About five months ago, former TV Club editor Todd VanDerWerff wrote an essay for this site about the glut of “hangout” comedies, or sitcoms that lack strong conflict. He argues that the television landscape is overpopulated by sitcoms that coast on characters’ likability or an ensemble’s chemistry rather than establish a weekly conflict. I tend to agree with Todd’s analysis as I’ve found myself more and more bored of otherwise decent sitcoms that bank on nice characters being nice to each other for 22 minutes. When there’s a lack of stakes in sitcoms across the board, it’s not only difficult to get invested, but it’s also hard to tell any of them apart.
With that being said, I really enjoyed Happy Endings, David Caspe’s previous sitcom, even though it was a show that embodied just about every negative quality of the hangout sitcom. It had laughably low stakes and a deep lack of weekly conflict, and, as Todd writes, just about every episode ended with our heroes “laughing and chatting together while they celebrate the maintenance of the status quo.” I’ve tried to interrogate why I liked the show so much, apart from it being really funny, and I landed on the series’ heightened cartoonish world. I’d argue Happy Endings never felt any burden of verisimilitude, besides its real-world setting, and gave its characters just enough definition to be mouthpieces for the funny lines from a writers room. Watching Happy Endings simulated watching a bunch of talented comedy writers lob funny quip after quip at one another through the voices of talented actors, and I loved every minute of it. (I concede that this was probably not the show’s main appeal for most of its fans, and rest assured, I have no intention of taking your reasons away from you. C’est la vie.)
Caspe’s new sitcom Marry Me understandably has a very Happy Endings vibe to it, what with the same creator, the rapid-fire dialogue, and Casey Wilson playing a very similar character to Penny Hartz. But the series is still in its early stages and because it has yet to flesh out its large cast, it has a tendency to feel formless (much like Happy Endings did in its early episodes). Without any sort of driving momentum to push its characters, various A- and B-plots are hastily concluded or stutter to a halt. Marry Me definitely has the potential to become a good low-key show, especially because it has a charming main pairing and talented writers at the helm, and “Scary Me” both demonstrates that potential while also highlighting the series’ fair share of problems.
Written by Jackie Clarke, a former Happy Endings writer, “Scary Me” is the series’ Halloween episode, and it features some great costumes, including Annie and Jake as zombie versions of Lucy and Ricky from I Love Lucy, Gil in a big Spiderman costume, and Kay in a big Godzilla costume (I think?). The best part of the episode is its willingness to test out different comedic pairings to see which characters work well with one another, and in this case, it’s Gil and Kay who go out trick-or-treating on Gil’s ex-wife’s street. The plot itself is fairly predictable (it turns out neither Gil and Cassie are as happy about the divorce as they seem), but I can see Gil and Kay driving better stories in the future as John Gemberling and Tymberlee Hill work well together, with the latter’s understanding and confidence balancing out the former’s mixture of unbridled ego and misery. As for now, we get the sight gag of their costumes and the physical comedy of a grown man in a Spiderman costume tackling a grown woman in a Godzilla costume (and then vice versa).
Meanwhile in the A-plot, Annie and Jake forgo going to their annual Halloween party to plan a haunted house for the kids in their apartment building in order to one-up Julie (Review’s Jessica St. Clair), the building’s irritating super-mom. While the haunted house goes off without a hitch, one child stays behind and refuses to go home, driving Annie and Jake into a state of worry. It’s a decent storyline that doesn’t really get going until the end of the second act, so we never really get to enjoy the kid pushing Annie and Jake’s respective buttons by refusing to cow to their will, and thus we’re treated to another phoned-in conclusion. Of course Annie obsesses over the haunted house and the lost child because she’s afraid she won’t be a good mom, and of course the child is Julie’s and he doesn’t want to go home because his mom is domineering. Eventually everyone reconciles and the status quo is maintained. It goes without saying that once Marry Me stops trying to put a neat bow on the end of its episodes, the better it will become.
Still, there are shades of something good here. The cold open featured some funny lines and a good chemistry within the cast, which suggests that maybe splitting up the group isn’t the best idea, and Marino and Wilson honestly do work well together. I could see Marry Me becoming a version of Happy Endings down the line, a show with a likable cast spouting line after funny line at each other. While TV could definitely use less hangout sitcoms, if there’s anyone who can pull off a consistently funny one, it’s David Caspe. But I can also see Marry Me collapsing underneath its airless structure. Only time will tell.
- Thanks to Molly Eichel and Erik Adams for allowing me to sub in this week! Molly will be back next week.
- Poor Dennah got stuck in a half-abandoned C-plot attending the annual Halloween party in a “slut” costume, in other words, a pretty lame gag.
- Apparently Marry Me also exists in the Happy Endings universe because the latter’s Derrick appears at the Halloween party. He’s Dennah’s ex-boyfriend and he yells, “Drama!” I assume there was much rejoicing across the Internet.
- The episode’s funniest recurring joke was Jake not knowing I Love Lucy, first mistaking it for The Honeymooners, then Good Times, and finally Diff’rent Strokes.
- Gil gets my pick for the funniest line: “Long story short… is the title of the short story I wrote about the experience.”