In the annals of sitcom history, there are your big-ticket items—your Cheerses, your Friendses, your Roseannes—and then there are the shows that slip joyfully under the radar, steadily evading network cancellation for just long enough to build a devoted following among television nerds. Happy Endings, the David Caspe–created series that ran on ABC from 2011 to 2013, is most definitely in the latter camp. It never won any major awards, and none of its six stars ever really broke through on their own, but it occupies a sacred place in the television archives (and in my heart) all the same.
In 2016, Vox writer Tanya Pai referred to Happy Endings as “the best, most twisted hangout sitcom ever,” and I can’t say I disagree; the show is putatively organized around the breakup of a couple that then has to figure out how to stay friends with their wider social group, but really it’s about...nothing. It’s about friends hanging out and goofing on each other and getting into dumb scrapes, Seinfeld style, and after a year-plus of isolation, what could possibly be more apropos?
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, I couldn’t watch hangout sitcoms at all, not even my beloved New Girl reruns before bed. All they did was make me long for my own friends, all cloistered in their houses just like I was in mine; the chummy drone of pals sharing adventures was suddenly grating to me, a person whose life had shrunk down to a silly little walk during the day and a solitary glass of wine (or three) at night. Now we’re all vaccinated and life is slowly getting back to normal (in New York, anyway), yet the return to social life was a bit more than I bargained for.
I returned from a group trip up to Hudson last weekend completely and utterly spent; my voice was reduced to a croak after hours of drinking and at-home karaoke and my brain fried from spending 48 hours straight in the company of 10 people. I should have been overjoyed to get so much unrestricted indoor time with my friends, but instead all I felt was exhausted (and deeply, deeply hungover). In my wiped-out misery, I curled up in bed and feasted on a marathon of Happy Endings, which hit Netflix on June 1. Now that I’d had exposure to my actual friends, I felt ready to revisit my onscreen ones.
There are so many great things about Happy Endings, from the show’s portrayal of Max (Adam Pally) as a decidedly non-stereotypical (and kind of dirtbag-y) gay man to the wonderful, messy enigma that is the character of Penny Hartz (Casey Wilson). The thing I find most soothing about it in a post-lockdown world, though, is its ability to get me excited about gentle hangouts. Yes, a two-day bender with a houseful of people had made me feel every one of my 27 years, but here was a group of friends firmly in their 30s and content to just sip beers and rag on each other—or, in the parlance of the show, “pile on”—at the local bar every night, forever. Here, at last, was the social dynamic I’d actually been missing.
It’s a weird thing, being in your late 20s; you’re not young and fun and freshly out of college anymore, but you’re not quite ready to lease a Subaru and start googling good school districts yet. This is exactly the limbo that the Happy Endings cast is in, with the exception of married couple Brad (Damon Wayans Jr.) and Jane (Eliza Coupe); the show’s other four regulars are too old to stay up all night partying yet too young to be cured of the urge to do so entirely. Watching Max, Penny, Alex (Elisha Cuthbert), and Dave (Zachary Nighton) cavort then regret it reminds me of myself and my friends in a way that’s no longer painful. Instead, it makes me look forward to all the gossipy Sunday-afternoon coffees (never brunches) that we have ahead of us. Who needs a crowded dance floor when you have five funny, slightly mean best friends to make fun of its occupants with?
Originally Appeared on Vogue