After the likes of Game of Thrones, American Horror Story et al brought us gratuitous sex, violence and gore there has been a desensitisation towards the ‘shock value’ of TV. Movies, with their strict age ratings, give us a sense of what to expect when we visit the cinema. We know for example, that a 12 rating will have usually no more than two very strong expletives and limited amount of blood and gore. TV is less confined within these parameters. On demand services offer a guideline recommendation and that is pretty much it. This is a good thing in many ways, particularly as the team behind the making of a TV show are no longer restricted by age and censorship certification, so the final vision, complete with the intended level of grand guignol can be produced. I am aware that there are some guidelines when making the more ‘adult’ shows and that there are still limits to the content that are adhered to, nor am I suggesting a general carte blanche attitude from show runners when considering the content of TV shows. The Walking Dead is an example of strange censorship, with its huge amount of blood and gore, yet bad language and sexual content is watered down to something resembling a PG13. I will be honest, if I were being chased around by the undead, I would have more to say than the odd ‘son of a bitch’ and ‘mother flipper’. My language would have the Walkers turning on their heels in shame. With shock value in mind it brings me to the release of yet again another TV show sourced from a comic book and I was very surprised to see there are still ways in which TV shows can shock.
Happy! Is a short run comic book series written by Grant Morrison and published by Image comics in 2012, subsequently compiled as a graphic novel shortly after its serial publication. It tells the story of disgraced ex police detective, Nick Sax (Christopher Meloni), who has turned to a life of substance abuse, alcohol and moonlighting as both hitman and cab driver to make ends meet. Following a massive heart attack whilst performing a ‘hit’, Nick is visited in hospital by a small winged blue unicorn named Happy (voiced with wonderfully childlike innocence by Patton Oswald), insisting to be the imaginary friend of the estranged 10-year-old daughter Nick was unaware of adding that she has been kidnapped by a ‘Bad Santa’. This is merely a brief insight into the insanity within the plot of Happy! There are manic children’s TV presenters involved in child trafficking, weird latex animal orgies, giant slimy pink starfish creatures and one scene even plays male rape for laughs. All these things seem particularly revolting on page yet when you see them unfurl on screen it is clear tongues are firmly in the showrunner’s cheeks and, whilst it is played to shock it is mostly accompanied with a smile (and often a laugh). If you are an individual who takes life very seriously and are easily offended, I strongly advise to leave this well alone as it can trigger many a sensibility. But if you like your humour the blackest of black and your violence a deep shade of bubbling claret, Happy! is well worth a look.
Christopher Meloni portrays the bumbling, morally absent hero beautifully, and his comic timing and talent for physical humour is excellent as he veers well away from the typical heroic archetype. His simplest of facial expressions and gung-ho stupidity are wonderfully comedic and Buster Keaton like in terms of his physical performance. During the first season Sax spends a majority of the time under the influence of various substances and the camera work on show is wonderful in demonstrating this, with its whip pans and psychedelically experimental over the top flashes of visual flare.
Nick Sax is an unorthodox hero and the rogue’s gallery featured is equally as strange. There is Smoothie (Patrick Fischler), a sadistically bizarre and merciless antagonist who has a hilarious reveal to why he has such a suitable moniker, Sonny Shine (Christopher Fitzgerald) is the creepiest children’s TV show presenter you can imagine and there is no way children would be allowed within fifty feet of this candy infused nut job. There is a plot element involving mob boss Francisco Scaramucci (Ritchie Coster) and whilst Coster is great in the role, these scenes tend to slow the narrative down, leaving the viewer with an urgency to get back to the hijinks of Happy and Nick. However, in the recently aired season 2 Coster sits more front and centre as an integral and mischievous lead villain. The story arc of season 1 is progressive and incredibly fun to watch, and the climax is satisfyingly grim.
Happy! Season 2 was released June 5th this year on Netflix UK (The US were lucky enough have the opportunity to watch earlier in March) and with no source material to follow due to a sequel comic book never been published. Instead, an assortment of writers including original creator Grant Morrison continued the story. Following the festivities at Christmas during the first, the second continues to follow the seasonal motif and sets the narrative at Easter. With the Easter special of the Sonny Shine show set to break records, a sinister plan is afoot and the cast remaining from the first season do their utmost to prevent the upcoming devastation.
In this season, Meloni repeats his fantastic schtick and ramps it up to stratospheric levels (he performs an on the fly multiple organectomy just to give a taste of what to expect early on), his on-screen daughter Hailey (Bryce Lorenzo) gets more screen time this time around and the show benefits from the developing relationship between the dysfunctional duo. Hailey is scarred by previous events and is seen struggling to integrate back into a normal life when an entirely new set of problems come her way and she is back in the clutches of a psychotic kidnapper. Only on this occasion her new abductor may prove to be even more evil than the first. The second season goes out of its way to one up the original, a scene an early episode sees a visit to the Vatican; and young boys are leered at by priests and used as a pseudo currency. Happy himself is once again the thin line of morality that glues events together and he is given more time to develop his own arc with the hilarious rainbow spewing aplomb hinted at in the first season.
Both seasons of Happy! are silly, fun and unapologetic whilst being wholly original and a welcome antidote to the seriousness of many shows currently on offer. Meloni deserves a lot of credit for his comedic performance and is charismatic and exciting to watch. Whether he is synchronised dance fighting a small army of red shirts to jazz beats or heavily hallucinating in slow motion whilst wearing pantyhose. Happy! Is certainly a marmite TV show and will not be to everyone’s taste, but I urge you to give it a try. In the UK it seems to have been criminally overlooked and for such a slick, intelligent and avant-garde show, it should be applauded.
Happy! with this show? I most certainly am.