While there may seem to be a plethora of romantic comedies on television lately, one more joins the ranks tonight when ABC premieres sitcom "Happy Endings." Written by David Caspe, the series begins at the nuptials of Alex (Elisha Cuthbert) and Dave (Zachary Knighton) with their closest friends present on the altar for the seemingly happy occasion. However, Alex's abrupt departure from the ceremony sends shockwaves through the group of friends - married couple Jane (Eliza Coupe) and Brad (Damon Wayans, Jr), gay friend Max (Adam Pally) and single gal Penny (Casey Wilson). Can the group of friends survive after the breakup?
Knighton was quick to assure our Jim Halterman (who was visiting the set during shooting last fall) that the series plan is not to dwell too long and that that jumping off point is not the spine of the show. "We sort of take one or two episodes on that and then we move on and it just becomes about the crazy adventures that these idiots get into."
With any ensemble series, the chemistry of the principals can make or break the series but the actors made sure that they got to know each other immediately. "That was my biggest concern since the show is based on the friendship and relationship between these six characters," Cuthbert explained. "I made sure to get everyone together and we went out a couple of times and we had dinner and I had group night with just the girls. We made sure we did things to connect on a level outside of set and read-thrus and the chaos of putting the pilot together." The bonding seems to have worked since Cuthbert added, "everyone is so great and been so open and nice that it really didn't take too long to gel and I can't believe that it's possible that it's even getting more tight and better than our time during the pilot, which I thought was a blast."
Cuthbert, best known for her stint on the FOX drama "24," was ready for a change when she signed on for the sitcom role. "I just felt like I was at this sort of place where I had spent a lot of time doing one-hour drama and just wanted something different. When you go into TV there's always that possibility you could spend the next six years of your life doing this one project and, to me, if you're going to go into that with that expectation and hope for that, then it's got to be something that you're excited about and you want to come to work every day to do."
Knighton is also making the leap from drama to comedy after spending last season on the ABC drama "Flash Forward." Are comedy and drama more similar than one might imagine? "Definitely. In comedy you have to be dead serious when you're playing it because if you're not it won't work. If you're making fun of it in your head or take it lightly in your head it doesn't work. I think comedy is a lot more difficult than drama. If you come to work doing a drama sort of in a funk then it's okay but with comedy you have to always be on. There are definitely differences and a lot of similarities."
For Wayans, Jr., the young actor had a different kind of challenge to deal with - his family name. However, the son of actor/comedian Damon Wayans (who will guest star as Brad's father in an upcoming episode) explained that his family tree ended up being a good thing for him to learn an important lesson. "It definitely made it tougher because you walk into the room and they're like 'Oh, really... you look like him but... ' but overall I feel like it makes you work that much harder so when you finally get it whatever feel you worked for it's pleasant." He also admitted to finally understanding what he saw when his famous - and obviously hard-working - family would come home at the end of a work day. "I always knew they worked hard but now doing it myself it's like WOW! No wonder those guys were super tired after work!"
For Pally, who, along with co-stars Coupe and Wilson, cut his comedy teeth as a member of the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, being able to work in a fairly loose environment is a definite plus with this sitcom. "It's really fun to be on a show where you can improvise," he said. "It's really collaborative and I like that. Nothing is sacred and everybody is just looking for the best joke and that's a real fun place to work." Coupe added she learned a lot about improv in television from her time on the last season of "Scrubs." She explained, "We were able to improv a lot on that show. We had to get what was scripted and then we could play and I think watching those guys, who had been doing it like a machine for eight years... even though this is a different rhythm but to understand where to push and where to pull back it was amazing to have had that experience."
Pally is also happy that his alter ego, Max, is not your stereotypical gay TV character, which he attributes to the "real" feel of the show. "My friends that are gay," he explains with a glint of humor, "there's no way that you would be able to pick them out of a lineup, which I do frequently. I make everybody stand up and I say, 'Which one is gay?' and I don't know!"
Another stereotype broken is with Wilson's Penny, who is perpetually single but thankfully that is not all that defines her. "I really loved the idea of a female character that's looking for love but it's positive and not super desperate or too harsh," the actress said. "I think a lot of times male writers will write a female character and you're like 'I don't recognize that at all.' I think [Penny] loves love and she definitely puts herself out there too much which I do too and she won't accept no from men... I think she's a good person and she just wants to find love so I think she's really relatable." In upcoming episodes, for example, Penny meets the perfect man... who just happens to have the last name of Hitler.
For now, the cast is just happy that audiences will finally find the show on their televisions. "That's the difference between standup and this kind of stuff," Wayans observed. "You have to wait and see what people like. For standup, they either like it right there or they're throwing chicken bones at you."
While there are many sitcoms to choose from out there, Pally came up with a way to explain the sensibility of "Happy Endings" that could entice people to tune in. "I feel like our show is 'Friends' meets 'Arrested Development'... it has the normal friendship vibe of 'Friends' where it's six people in their late 20s sort of going through life but it has the quick, snappy jokes of 'Arrested Development' and it has that feel that this is funny right off the bat and I really think that that's cool. It's got a lot of heart, too, which I think is missing from a lot of comedies."
"Happy Endings" premieres tonight after "Modern Family" and then regularly airs Wednesday nights at 10:00/9:00c on ABC.