Plot: Thom Payne (Steve Coogan) seems to have a good life, with an affluent lifestyle, a family, and a position as an ad executive, but that illusion doesn’t reflect the inner conflicts he faces. He has reached middle-age and despite the positives in his life, he sinks into a depression and begins a course of medication. Although the pills keep him afloat, they do little to perk up his mindset or outlook, not to mention they’ve taken a toll on his sex drive. At work, he faces the realization that he is a relic of a bygone era and as his coworkers get younger, he finds himself further and further behind the curve. When new bosses arrive and want to push drastic changes for the brands, Payne is horrified and worries his tenure will soon end. At home things aren’t much smoother, as he and his wife coddle their only child, while his wife drowns herself in her art and bitterness toward her mother. Is there a true chance for Payne to pursue happiness, or has he only dread and bitterness to look forward to?
Entertainment Value: If you like your dark comedies to be darker than an abyss, Happyish is just what you want. The show would last just one season with ten episodes however, which is a shame. This kind of material needs time to grow on people, as it is so dark and bold, a drastic shift from the usual programs. I’ve seen other shows about people trying to cope with midlife crisis situations, but none take it on with such bleak realism as Happyish. The show has a surreal texture at times, but manages to capture the inner dynamics of the characters in a believable fashion. The characters voice thoughts and feelings that are grounded in reality, perhaps not everyone would choose to let those thoughts be expressed, however. The humor runs through the entire series, but it is so dark at times, I can see why some viewers might be turned off. The surreal, dreamlike segments serve to shatter that pervasive darkness at times, which can be a welcome relief, but soon the material turns pitch black once again.
The cast is well chosen, which is crucial for this kind of material, as you need someone who can handle the dark nature of the content. Steve Coogan seems like a natural lead for Happyish, as he can be deadpan, emotionally volatile, and have sex with an elderly cartoon woman, all while conveying a fog of depression and hopelessness. I love the moments when Coogan rallies and seems to have some real momentum, only to be denied and plunge back into the abyss. He is terrific in the role, but as he isn’t the usual, always likable kind of lead, I can see why some might not love his performance here. As his wife, Kathryn Hahn is also excellent and has a knack for dark, explosive humor. She goes for broke in this role, able to be the supportive wife and mother, while also being this unstable, always on the brink persona. The supporting cast is solid as well, with Ellen Barkin, Bradley Whitford, Carrie Preston, Nils Lawton, and others all turning in solid backup work. The show is dark stuff, but I think Happyish is a good show and it is a shame it was never given a real chance.