Calling Happy! a psychedelic mystery revelling in debauchery with a little added sweetness wouldn’t do it justice. The show is so much more. Imagine Quentin Tarantino and Peppa Pig had a baby, with the Teletubbies and Looney Tunes as godparents; that baby would be Happy!
To watch Happy! with expectations or the belief that we know what is going to happen, is to realise how accustomed we’ve come to clichés, and how refreshing it is to expect the unexpected. The story is a pick’n mix of: mobsters, crooked cops, creepy kids entertainers, gangster’s wives, reality TV, faith, and imaginary friends.
Nick Sax (Christopher Meloni) is a hard-drinking, cynical ex-cop turned hitman, whose life takes a turn with the arrival of Happy (Patton Oswalt); a winged blue unicorn, and his estranged daughter’s imaginary friend. Together they traverse the city’s seedy underworld to rescue Hailey (Bryce Lorenzo) from the clutches of the Very Bad Santa (Joseph D. Reitman).
As well as trying to save the daughter he never knew he had, Sax also has to contend with gangsters out for his blood. Whilst, his ex-wife Amanda (Medina Senghore) ex-partner-and-former-lover Detective Meredith McCarthy (Lili Mirojnick) team-up to find Hailey, and other children kidnapped over the Christmas period. It’s dark and gritty. But as cynical as Happy! can be, there’s a sprinkling of positivity.
Happy is the main source of the show’s optimism: peppy, cute, cheerful, and a little naive. The flying blue horse avoids becoming irritating, by possessing the endearing quality of seeing and bringing out the best in almost everyone. Even, the initially reluctant Sax grows to see Happy as a partner, as his daughter’s imaginary friend motivates him to be the father Hailey needs.
On their quest to find his missing daughter, Sax and Happy encounter truly despicable villains: crime lord Blue (Ritchie Coster), sadistic enforcer Smoothie (Patrick Fischler), and the Very Bad Santa. They’re all Saturday morning cartoon villains that fell down the rabbit hole into a corrupt, depraved, and perverse wonderland.
The violence also embraces a Looney Tunes-esque feel, with the creative use of miscellaneous items as weapons and an abundance of blood. In early episodes, Sax gleefully terrorises his would-be killers when he escapes hospital, and doesn’t shy away from spilling blood at a poker game. Both scenes are graphic and kinetic, blood spurts and limbs are lost; in Happy! anything goes.
Manic energy makes the violence and Happy and Sax’s love-hate relationship flow. Happy’s eternal optimism is the perfect foil for Sax’s cynicism, as the duo take baby steps to being partners. Dialogue zips between them, and antagonism becomes a budding friendship as they race to find Hailey.
It’s a shame that the same energy is missing when Sax and Happy aren’t the focus of the action. The subplot that teams Sax’s ex-wife with his former lover, meanders until they learn of the hitman’s search for his daughter. Whilst a look into Blue’s family life is vaguely interesting, it too often borders on dull.
The strength of Sax and Happy’s dynamic, and a twisty-turny plot make the show enjoyable enough to overlook the pitfalls. If you’re done binge watching Friends for the fifth time, and want to give something new and a little different a go, you could do worse than starting with Happy! It’s imaginative, weird, and strangely hopeful. Bleak, darkly comedic but also cute Happy! is a cynically optimistic show. An oxymoron, maybe, but that’s Happy!