Last night’s episode of Happy Endings, “The Shrink, the Dare, Her Date and Her Brother,” started off innocuously enough: Brad and Alex were bonding over romcoms; Dave was upset at Penny for dating his therapist; and Max and Jane were busy with some nutty, immature contest. But then, things took a turn for the weird. In between scenes of the clichéd romcom that Brad and Alex were watching, Penny and Dave talked with their respective therapists about their unresolved feelings for each other. Of course, both Penny and Dave denied that such feelings existed, but the end of the episode, complete with the two of them walking through a park with a fountain, just like in the movie Brad and Alex were watching, seemed to indicate that this storyline isn’t over. So, what’s going on?
It’s not easy for Happy Endings to generate long-term internal conflict, especially of a romantic nature. Brad and Jane are happily married, and Max is gay. That leaves an Alex/Dave/Penny love triangle as one of the few possibilities for romantic drama. Now, I want to be clear: I’m not opposed to a Dave/Penny romance, per se. I try to approach television with an open mind, whenever possible. What concerns me about this development is how it was presented in this episode: the show simultaneously teased and mocked the idea of a Dave/Penny hookup.
The problem is this: this episode spoofed romcoms, but the second there’s any love-triangle drama on the show, it becomes another sitcom in the romcom tradition. As I’ve argued in previous writings, a show shouldn’t mock a set of conventions and then adopt those very same conventions. When this happens, it becomes difficult to tell what should and shouldn’t be taken seriously. Is a Dave/Penny romance something that happens because it’s true to the characters, or does it exist simply as a meta-commentary on the romcom genre?
At the end of “The Shrink,” it’s not clear which tack Happy Endings will take with this, or if it will even be addressed again. The episode before the break, “Grinches Be Crazy,” hinted at a possible Dave/Alex reunion, so it seems as if the show will be taking the full-on love triangle route. Then again, this could all be a wacky misdirect, and the idea of Dave/Penny hookup might just be a one-off thing to keep viewers on their toes. In any case, it’s too early to pass judgment. But I think it’s alright to be concerned. Happy Endings is walking a fine line here. The show could choose to explore an interesting will-they/won’t-they dynamic.1 Or it could transform Dave and Penny into puppets that exist merely as mouthpieces for the meta-commentary of the week.