Between ‘Legion’, ‘American Gods’, ‘Preacher’, ‘Twin Peaks’ and a few others, 2017 feels like a year where a bunch of creative people held a contest to see who could make the weirdest possible TV show. Before the new year breaks, we have one more contender, the Syfy network’s wacko black comedy ‘Happy!’, about the adventures of a hitman and a talking cartoon horse.
The series is the brainchild of comic book auteur Grant Morrison, based on a four-issue miniseries he published in 2013. ‘Law & Order: SVU’ vet Christopher Meloni stars as Nick Sax, a disgraced former NYPD detective who now takes jobs as a contract killer while waiting for his incredibly sickly body to die. Nick doesn’t give a shit about anything or anyone, least of all himself. He actively fantasizes about blowing his own brains out but just can’t quite bring himself to do it. Instead, he drinks too much, smokes too much, does too many drugs and indulges in too much unhealthy behavior in the hopes that nature will take care of it for him.
Unbeknownst to Nick, a little girl named Hailey is kidnapped by a deranged psycho wearing a terrifying Santa costume. Her only hope for rescue is her imaginary friend named Happy, which normally wouldn’t sound too promising, but it turns out that Happy is very intent on helping.
In the process of murdering some douchebag young mobsters, Nick comes in possession of an important password passed down from a recently deceased Mafioso. Unfortunately, Nick then suffers a heart attack. It’s not his first. He’s a tough sonofabitch and survives, but when he comes to, he finds himself pestered by visions of a tiny flying blue horse. This, of course, is Happy (voiced by Patton Oswalt), and he believes he’s found the hero he needs to rescue Hailey. Nick is the only person who can see or hear Happy, and naturally assumes that he’s suffering delusions. However, when Happy helps him escape from more mobsters gunning for him, Nick is puzzled at how his delusion seems to be able to see and know things (like the number of assassins coming down a hallway) that he himself cannot. Could the horse be real?
In addition to Happy, Nick’s desire to be left alone to drink himself to death is further complicated by a crime boss called Mr. Blue (actor Ritchie Coster doing a [perhaps deliberately?] terrible Robert De Niro impersonation), who really wants the password and sends his henchman Smoothie (Patrick Fischler, recently seen in ‘Twin Peaks’) to torture Nick for it. Nick’s only non-imaginary friend in all this is a hot detective named Meredith (Lili Mirojnick).
Watching the episode, I felt certain that Meredith would be revealed to be Nick’s daughter. While that hasn’t happened (yet), Happy tells Nick that in fact Hailey is his daughter. I guess that will give him something to live for.
Episode Verdict / Grade: C-
The show’s pilot episode was directed by Brian Taylor, one half of the infamous Neveldine/Taylor team responsible for the ‘Crank’ franchise. His demented energy is all over it. The entire episode works very hard to be as gonzo and deranged and surreal as possible. Unfortunately, the show also wallows in a lot of ugliness and unpleasantness, and just isn’t nearly as clever or funny as Morrison and Taylor think it is.
This is a very dark, ugly series filled with way more cartoonish graphic violence, profanity (I counted at least three f-bombs in the premiere), and dirty sexuality than you’d expect to see in a basic cable series, even at 10PM. While I’m not offended by any of that, it doesn’t accomplish anything here other than to rub viewers’ faces in how “edgy” it wants them to think it is. Meanwhile, very few of the jokes or outrageous situations land as funny as they’re obviously supposed to.
Points for trying, but this one’s not for me.