“Happy Endings” and the Advent of the Gay Dude-Bro

30 Jun

With the TV Season withering away in the pre-summer doldrums–after the network’s spring season finales and before cable launches into its summer seasons, when all that’s left is a landscape of third-tier award shows and reality programming left for dead–it’s as good a time as any to look back on the 2010-2011 TV season and take some stock in what just happened.

I’ll leave a full-season recap for another time.  Really there’s just one show I want to talk about, which is ABC’s Happy Endings.  The show debuted as a mid-season replacement and got a bit looked over as another sitcom following the tired-and-true “3 guys and 3 girls all barely work and yet have cushy apartments in a major city” formula.  You know, another Friends ripoff.

Except with this Friends ripoff, it’s like the writers spun the “Wheel-O-Progressive-Characterization” when they created the 6 main characters.

You’ve got your uptight control freak Monica (“Jane,” played by Eliza Coupe, the only silver lining of the final, terrible two seasons of Scrubs) but she’s … spins wheel … MARRIED … to “Brad” who is … spins wheel … A BLACK GUY!  Oh, jackpot our Chandler is black!  Also, he’s played by Damon Wayans’ son … Damon Wayans … Jr, so of course you’ve got your inevitable celebrity-father casting all stitched up nicely.

Now we need our Phoebe, the quirky/weird girl, and she’ll be … spins wheel … PLUS-SIZE (Note: the super-cute Casey Wilson, who plays the hilarious “Penny,” is hardly plus-size – only in the TV universe would she be even considered remotely “large,” but that’s TV for you…)

The Ross/Rachel, will they/won’t they tension that every sitcom seems convinced it needs to survive is provided by Zachary Kighton as “Dave” and Eliza Cuthbert (of 24 fame) as “Alex,” who play a once-engaged couple until she left him at the altar.  In classic sitcom style, they still hangout with each other and their mutual friends, and much of the first season is dedicated to their moaning about how they can/can’t still be friends.  Spill the wheel and these two are … BORING.  Damn, well, you can’t argue with the wheel.

Last but not least, a good Friends ripoff needs it’s Joey, the goofy horn-dog.  Spin the wheel again and Joey is … GAY.  Wait, what?  Yep, Adam Palley’s “Max,” the quirky loser who shares and apartment with Dave where they have Nerf dart fights and generally bro out, is gay.  And not in that “OMG I love this Justin Timberlake song!” type of gayness that sitcoms seem most comfortable dealing with.  No, Max is a “Dude, I totally nailed that guy last night!  High Five!” type of gay.

Max is the gay dude-bro.  That Happy Endings has such a character is interesting.  It’s cool.  It says things about the perception of homosexuality in our culture.  He’s a standard, slacker-weirdo sitcom character who just happens to be gay.  It rarely defines him or his story arcs (just like  Jane and Brad’s interracial marriage is not their defining aspect, nor is Penny’s “plus-sized” nature hers) other than he goes on dates with guys rather than girls.

It’s a breath of fresh air in the current television landscape that a show like Happy Endings would give its characters these unique aspects and then refuse to exploit them for self-serving sermonizing, “very special episodes” or any other standard sitcom B.S.

Gay characters are being represented more and more often in TV media, and many of them subvert stereotypes (David from Six Feet Under, Omar from The Wire, and many more that I’m sure I’m forgetting).  But “Max” is a unique addition to the gay character landscape.  He’s not self-hating, or confused, or closeted, or flaming, or really anything much at all.  He’s just … a guy.  Who like guys.

High Five.

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One Response to ““Happy Endings” and the Advent of the Gay Dude-Bro”

  1. christa June 30, 2011 at 6:56 pm #

    happy endings is by far one of the best new comedies on tv- mostly b/c you have to pay attention to catch all the quick wit…it’s totally amahzing.

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