This article previously appeared on Crossfader
In this Crossfader series, our intricate and complex rating system will tell you definitively whether new television pilots are worth your valuable time. We call it: HIT OR SH**.
HAPPY! feels and looks like the kind of thing I would have loved the holy shit out of circa freshman-to-sophomore year of high school. Right when I was first discovering the starter pack of irreverent filmmakers such as Tarantino and Kevin Smith, nevermind R-rated movies in general (I was a late bloomer, OK?), this sort of thing was the stuff of dreams: a fast-talking, cussin’ mob hit man, a disturbing villain that would make my mother upset, and a dose of cartoon-like, goofy surrealism, all topped off with a delectable sample platter of gratuitous gore. Bonus point for being oddly sexless, because, y’know, I hadn’t even touched a boob yet (late bloomer!). But now I am a jaded, cynical film school graduate that actively avoids movies, I’m so scarred from years of splatter-gore dumpster diving that I don’t think anything can shock me anymore, and, yes, I have touched a boob. And, even though my close friends may roast me for it and I’ll never be the cool one at the party with this take, this was truly just the kind of light, visually titillating entertainment I needed, and I think it could actually become to be considered one of SyFy’s better shows.
This plot summary will do absolutely nothing to win over any potential naysayers or detractors, but . . . Nick Sax (Christopher Meloni) is your standard alcoholic ex-cop-turned-hitman. Upon completing a particularly difficult assignment wherein he kills four valuable members of the Scaramucci Mob, the old ticker gets a little too turned up and he finds himself on death’s doorstep. Luckily for him, someone or something is looking down from above and he miraculously comes to, only to discover that he can see and communicate with an effervescent, winged horse named Happy (Patton Oswalt). It seems as if Happy has pulled some strings and gotten Nick a new lease on life, but there’s a catch: you see, Happy is the imaginary friend of Hailey (Bryce Lorenzo), a young girl who has recently fallen prey to the hungry clutches of Very Bad Santa (Joseph D. Reitman), who, well, you can imagine. Nick sets off to do his good deed and rescue Hailey with the mob and the police hot on his tail.
My Twitter presence in a nutshell
To be upfront, yes, HAPPY! is willfully an immature, exaggerated, and perhaps even a little bit “meme-y” of a show. Somewhere between SIN CITY and BATMAN RETURNS with, and I know these are dangerous words around Crossfader parts, a bit of DEADPOOL thrown in, I can resolutely promise you that it’s not for everyone. But fuck it! It’s fun. Seeing as it’s based on a comic book, it does a stellar job of embodying the general aesthetic and frenetic tonal juggling of its parent medium, best summed up in the opening scene wherein Nick fantasizes about committing suicide: gushers of blood pour from him as a disco ball drops and he dances with a collection of half-naked men and women in glittery gold outfits. I think that’s probably the most effective acid test for your appreciation of the rest, but hey, you can’t say that it’s not making any promises it can’t keep.
There’s a commendable, fast-paced energy at play too; HAPPY! Is never concerned with explaining all that much, which is for the better, as the more flagrantly outlandish elements would probably sour if dwelled upon for too long (a man in a lobster suit getting his dick sucked and almost murdering a prostitute with a hammer, for example). The opening act is honestly just a pretty solid, albeit goofy, mob play, with an efficient and effective introduction of the Scaramucci Brothers and a no-holds-barred shoot-out that even managed to somewhat surprise me in how cold and brutal it was. I’m generally a little less down for the appearance of the violently deranged mob hitman Smoothie (Patrick Fischler) later in the pilot as I find attempts at gritty psychosexuality and portraying extreme fetishes immature. A potential diddler Santa smoking crack and crying himself to sleep singing “Toyland”? Here for it! A sniveling interrogator who likes to play doctor and enjoys getting urinated and shat on? Eh, a little much. But either way, viscera is ever-flowing, and you know how papa likes his gore.
This image admittedly gets worse the longer I look at it
The part of HAPPY! I’m the least sold on is, rather unfortunately, its namesake. Don’t get me wrong, Patton Oswalt has a great voice and is a stellar voice actor, but this is the aspect of the show that can occasionally get a little too silly to keep me invested. I’m more intrigued by Nick’s past relationship with homicide detective Meredith McCarthy (Lili Mirojnick), especially due to her connections with Scaramucci Big Boss Francisco (Ritchie Coster). I’m less interested in Patton Oswalt singing Nick a happy song while he’s high as a kite on morphine. But hey, that’s literally the entire dynamic the show is based around, and I think it’ll be fine at worst. There’s some fun to be had in having a G-rated horse flying around while Smoothie threatens to slice up Nick’s penis into several layers, and if the show can give Happy an arc, then it’ll be a notable accomplishment.
It was released late in the year, it was released on one of the worst networks, I know, I know, there was no indication that HAPPY! was going to be good. But it is! I’ve watched a lot of these pilots, which I am afraid has affected my general perceptions of quality entertainment, but I promise that this isn’t a recommendation based on comparisons to other shows. HAPPY! is the perfect thing to pop on this winter break after a few too many eggnogs (remember, it’s seasonal), and while it’ll never win any awards, I think with the right marketing power behind it SyFy could have something cool, if not exactly special, on their hands.
HAPPY! airs on Wednesdays on SyFy