In some ways, Season Three marks another new beginning for “Happy Endings.”
In its freshman season, the ABC sitcom about six friends weathered some critical backbiting that initially saw it as a variation on the established formula that’s worked for shows like ”Friends” and “How I Met You Mother.” But the show quickly found its own very distinct comedic voice and earned fresh praise for its fast and furious many-jokes-per-minute approach, and by the end of its second year on the air it had been embraced by a rabidly loyal core audience and critics who’d been gradually won over.
Now, as Season Three launches the creative forces behind the series are making a bid to elevate “Happy Endings” from a cult favorite with reliable ratings to a full-fledged hit, shaking up the status quo with a new emphasis on the personal lives of the characters amid their successful style of landing punch lines.
“We think, creatively, that really digging into the characters is going to help us, so it’s not all one-off comedy,” says executive producer Josh Bycel. “We felt like we left a lot of great stuff on the table at the end of the season finale. We left it with Brad [played by Damon Wayans, Jr.] having lost his job, Dave and Alex [Zachary Knighton and Elisha Cuthbert] back together, and we’re really jumping into both those things.”
Executive producer Jonathan Groff hopes the focus on the more personal storylines – with the same level of laughs the show’s become known for – will draw in an even larger, more mainstream audience and keep them coming back. “You watch a ‘Modern Family,’ which is such a great show and there’s so much continuity and heart and warmth and character development, and our show’s very different,” he says. ‘We love how fast and funny it is, but we want to be that too, in a way, as much as possible: that show that viewers can find and like and not just be a cult hit."
Bycel explains that the two ongoing storylines in Season Three will be more relatable and not quite as out-there wacky as previous season storylines. “We’re jumping into Brad exploring what it’s like to not have a job since he was 15 years old and maybe trying some jobs: he and Max end up being bar mitzvah hype guys together, which is Brad exploring his artistic side,” he reveals. “And with the Dave and Alex thing, we felt like let’s just jump into it and deal with it in a real way for a couple that used to be together, had a horrible breakup and now trying to be back together – and what does that mean. In the first four episodes we try to have fun with that.”
Star Cuthbert says she thinks it’s a good time to re-enter the characters’ interpersonal dramas – the show, after all, initially centered on the group’s reaction to her character Alex’s sudden decision to call off her wedding to Dave. “I think we were trying to show that it wasn’t perfect, and that we weren’t back together with no complications,’ Cuthbert says. “I mean, there’s always going to be that history with us. But I also feel that we work together as a couple and we work together as friends, so matter where the creators of the show want to take us, it’s going to work. So it’s nice that the audience gets to see us as a real couple this year.”
Romance is also a factor for Casey Wilson’s character Penny. “We’re exploring is Penny in a relationship: let’s see how Penny handles that,”” says Groff, “and really what happens when Penny gets what may be the perfect relationship in a lot of ways. It’s not necessarily flawed, it’s not a guy named Doug Hitler or a guy who’s still stuck in college. It’s a real guy, but what if it’s not the right guy?”
“People relate to emotional storylines and there’s real investment when there a lot of story and I think people will like it,” says Wilson, who’s pleased that her role – one of the series’ zanier – will get a little romantic grounding. “It’s so fun – I already get to do a lot comedy, and it’s nice to play real, dare I say, tender – that sounds so gross! – scenes, and I love the guy that plays [Penny’s boyfriend] Pete: Nick Zano is the dreamiest, best-looking man I’ve seen in person.”
The cast also promises some familiarly off-kilter plots as well:
Cuthbert says Alex’s parents (played by comedy vets Christopher McDonald and Julie Haggerty) will drop by: “I don’t want to spoil it, but you’ll really get to understand where Alex gets her eating obsession from.”
Knighton reveals that Dave encounters issues during the holidays: “Dave in Thanksgiving episode has to experience the entire plight of the Native American in one 22-minute episode, and that may be the funniest thing I’ve been given yet.”
Adam Pally says his character Max will continue in his own ongoing quest for employment: “The job hunt doesn’t go great – it’s ever-evolving, I would say. But that’s the fun of Max. It’s always fun to see someone with no job try to get a job.”
Jane also has a new place, reveals Coupe: “She wants to take over, but she has met her match in Mr. Rob Corddry, who plays her boss. It’s really funny, sparring with him, because they’re both so feisty and manipulative.” And in another storyline, she reveals, “Jane becomes Gallagher, with the mallet, the wig and everything.”
Season 3 of "Happy Endings" premieres Tuesday Oct. 23 at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.