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Even though it was only a mere eight episodes long, the timing of SYFY’s Happy! season 1 feels off by about a month. Had the series premiered in November and then run through the actual holiday, the outrageously dark, demented, and frequently very funny first season might not have felt like a holiday guest who overstayed their welcome. Sure, the story is more than just a Christmas story — the villain could just as easily have been obsessed with a leprechaun, the Easter Bunny, or any number of scary Halloween entities — but there’s something about watching the build-up to Christmas in the midst of the mid-winter blues that’s just feels off.
But the inadvertent downside to the first season’s timing aside, SYFY clearly believes it has something with the unlikely team-up of Brian Taylor, Grant Morrison, and Christopher Meloni. And after the last eight episodes, it’s hard to argue that they don’t. Though the season 1 finale ‘I Am the Future’ follows a fairly unsurprising path, turning low-rent hitman Nick Sax’s imaginary friend-filled journey to find his estranged daughter into another redemption story, there’s just enough left in the tank to tease another, possibly even weirder season. There’s also just enough left in the tank to make sure Nick isn’t once again at the bottom of a bottle of whiskey and has, instead, risen to a more respectable level as semi-lovable lowlife who at least knows who his friends are — imaginary and otherwise.
Familiarity of the ending aside, the series may have benefitted most from the restraint Taylor and Morrison (and SYFY) showed when putting the project together — which is saying something when it comes to a show as gleefully over-the-top as Happy!. As much as the tail end of the first season lingered like an uneaten fruitcake, the problem would have been compounded had the season been longer than eight episodes. Whether it was budgetary constraints or the writers’ room knowing there was no way they could stretch a four-issue miniseries into a ten-episode first season, less was definitely more in this case.
The reasons for that go beyond the normal concerns of adapting a comic book into a television series and instead have more to do with the nature of the series itself. If you look at Taylor’s filmography, you see that from Crank to Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance to his most recent film, Mom and Dad, Taylor keeps his movie runtimes pretty trim. There’s no three-hour Crank: Ultimate Edition cut, and there are plenty of good reasons for that. For one, there it’s likely there’s some international law that prevents Jason Statham from being that EXTREME. But another is that Taylor’s kinetic style makes it necessary to burn through plot as fast as possible. And considering how the midsection of the season sagged, Happy! could have stood to shed another hour or two.
Despite it being the culmination of Nick’s search for Hailey as well as his battle with Very Bad Santa, much of what transpired in ‘I Am the Future’ could have been told in last week’s ‘Thus Thrust Zarathustra’ with the help of a few snips here and there. With Smoothie out of the picture, and Meredith having apprehended Mr. Blue, there just wasn’t enough story left in tracking down Very Bad Santa to fill an entire hour. Not that Happy! didn’t try by giving Sonny Shine (Christopher Fitzgerald) a moment to shine in his confrontation with Amanda (Medina Senghore). That sequence ate up plenty of time, and established the children’s entertainer as a potential adversary in season 2 (along with the possessed Mr. Blue), but as much fun as Fitzgerald is clearly having with the character, the seams were definitely showing anytime he was on screen in the last hour.
As much as ‘I Am the Future’ felt like it was retracing the show’s footsteps, it was also scrambling to give Very Bad Santa some level of depth that simply wasn’t earned or really even necessary. The character’s last-minute appeal to Hailey, as she awaited rescue from her father, offered little in terms understanding his motivations, which even by deranged, two-dimensional villain standards were already shockingly thin. As such, his final confrontation with Nick lacked the appropriate sense of urgency. Perhaps that’s why Nick’s bad ticker became the real threat in the final moments of their clash, as all of Sax’s bad living seemingly caught up with him just as he was on the precipice of becoming a slightly better man.
Although it feels like he’s working overtime in the last hour, the finale is ultimately saved by the strength of Meloni’s performance, the consistency of which was the show’s saving grace on more than one occasion. That’s saying a lot for a show that features a flying blue unicorn voiced by Patton Oswalt as its co-lead. Both actors bring some welcome warmth and surprising earnestness to the season’s denouement, which doesn’t just open the door for season 2 but sends its two main characters walking right through it. In all, though, the final chapter of this late holiday gift was more of a mixed bag.