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Hi-Def Dish: “Happy Endings” bolstered by gay character who shatters stereotypes

I have to confess. I was a latecomer to “Happy Endings.” The idea of another 20-something urban slacker comedy series just seemed unoriginal, almost as unoriginal as the term, slacker.

“Friends” had already done it to death, and the spin off, “Joey,” was a giant nail in the coffin of that particular franchise. Fortunately Matt LeBlanc moved on to bigger things.

But that was a long time ago, ancient history in TV years. So what’s the second decade of the 21st century got to offer in way of 20-something comedies in a post-Facebook era?

“Happy Endings” … and it’s not just a clever word play, as in happily-ever-after or the finale of a special massage.

ABC’s ensemble comedy premiered last April. On Nov. 3, ABC picked up the series for a second season, a full 22 episodes at that. Apparently ABC thinks the cast and writers are doing something right, and for the most part, they are.

“Happy Endings” is generally pretty amusing.

The premise is tried and true: a group of friends living in a big city, this time Chicago. They seem to have a lot of time on their hands, of course, and despite the torrent of predictable, snappy one-liners, there’s something surprisingly original and more believable about “Happy Endings” than most of the predecessors.

It’s worth noting that this time, all the friends seem to have real jobs and the foibles and pitfalls that accompany the lives of working people. It’s a more authentic vibe, and the setup is interesting.

The couple ‘round which this group of friends orbit have a very messy break up, as in a left-at-the-altar kind of breakup. Alex Kerkovich, played by Elisha Cuthbert, bales on Dave Rose, played by Zachary Knighton.

We’ve all been there. How do you stay together as friends and not feel forced to choose sides? In this case, it’s done with doses of sympathy, humor and lots of sarcasm.

Dave continues to reel, doing everything he can to recover from traumatic marriage rejection, so he’s not the picture of logic and rational choices. He quits his job and follows his heart, and Dave’s heart was intent on opening a food truck business. Sleeping on his friend Max’s couch is part of the deal.

A gay character who isn't from Typecast Central

Adam Pally plays Max. He’s the gay contribution and a real curveball. Something’s different: The gay guy seems straighter than some of the straight guys in the cast.

Max isn’t particularly well-groomed. His apartment is a mess, and Max is on the cusp of pudgy. This is where the writers got it absolutely right. Max is not only authentic, he’s very, very funny. It’s refreshing, and what’s really great is that he’s single, and not in that “you can be gay but don’t even think about having sex” path of “Will And Grace.” Max wants a boyfriend but even more notable, he talks about sex.

Picture this conversation as Max strolls down the street in a Santa suit. He needs the money, and he’s discussing his day as a department store Santa with his pal Penny:

“There was this really cute kid that climbed into my lap, and he was like wiggling around and whispering in my ear and … I felt something. The kid touched me.”

Now that’s brave stuff in the Jerry Sandusky era, but wait, there’s more! A little further down the street, Max blurts, “This is the only shop in Chicago that sells the porn I like, it’s called ‘Bloody Guys.’ It’s British guys!”

Penny chooses to wait outside while Max peruses the video store. While waiting on the street, she gets mugged, but Max is too disappointed to notice when he returns.

“They only have regular gay porn. I can’t deal with all the moustaches.”

All the players have their moments in “Happy Endings,” but still, there’s a tendency toward overly caffeinated dialog, and an annoyingly guitar-y soundtrack that makes sure we miss none of it.

In the end, it’s still really hard to not draw comparisons with past sitcoms. “Happy Endings” feels like the love child of “Friends” and “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia.”

“Happy Endings” has the all cuteness of “Friends” and the dilemmas of young people coping in the big city, but this time the old reliable plot line has been goosed up a couple of notches with some truly stimulating irreverence.

And rumor has it Max may get a boyfriend. There may be a happy ending after all.

The “coming out” scene for Max

The details

“Happy Endings” airs on ABC on Wednesdays at 9:30 pm PT. Check your local listings for when it is broadcast in your city.

Kurt Niece is a freelance journalist from Tucson, Ariz., and author of "The Breath of Rapture." He writes about television for Echo Magazine in Phoenix and SDGLN. He is also an artist who sells his work on his website.