Review

Showtime's 'Happyish' mostly just selfish and smuggish for now

Mary McNamara
Contact ReporterLos Angeles Times Television Critic
Cast of #Happyish is splendid, but the new Showtime comedy wallows too much in self-pity, says @marymacTV

Here are some performers whom I love: Steve Coogan, Kathryn Hahn, Bradley Whitford and Ellen Barkin.

Here is a series that I don't: Showtime's new comedy "Happyish," in which they all star.

Whining, overwrought, self-defeating and unforgivably smug, "Happyish" seems to have missed the part of cultural history in which we all looked at the narcissistically depressive, comfortably self-obsessive male lead (best epitomized by Woody Allen) and said, "Quit whining about your erection issues and fear of death and go help someone who has real problems."

Or at least I said that. And maybe a few others.

To be fair, "Happyish" has had more than a few challenges. Its creator, Shalom Auslander, is new to TV, and more important, the actor cast originally as lead, Philip Seymour Hoffman, died after filming only a pilot.

Coogan is a very different sort of performer than Hoffman, but the problem with "Happyish" is not its cast. It's splendid and sound and doing its very best.

The problem is the point of view, and that may prove insurmountable.

Coogan plays 44-year-old ad executive Thom Payne, who is having a midlife crisis. That he is a successful professional with a nice house in Woodstock and a lovely, loving wife (Hahn) who as an artist has time to raise their young son without the complications of child care means little or nothing.

Thom hates his job, which he finds boring and meaningless. He hates the agency's new young, hip Swedish owners, whom he considers stupid and vacuous. He hates modern culture, with its celebration of social media and attractive young people. He hates having to think about any of this when he would rather be reading Camus or writing That Novel.

What he doesn't hate is the fact that he would rather drown in self-righteous self-pity than acknowledge the absurdity of the situation. And neither does Auslander, who delivers what could be a satire of his beleaguered conceit, if it weren't so infuriatingly sincere.

So when Thom delivers a loud and tin-eared diatribe against social media, it's tough not to sigh and think, "Oh, for God's sake, did you rail against the invention of the Walkman too? Just get on Twitter; it won't kill you."

It's not impossible that "Happyish" could become a commentary on the narcissism at the heart of Thom's malaise, which would be a much more interesting show. There are a few signs of hope.

Thom's boss (Whitford) is as equally beset but much more aware — his consternation over the poaching of a couch by the new owners offers a hilarious bit of office satire — and Barkin's headhunter growls with such insightful pragmatism that one longs for more.

Hahn's Lee is equally fabulous, whether snapping at a condescending fellow mom at an indoor playground or dealing with mixed feelings toward her own distant mother.

But the show is very much about Thom and his "struggles," which are far too often presented in a series of high-decibel, gratuitously profane diatribes about the habits of others without benefit of anything remotely resembling personal perspective.

This, as you can imagine, becomes very tedious, very quickly.

Twitter: @marymacTV

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