Happy! is the brainchild of comic writer Grant Morrison, and adapted for TV by Brian Taylor, co-maniac behind the Crank films. It centres on an ex—New York City cop, aggressive, drunk and out of sorts, who teams up with his estranged daughter’s imaginary friend (Happy!) to rescue her from the clutches of a kidnapping Santa Claus figure. Don’t worry if that sounds too normal: there’s also a plot thread involving the Russian mafia, space aliens, a kids TV presenter, a sadistic assassin who loves pain for all, and a reality TV show that adds a zombie to its cast. Yep, it’s that kind of show.
Happy!’s main focus, though, is Nick Sax, played by Christopher Meloni in a performance so removed from ego you wonder if he thought anyone would witness the show at all. Nick is so focussed on the singular want to free his daughter that every other plot line is enjoyably thrown to the walls. He’s a man who can fight through myriad roadblocks should the need come, but his broken, cynical nature – matched with imaginary friend Happy’s positivity and innocence (and the upbeat voice of Patton Oswalt) – makes for some rather bizarre, hilarious and even brutal moments. Meloni’s performance is quite inspired; if you thought Jason Statham gave Crank everything, or Christian Bale’s method acting led to some real ‘wow, you’re going that far?’ discussions, Meloni is beyond even those.
Season 1 is a goofy, very violent and vulgar thrill ride that throws some absolutely insane hurdles at the characters and the audience, as Sax and Happy run the gauntlet of Christmas in New York to hunt for the young girl locked in an evil Santa’s hideout. The various offshoots don’t quite fit into the narrative and tone as well as one would like, but the show goes to some crazy places with its tangents and it’s inventively silly enough to nod and go ‘Yeah, sure, this is also happening’. The main thrust is nicely handled, and the Happy/Sax relationship really grows and plays around with expectations.
Sadly, Season 2 two can’t quite recapture that insanity. Set at Easter, the show’s main focus is muddled, with Sax and Happy given less time. In their place, we see much more of Sonny Shine, a kids TV host, and his weird world. We get a whole plot about the former head of a Russian crime family, now on some sort of religious rebirth, and various other stories are thrown in too, meaning the momentum is smothered; come the end of the 10-episode run, so much has happened that feels too random that one wonders what the point of following Nick and Happy is this time around.
Happy! is a show of variables. When it works, it is a crazy, bizarre, visually insane and grotesque display of absurdity, extremism and bold television. But with that comes the remit that too much of something dents the impact, and the times when the show doesn’t push every envelope it can find sadly makes it drop to a sluggish mix of bland exposition, characters we’ll never really care about and plots that go nowhere. When Happy! hits its mark, it’s a memorable show worth talking about, but besides a few shocking sequences and the interaction of Christopher Meloni and a CGI unicorn-elephant with the voice of Patton Oswalt, there’s little people will discuss in the years to come. What could have been a concise, brutal, bizarre tonal exercise in insanity and humanity ends as a sludge of storylines filling out a runtime without bringing the smiles and gasps as much as it both should and seems to think it does. A seeing-is-believing show that doesn’t need to be watched beyond a few episodes.
Happy! Season 1 and 2 is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.