TV Review: Showtime’s Happyish Has Issues

Having just turned forty myself, I can identify with Thom Payne, the protagonist of Happyish, the new dark satire from Showtime.

The pilot opens with Thom celebrating is 44th birthday, sneaking a joint with his wife and friends, mildly hypochondriac, and unable to have sex with his wife because of his Prozac. To make matters worse, Thom’s advertising career is in jeopardy as two young, hip, Swedish owners are out to modernize their clientele, something Thom rails against. With all the traditional “trappings” that come with middle age (wife, home, kids, etc), Thom has to come to grips with his curmudgeon outlook and rebrand himself in order to stay afloat.

It’s hard to like a show like Happyish. Premise wise, there’s not much here we haven’t seen before. A middle-aged and obviously well off man is being crushed by the doldrums of life and experiences a crisis. Happyish tries to distinguish itself by being edgy, but is trying so hard it loses all subtlety. Thom is more whiny and self-pitying than beleagured, and from where I sit, it’s hard to see what his problem is. It doesn’t exactly make identifying with his character easy. This isn’t to say there aren’t jokes here. I laughed many times until the show took an abrupt shift with an over the top adn unnecessary animated sequence.

Philip Seymour Hoffman was originally cast as Thom, however he was only able to shoot a version of the pilot before his death. Steve Coogan (Philomena) assumed the mantle and he does well to capture the character’s crankiness and narcissism. Kathryn Hahn (Crossing Jordan) works wonders as Lee, Thom’s artist wife, who truly loves him despite all his faults and demeanor. Hahn does great work in the pilot and I think I may have a bit of a crush on her.

There’s room for Happyish to grow into something more than just a vehicle for lenghty speeches about Thom’s many “problems.” We need something beyond his self absorbed whining if we are to connect with this character and spend more time with this family.

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