over the wasted wedding money from their first go-around). Jane’s efforts to amuse her pop (and Brad’s joke-jacking) are funnier, but this was an A-plot with very low stakes indeed. No complaints here, but not too much to say, either. I suppose the show had to address how the reunion of Alex and Dave would strike the Kerkovich family, but it was handled in a fairly trite way.
Much more fun was Max’s discomfort at Penny dating someone normal and not screwing it up so that he could delight in her misery and give her oodles of gay-best-friend advice. This is what Happy Endings does best—takes something plausible (Max’s jealousy of Penny and Pete), explodes it into something ridiculous (Max gets a new train-wreck friend played by Kulap Vilaysack to make Penny jealous), but manages to hold onto the emotional core of the original idea. I liked Penny’s sad talk with Max after Pete briefly leaves her—not too sappy, but also not too cold and harsh (although Max gets to be delighted for a few seconds before realizing the extent of Penny’s feelings).
It also very nicely addressed the problem with one of this show’s comedy cornerstones—will Penny be forever unlucky in love, sabotaging nice relationship after nice relationship because of some weird quirk or irrational fear? Can Max just be her annoying buddy until the end of time? Every attempt the show has made at messing with that paradigm has been brief and not very memorable, and as nice as Nick Zano is, I don’t see Pete bucking the trend. But at a certain point, they’ll have to, so might as well lay the groundwork now.
On a side note, I loved podcast-star Kulap as Nicole (or “Nickel,” because she’s worth five of Penny). My only complaint is that the episode was too busy to really give her much to do. But an infinitely crazier version of Penny is a comedic goldmine, as long as they don’t overuse her, so I hope she comes back for more fun sometime soon.
- Brad guesses Alex and Dave’s corn charades immediately. “I’m always right about corn-play. Was wrong about Coldplay though, they’re still huge.”
- Alex loves her some Gallagher. “Who doesn’t find Gallagher hilarious? With the watermelons and the smashing? It’s funny because it’s wasteful.”
- Penny’s con list for ex-boyfriend Simon: “Micro junk, played the recorder, addicted to angel dust.” “That’s why he was always punching cars! I just thought he was cool.”
- Jane calls Max her “less fit, less handsome Bruce Vilanch.” “Ooh, low blow.”
- Mr. Kerkovich “always bet wrong on talk shows—Rivers, Thicke, Johnson…he loved The Magic Hour.”
- Brad’s aunt calls Jane “cocaine.” “Skinny, white, the scourge of the black community.”
- Max’s chief fault, according to Penny? “He has Bea Arthur’s body.”
- He protests that Nicole is fine. “She’s crazy-stupid-love crazy, not people who love Crazy, Stupid, Love crazy.”