The List: Top 10 ‘Happy Endings’ Episodes

One of the finest sitcoms of the 2010s ended 10 years ago this week. Happy Endings took the same set-up and premise as Friends, but updated it for Millennials, tripling the number of jokes per minute. Yet it constantly seemed like it was fighting ABC for air. Its first season aired confusingly out of order. The second season had an episode punted to the middle of the third season for reasons that remain baffling. And halfway through its third season it was doomed to a Friday Night Death Slot. Had it gotten at least one final season, it would have hit its syndication numbers and gotten a proper send-off, and probably be better remembered today. But this cult favorite still endures, and here are 10 (well, 11) reasons why.

“And the Pandemmy Goes To…”
The only lockdown content worth a damn, this Zoom session actually featured a script that had its characters react the way they would if the real pandemic invaded their Chicago. Dave’s way-too-intimate restaurant idea still makes me laugh.

10. “Cazsh Dummy Spillionaires” (Season 3, Episode 1)
The third season kicked off with Dave and Alex on again, but refusing to define their romantic reunion, preferring to keep it “cazsh.” That lack of commitment would doom their relationship as the season wore on, but it kept the show fresh. The real humor of the episode came from Max’s attempts to sabotage Penny’s recovery so he can spend more time with her physical therapist. Also, Brad brought out his ventriloquist dummy! Like Arrested Development‘s Franklin, Sinbrad is a give-no-fucks Black puppet that never fails to leave me in stitches.

9. “Dave of the Dead” (Season 1, Episode 7)
Season 1 tends to get skipped over because it was finding its footing, and until the streaming era began, was nearly impossible to watch in its intended order. But it actually figured itself out pretty quickly, and this episode has always been my favorite from those first thirteen. As the group becomes obsessed with the zombie apocalypse, Dave realizes his work at restaurant supply company is turning him into a zombie. Finally breaking his stupor, he quits his 9-to-5 and sets out on his own, working on the eatery that will eventually become his food truck Steak Me Home Tonight.

8. “The Kerkovich Way” (Season 2, Episode 17)
As you’ll see by the rest of this list, there was a month-long stretch in early 2012 where this was the best thing on TV. This wonderfully convoluted episode capped that run with Jane giving Alex a refresher in the titular method of deception. (Had it aired today, self-righteous recappers would have called it gaslighting.) Meanwhile, Max and Penny realize how little they have going for themselves and decide to put all their energy into winning a John Hughes-themed scavenger hunt.

7. “Cocktails and Dreams” (Season 2, Episode 16)
In an effort to draw new business to his food truck, Dave gets a liquor license and converts his spot to a speakeasy. (If you weren’t of drinking age in the early 2010s, just know this was extremely popular.) But his house cocktail causes everyone in the group to have a sex dream about their longtime pal, scored to Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street.” Bonus points for Colin Hanks being such a good sport playing a douche-y version of himself.

6. “No-Ho-Ho” (Season 3, Episode 7)
One of the few Christmas episodes that could compete with its contemporary Community, I try to rewatch this every year. After the group learns Jane’s birthday is actually on December 25th (she had successfully forged documents to show otherwise), they vow to throw her a party free of any signs of Christmas cheer. But their unwelcome desire for eggnog, animatronic Santas and their own gifts keep finding a way into the festivities. The slo-mo retelling of Max’s relapse is one of the show’s funniest moments.

5. “Four Weddings and a Funeral (Minus Three Weddings and One Funeral)” (Season 2, Episode 21)
Each season ended with a wedding, but this one easily topped the other two (and could have served as worthy series finale). The nuptials between wasteful Derrick and thrifty Eric threaten their relationship, which mirrors the underlying tension in Brad and Jane’s marriage. But this episode has visual gags galore, with five of the sextet wearing dashing tuxes (causing Dave to make the first and only reference to the Oscar-winning The Artist) while Jane is stuck in an ill-fitting canary yellow suit as “Best Woman.” It all ends on the dancefloor, as Max reunites with his all-male Madonna cover band Mandonna (not to be confused with Madonald or Material Earl).

4. “The Butterfly Effect Effect” (Season 2, Episode 15)
In this masterfully written and performed episode, only Max deals with the harsh Chicago winter in a semi-realistic way. (He hibernates like a bear.) Alex, Dave and Penny try to kickstart the spring by pushing the annual Brad-Jane “smackdown,” which coincides with the beginning of warmer weather in the city. But the happily married couple’s refusal to let minor inconveniences blow up has ripple effects for the whole group.

3. “The Marry Prankster” (Season 3, Episode 12)
Prank wars are a classic sitcom tradition, but Max took it to a personal level after falling for the lottery hoax (where he has a new ticket with the last week’s winning numbers). Vowing revenge, he continually ups the ante until he takes it too far. Luckily, Pete saves the day with a romantic proposal amidst the carnage.

2. “The St. Valentine’s Day Maxssacre” (Season 2, Episode 13)
I went back and forth on which episode to slot in my top two places, but it proved impossible. So think of them as 1a and 1b. This deeply sincere episode makes its Friends references explicit – as Brad, under the influence of nitrous oxide, assigns everyone their sitcom counterpart – and the gang rallies behind Max to reunite with Grant, the “One That Got Away.” If only guest star James Wolk wasn’t so popular, maybe he could have stuck around longer.

1. “Spooky Endings” (Season 2, Episode 5)
Ultimately, I think I had to choose this one. It’s the episode that made me fall in love with the show, the episode I’ve revisited the most times, and it’s the episode with most pure laughs. Brad and Jane head to the suburbs to housesit and learn the candy-hungry kids there are more dangerous than anything that could happen in the city. The rest of the crew has little luck meeting a costumed hook-up at their party, making for some hilariously awkward encounters.

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