This TV Tuesday, from the ‘Definitely a Matter of Taste’ (DaMoT?) side of life, I thought I’d mention two TV shows that consistently make me laugh out loud a lot: Archer and Happy! (The exclamation mark is part of the title!)
These shows, especially the latter, aren’t for everyone, but they win big points with me for freshness, irreverence, and sheer creativity. Archer leans heavily towards clever pastiches, and Happy! is… well just kinda plain off-the-chain nuts. The only thing they share in common is they both have me in stitches.
Admittedly, in both cases, a few beers not only adds to the funny but is entirely appropriate and in-universe.
The TV series Happy! is based on a graphic novel by Grant Morrison, who is well-known to comics fans. He’s especially well-known to DC Comics fans for work on Batman and Justice League, although I know him more from The Authority and The Invisibles.
[Speaking of irreverent, creative, and off-the-chain, The Authority is a comic line with a wild pastiche on the DC Justice League characters. How wild? Well, the Superman and Batman analogues (Apollo and Midnighter) are gay lovers, and everyone involved is as uncontrollable and dangerous as you’d expect super-beings to be. It’s a great superhero deconstruction — Justice League meets Man of Steel; Woman of Kleenex.]
[[The Invisibles is one of the strangest graphic novels I’ve ever read. DaMoT!]]
The TV series stars Christopher Meloni (who also co-produces the show). Many will remember him as Elliot Stabler from NBC’s Law & Order:SVU, a role he played for twelve seasons. Here he plays Nick Sax, a violent former police detective, now sunk to heavy drinking, substance abuse, and murder for hire.
Beneath his rough and raw exterior Nick by no means has a heart of gold. At best it has some very tarnished brass plating. As anti-heroes go, let’s say Nick ups the ante.
Nick has an ex-wife, Amanda, he hasn’t seen in ten years, and she has a daughter (his) that Nick doesn’t know about. On the other side of the equation, mom hasn’t been entirely honest with daughter Hailey about her dad, either.
It’s understandable. Nick has a tendency to damage, if not destroy, just about everything he comes in contact with, including himself.
There’s one more detail: Nick seems to be immortal. He can be damaged and hurt (something that happens a lot to him), but it doesn’t seem he can be killed, almost no matter how bad the damage.
That’s the setup. The first season story starts with a serial kidnapper, Very Bad Santa, who begins abducting children. Nick’s daughter Hailey happens to be one of the children taken.
There is more to the kidnappings than apparent. They are not random; this is more than the work of a serial pedophile. (If the bad guys had known who her father is, they never would have gone near her. It’s a bit like messing with John Wick’s dog or car.)
Hailey has an Imaginary Friend, named Happy, who looks like a small blue flying unicorn with wings. Patton Oswalt provides the voice of Happy, which is outstanding voice casting, I think.
In this universe, Imaginary Friends are real (there is even a twelve-step group for those abandoned by their person). They are visible, with rare exceptions, only to their person, to the one who imagined them and brought them to life. When their person stops completely believing in them, they vanish.
Hailey, trapped in a box, sends Happy to find her father, whom she imagines as some kind of hero cop.
Happy does find Nick, and it turns out Nick can see Happy.
Of course, it takes a while for Happy to convince Nick he’s not seeing things (a far more likely condition given this is Nick). It takes even longer to convince Nick to care about the daughter he didn’t know he had.
Part of what makes this show fun is the fight scenes which, although brutal and gory in the extreme, are absolutely hysterical.
When it comes to storytelling humor, I’ve seen a lot, and so it takes a lot to make me laugh out loud. This show, especially the crazy fight scenes, does that time after time.
If you like Tarantino movies, or movies like Saw, you’ll have no problem with Happy! (It’s a show on the ScyFy channel, so it does have some limits, although those mainly apply to sexuality. Even broadcast TV allows a fair amount of gore.)
I’ll spoil this much, because I know people who dislike shows featuring children in jeopardy: No children are killed or seriously harmed. Scared, yes, but Nick saves them all. Even Hailey who goes from frying pan to fire.
The second (and last) season has a different arc, but unresolved threads from season one factor into the full story. The arc resolves by the end of this season.
As one might expect in a reality with real Imaginary Friends, other supernatural aspects are real as well. Possession by an ancient and powerful evil avatar of death, for instance.
The show definitely isn’t for everyone, but it’s an intriguing concept, well executed, with a kind of exuberance and joy running through it. (What you might expect in a show called Happy!)
For me part of what commends it is that, despite how low the characters are, the values shine through. Nick is acknowledged by all (including himself) as a piece of work. There is no pretense he is noble. He’s mostly just determined and ornery.
Yet flowers can grow from dung piles.
A really bad spy agency.
At least it starts off that way.
Over the ten seasons so far (an eleventh season is expected post-COVID19), the agency has had a few different forms. When last seen it had morphed into a Private Eye agency à la Magnum, P.I.
During the last three seasons, we’ve been inside the main character’s head while he lingers in a coma due to being shot at the end of season seven.
Each season since involves a different fantasy arc: Season eight is a 1940s Los Angeles noir story, called Dreamland. Season nine, Danger Island, is essentially an Indiana Jones tropical island adventure.
Season ten, Archer: 1999, which I just watched, was a lot like Firefly. As a science fiction fan, it’s my favorite season!
But he’s not bumbling like Maxwell Smart. Archer has skills. In many ways, he’s an exceptional agent, truly willing to face danger (enthusiastic, even). (On the other hand, he’s terrified of alligators.)
Archer’s problem is that he gets in his own way and tends to leap without looking or thinking. Also, he’s usually a little drunk.
The agency he works for, the International Secret Intelligence Service (ISIS!), is owned and operated by Malory Archer (Jessica Walters), Archer’s mother. The show later dropped the name due to the association, which was unintentional (the Middle East ISIS arose in 2013; Archer started in 2009).
The relationship between mother and son is… not the healthiest, shall we say. The mother is just as much a lush as the son. Both usually have a drink in hand.
Lana is an outstanding agent, in many ways better than Archer, but she’s forever second banana because Archer’s mom runs the show. It’s a never-ending source of frustration.
Competing (badly) for Lana’s affection (and longing to be a field agent) is Cyril Figgis (Chris Parnell), the ISIS comptroller. If the voice sounds familiar, Parnell also voices Jerry Smith on Rick and Morty. The two characters do have traits in common.
Some may remember Parnell playing Dr. Spaceman (“Spah-CHEM-in”), a frequent guest on NBC’s 30 Rock (a very creative and funny show; one of my all-time favorites).
Filling out the cast: glue-sniffing secretary Cheryl Tunt (Judy Greer), hard-drinking HR rep Pam Poovey (Amber Nash), gadgets wizard Dr. Krieger (Lucky Yates), and agent Ray Gillette (Adam Reed). Not a normal one in the bunch and substance users all.
Starting in season five, the format of the show changes. It turns out ISIS was never sanctioned by the US government, and are forced to disband.
But it turns out they have a hidden vault with a ton of cocaine, so they decide to go to Miami and sell it. The season was labeled Archer Vice.
By the end of the season, they manage to get back into the good graces of the government and will begin working for the CIA going forward. This lasts only until the end of season six when things go wrong and the agency blacklists them.
In season seven they’re in Los Angeles running a Private Eye agency. Archer is shot multiple times at the end of that season, and the three seasons after, as mentioned, are fantasies while he’s in a coma.
I really enjoyed the fantasy seasons, although the whole series is delightful. It’s filled with references and pastiches, large and small. And the humor is outstanding. The fantasies reassign the characters in interesting ways and take place in alternate realities.
I especially enjoyed the last season which features the gang operating a spaceship in a situation very reminiscent of Firefly. Whereas the previous seasons have a season story arc, the nine episodes of this season are standalone episodes, each incorporating elements from various science fiction films or TV shows.
Archer always had some vague SF elements, sometimes more, sometimes less, but season ten is straight science fiction. Really funny science fiction.
While it’s possible to watch any of the fantasy seasons on their own, there is a huge body of context one would miss. By season ten, they’ve set up a lot of in-jokes (I’m fond of “Phrasing!”). It’s well worth watching it all to catch them.
So two really funny very irreverent shows about a hard-drinkin’, hard fightin’, not altogether there or admirable characters.
DaMoT, especially Happy!, but Archer does look for a love of that sort of humor as well as a background in fictional detective and spy lore. (Not that it isn’t funny without picking up all the references, but it’s much funnier if you do.)
They both get a Wow! rating from me. They’re good enough for re-watching, especially Archer.
Stay at home watching, my friends!