Happy Hour -- an early look
If you really sat down and looked at the numbers, you could probably count on one hand the number of successful live-action situation comedies FOX has had on its schedule over the last twenty years. Of course there were the three-camera, live audience sitcoms Married. . .with Children and That 70's Show as well as the single-camera comedies The Bernie Mac Show and Malcolm in the Middle. Also add the critically acclaimed Arrested Development to that mix, even though it was canceled after three seasons.
Yet, no matter how many unsuccessful comedies they have put on the air, the network brass still continues to try and find the right combination of talent and writing to give one of them a multiple season run. The brass is going to have to go back to the drawing board, because Happy Hour (premiering Thursday at 8:30 ET) does not have the right combination. In fact, I'm not too sure if it has a combination at all.
Here's a brief synopsis of the premise from our summer preview of upcoming FOX shows: Henry Beckman (John Sloan, Commander in Chief) moves to Chicago to live with his girlfriend, Heather (Brooke D'Orsay, Harold & Kumar go to White Castle), only to have her dump him. He finds a new place in the same apartment building with a roommate, Larry Cone (Lex Medlin, Still Standing). Larry sets out to teach Henry the beauty of living a single life, which includes a martini happy hour each day at 4 pm.
In the first few hours of arriving at the apartment Henry meets Larry's former roommate Brad (Nat Faxon, Joey), who is now living with his controlling fiancee Tina (Jamie Denbo), and Larry's best friend Amanda (Beth Lacke), whom Henry gets a job from and eventually sleeps with. And, that's pretty much the whole concept of the pilot episode, which doesn't bode well at all.
Happy Hour has plenty going against it. First, it's airing on Thursday nights at 8:30, right after the new Brad Garrett comedy 'Til Death. This is at the same time of Survivor on CBS, Smallville on The CW and The Office on NBC; three solid shows with dedicated audiences. This new sitcom will have to work very hard to pull audience away from these established series.
Next thing going against Happy Hour is the cast. Did you notice I tried to note where you may have previously seen these actors? That's because you either vaguely remember them in something else or never saw them in anything at all. So, viewers will have a hard time latching themselves onto one character or another. Sure, you could begin to warm up to them by the third or fourth episode, but it may be too late for the show by then. Even though it's a pilot episode someone on the show should catch the viewers' attention to keep them watching week after week.
The characters themselves are also a burden to the series. There is no dimension to any of them; they all fit into one stereotype or another. Henry is the straight-laced guy, Heather is the ditsy ex-girlfriend, Larry is the 60's throwback, Tina is the controlling type, Brad is the whipped fiancee, and Amanda is the over-eating best friend who thinks all men are idiots who want to date skinny supermodels. We've seen it all before in a dozen unsuccessful sitcoms of the past. It didn't work then and it doesn't work now.
Finally, the comic timing is way off. The writers try to cram as many laughs (canned or not, I couldn't determine) into the pilot as they can, throwing away any potential character development in the process (Yes, it is the pilot, but Friends crammed plenty of character development into its first episode. So, why can't this show?). In these days of one-camera comedies such as Scrubs or My Name is Earl the viewers aren't looking for a laugh every ten seconds. They're looking for story and content.
Will Happy Hour make it? Perhaps, if it is lucky enough to retain any audience of 'Til Death. However, if they keep everything the same as it is in the pilot I'll be surprised if it makes it to the Major League Baseball Playoffs break that FOX gives its shows in October.