Note: This review covers the first two episodes of Happy! and is spoiler-free.
Happy! is unlike anything you’ve ever seen on television. It tells the story of Nick Sax (Christopher Meloni), an ex-cop turned hitman who is greasiness personified. After a near-fatal heart attack, he begins to see a tiny blue horse named Happy (voiced by Patton Oswalt). Happy is an imaginary friend and needs Nick’s help in order to save his creator, a kidnapped girl named Hailey (Bryce Lorenzo).
Sounds a little nutty, doesn’t it? You don’t even know what you’re in store for, my friends. Happy! is the craziest thing you’ll see on TV this year. It’s also one of the best new shows in years.
The Lunatics Running the Asylum
There is such a perfect marriage of mad talent behind Happy!. The show is based on the limited series by comics legends Grant Morrison and Darick Robertson. Morrison is deeply involved with the show’s production and that kind of input from the property’s creator goes a long way.
We’ve also got showrunner Brian Taylor, the director of the Crank films — madcap masterpieces that are essential viewing — bringing a frenetic and fresh approach to TV storytelling. Happy! doesn’t have any problem with pacing or energy and that definitely feels like one of Taylor’s big contributions.
The cherries on top? Christopher Meloni and Patton Oswalt. Meloni plays Nick Sax with putrid comic perfection. This is one of the grossest, crassest, and most entertaining characters to grace the small screen in a while. When I saw the pilot of Happy! at New York Comic Con, I described Nick Sax as a combination of two of Meloni’s previous roles: Elliot Stabler from Law and Order: Special Victims Unit and Gene from Wet Hot American Summer. He’s that and so much more. It’s a vile yet strangely endearing performance that I can’t get enough of.
And Patton Oswalt as Happy is such spot-on casting that it hurts. His relentlessly cheery and childish disposition is a welcome contrast to Nick’s nonstop nihilism. Happy is the kind of cute character that doesn’t feel forced or manufactured simply to be cute. He’s a personification of the show’s central theme: the constant battle between optimism and pessimism. And Oswalt’s vocal performance — along with the talented animators who help bring Happy to life — nails that dichotomy while also being genuinely funny and adorable.
Put the Kids to Bed ‘Cause This Gets Naughty
All of this is in service to two violent and disturbing plots that are going to be ugly for viewers who are too sensitive for such over-the-top antics. Nick Sax receives a secret password from a dying mobster member. This puts him in the crosshairs of head mafioso Blue (Ritchie Coster from The Dark Knight) who will do anything to get that password. That means sending waves of disposable soldiers after Nick Sax.
And boy, does Nick make them hurt. The violence in the show is so off-the-wall that it’s impossible not to see the anarchic fun of it all. Bad guys are blown away with Nick’s hand cannons or get their heads beaten in with fire extinguishers and it’s all with a sense of juvenile glee. This isn’t a mean-spirited show but it is a nasty one. If that ain’t your cup of tea, then that just means more for the rest of us.
Add to that a whole lot of sexual depravity — which I’m sure my editors don’t even want me to hint at — and general scumminess that permeates throughout the whole endeavor. The other main thrust of the story centers around children being kidnapped by a crack-smoking Santa Claus, and if the show follows the plot of the comic book, this is going to tread into some very uncomfortable waters.
Look, it’s difficult material for those who prefer their entertainment to be safe and fluffy. But, it’s so clearly coming from a place of intelligence mixed with the right understanding of transgressive shock factor. This isn’t an Adam Sandler movie or Entourage. Happy! is knowingly gross and tempers that with an obvious knowledge of what it is. When it needs to pull back and be serious, it achieves that with a strong sense of balance. The first episode ends with a moment of emotional clarity that sells you on the believable weight of everything going on.
Is Happy! Good?
Happy! is f—–g perfect. It’s as violent and disgusting as it is silly and sweet. The cast is firing on all cylinders, the show moves at a brisk and breathless pace, the level of insanity continues to steadily grow, and all of this is anchored by characters and a story that we are actually invested in.
Out of all the new shows I’ve seen this year, Happy! is the one that has cut through the crowd and demands to be seen. It’s going to ruffle some feathers but who cares? For those of us that love the devil-may-care attitude of shows like Preacher and Ash vs. Evil Dead and movies like Deadpool, Happy! is a godsend from the lord of lunacy.
Happy! premieres December 6 on SYFY at 10/9c. Get ready to overdose on WTF in the best way possible.