Happy! Is a Glorious, Violent Assault on the Senses and Good Taste

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Syfy has been back in the original programming game for a while, and it’s still real good at it. As someone who loved watching Eureka and Warehouse 13 back in the day,  it’s nice to see that the network can still produce great genre TV. It has the hard sci-fi space opera of The Expanse, the deconstructive fantasy of The Magicians, and now it has a comic book adaptation that wouldn’t work on any other network. Happy! is based on a comic written by Grant Morrison about an ex-cop turned hitman who starts seeing a winged unicorn creature named Happy. The comic is unapologetic in its strangeness, playing with audience expectations of what’s real and what’s not. It’s overwhelmingly fast and violent, and the show is uncompromising in its adaptation.

Watching the pilot episode, which aired last night, it made me think of Preacher. Happy! is, in a way, the opposite of AMC’s adaptation of Garth Ennis’s Vertigo series. Where the Preacher comic is fast, action-packed, and never stops moving, the TV series takes its time. Its two seasons were methodical affairs. The violence was still there, but it took its time getting to it. Happy! doesn’t do that. Happy! is just as loud, fast and mad as the source material that inspired it. Watching it, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. The show sets out to assault your senses to the point where you can’t tell what’s real anymore. The cool part about that is that it doesn’t allow the audience to get lost. It can make you feel like you’re going insane, but the pilot is careful to keep one toe in reality. There’s just enough here to make sure you know what’s going on and can keep up with the story.

Christopher Meloni (Photo via Syfy)

That’s as long as you make an effort to pay attention, anyway. This isn’t a show you can watch while doing something else. And while you may know what’s going on, it might take a few minutes’ thought before you can describe it to someone else. There’s so much going on at any given moment; your senses never get a break. It’s constant overload, but the way it overwhelms you is fun, rather than frustrating. What really helps is that the show is much more upfront with us about what’s real and what’s not than the comics are. It establishes early on that our main character, Nick Sax has a history of drug-induced hallucinations and suicidal thoughts. At the same time. The way it does it is spectacular too, with Sax appearing to shoot himself in the head, leading to a blood-spurting disco dance. That turns out to be a hallucination in the bathroom of a dive bar. That one moment lets you know exactly what kind of show you’re in for. If the image of a man with half a head, disco-dancing and turning himself into a blood fountain doesn’t make you laugh, you should probably change the channel.

Then there’s the matter of Happy. When the character is first introduced, you neither see nor hear him. He’s a little girl’s (Hailey) imaginary friend. It’s only when Hailey is about to be kidnapped that that you realize he isn’t entirely imaginary. Or rather, if he is imaginary, that doesn’t mean he’s not real. Hailey is a fan of children’s performer Sonny Shine, who is super creepy in his own way, and may turn out to be more connected to Hailey’s disappearance than the show is letting on. There’s no real evidence of that yet, but I don’t trust this dude at all. Hailey tries to get a better look at him and ends up wandering off stage. That’s when Happy warns her of an evil Santa Claus lurking around. So he’s real enough to see things that she can’t. The evil Santa Claus kidnaps the girl and puts her in a box, drilling holes in the top for air. It doesn’t look like it’s the first time he’s done it either. He has multiple boxes, each displaying a poster of a missing child. The show doesn’t tell us what Very Bad Santa plans to do with these kids, but it’s the most legitimately scary part of the episode.

Christopher Meloni, Patton Oswalt (Photo via Syfy)

Christopher Meloni is fantastic in the role of Nick Sax and easily carries the whole show. He is the perfect action star for this kind of trippy holiday series.  (Also the Christmas theme makes the show feel like a Shane Black production on drugs. Well, more drugs than usual.) Meloni makes the whole hour work, even though the set up is a little weak. He gets a contract to kill the nephews of a mafia family. He does, and one of them whispers the password to an encrypted list of names into his ear. We don’t get a good sense of the significance of this list. There’s a vague mention of demons, but no real indication of whether that’s literal or metaphorical. All it does is serve to set up the fact that Sax is now on the run from both the mob and the cops, who are in the mob’s pocket. What helps this go down easier is that Sax doesn’t care about the password and doesn’t even want the information. He’s just annoyed that people are after him for it and takes them out in increasingly bloody ways. I do hope the list and the supporting characters get more fleshed out as the series goes on though. Pilots are hard, especially when they have to introduce as many strange concepts as this one did. Since it had to prioritize that stuff, certain characters, like Detective Meredith McCarthy, are left unexplored. That will need to be addressed soon.

Christopher Meloni (Photo via Syfy)

Patton Oswalt is also hilarious as Happy. The dude’s a talented voice actor and naturally funny, so that’s not a surprise. What is cool is how well Meloni and Oswalt play off of each other despite one of them being a computer-animated creation. That’s really hard to do, and is just as much a credit to the animation team as it is to the actors. The way they bicker back and forth is natural and hilarious amidst all the carnage Sax causes. By the time the credits rolled, after Happy revealed that Hailey is Sax’s daughter, I wasn’t ready for the show to end. It was an overwhelming, trippy roller-coaster and I didn’t want to get off. Even though the story maybe didn’t receive as much attention as it could have, the characters, action and tone have me hooked. Besides, in the pilot at least, the story is just a means of getting us to the next big action scene. While that probably can’t sustain over a full season, it’s fine for one episode. Especially when the action scenes are this good. There’s just something fun about watching a guy cut open a torturer with his own surgical equipment and then beat a bunch of henchmen to death with a fire extinguisher. Then pretend to piss on said henchmen with the fire extinguisher. That right there tells me we’re in for something special.

 

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