We have come to that time in the turning year when, faced with having to review another six-person relationship comedy, it falls upon us to ask, "Why is this relationship comedy different from all other relationship comedies?" As regard "Happy Endings," the short answer is that this one premieres Wednesday on ABC, is set in Chicago and begins with a groom left standing at the altar.
As it happens, it is also good. Created by TV first-timer David Caspe, the series has a lot of familiar muscle for support, including executive producers Jamie Tarses ("My Boys"), Jonathan Groff ("Late Night With Conan O'Brien," "How I Met Your Mother"), and Anthony and Joe Russo ("Arrested Development"), who also do some directing. It is nothing new, but it is well assembled and expertly played.
The six main characters break down into one married couple and four singles, one of them gay and two formerly affianced. In the first moments of the first episode, on the edge of an "I do," Alex (Eliza Cuthbert) leaves Dave (Zachary Knighton) for a guy on roller blades, who promptly disappears from the series. This seaworthy premise, that such an event might force mutual friends to choose among the abandoned and abandoning parties, is taken out for a spin, but only briefly, because the whole point of this show, and others like it -- the children of "Friends," -- is that they're all inseparably bonded. Indeed, when they venture outside their circle, it's with bad results.
"We have enough friends," Brad (Damon Wayans Jr.) tells wife Jane (Eliza Coupe), which also means he may remain the lone black person in sight.
Most of the cast members have roots in sketch comedy -- Coupe, "Saturday Night Live" vet Casey Wilson, who plays love-hungry Penny, and Adam Pally (gay guy Max, who is also the Jewish guy) are associated with the Upright Citizens Brigade, where the cool kids hang out these days -- and occasionally the comics overshadow the characters. A line like "The only single people in the suburbs are pedophiles and lesbian guidance counselors" is random stand-up disguised as dialogue. But "That was my worst birthday since my mom Frenched my boyfriend at Epcot" tells us much about Penny.
The dialogue is full of cultural references from which we may reverse engineer the brains of people born around 1980. These include the Indigo Girls, "Les Miserables," "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," Dr. Sanjay Gupta and John Mayer. Wiki is used as a verb and a laugh line is balanced on the term "UPN reality show." Dave's too-young rebound date proudly wears a hat "signed by Turtle from 'Entourage,' " a summation of character I regard with not a little awe. One of Jane's pet names for Brad is "black Han Solo," the second black Han Solo joke I've seen on TV in as many weeks. One more and I can write a trend piece.
When: 9:30 p.m. Wednesday
Rating: TV-PG-DL (may be unsuitable for young children)