Review: Happyish 1×1 (US: Showtime)


In the US: Sundays, 9.30pm ET/PT, Showtime

WASP dissatisfaction. How may I count the ways you’ve manifested yourself over the past decade or so on US TV? Well, there’s Satisfaction, obviously, and The Affair. There was Necessary Roughness and In Treatment, for those who like lots of therapy to cope with their dissatisfaction, Enlightened for those who wanted to think about rising above their job dissatisfaction. For those who are just dissatisfied with society and the Internet and social media, there was Selfie, while for those who were prepared to put up with their dissatisfaction in the hope things would get better, there was Togetherness and Marriage.

And let’s face, the dissatisfaction doesn’t stop there. You could probably add a few extras to that list, if you thought about it about.

Generally, the picture from TV would appear to be, if you’re middle to upper middle class in America and middle-aged, although things could obviously be a lot worse, apparently you’re just dissatisfied with how modern life is. Everyone seemingly caring about the young people who can barely even read a book, while you’re having to learn about the Facebook and the Twitter and foreigners, just to keep up. And just as your body’s getting all saggy and the sex is going away, you’re expected to be working out and taking protein like crazy, so you can have abs. There was no such thing as abs when you were growing up, was there?

All this while you’re having to work some well paid job that you don’t actually like that much.

And here we are with yet another slightly self-pitying ‘comedy drama’ about the same old same old. This was apparently so important to Showtime and its demographic that when its leading man actually died (Philip Seymour Hoffman, may he rest in peace), the network decided that it absolutely had to go ahead with the project with a new leading man (Steve Coogan).

Here Coogan plays a dissatisfied ad man (Mad Men), the ironically named Thom Payne, supposedly living the American Dream with his wife (Kathryn Hahn from Free Agents), but who’s disconcerted by all the young people who work for him, the young Swedes who are taking over the agency and basically everything in modern life. He’s the kind of knob who reads Camus on the train while everyone is reading the Kindle version of the paperback version of the hardback version of Steve Jobs’ biography. He hates his job, just as everyone else does, but more vocally, something that annoys his friend-boss Bradley Whitford.

And a more tedious half-hour it would be hard to find. Apart from the fact it’s mind-numbing repetition of a dozen other “grumpy old men” dramas, Coogan is just not American enough, either to say “asshole” as frequently as he does or to be dissatisfied with the American Dream that he’s so busy ripping apart. Not got a six-pack at 44, Steve? No one ever told you to get one – you’re English. So don’t worry about it, laugh at the Americans and their silly ways, and then go down the pub to laugh at them some more with your mates. Either that or get off your ‘ass’ and go down the gym like the American Dream you apparently want to embrace once upon a time tells you to.

Incidentally, I should note here that Coogan’s character is 44 years old. Is it because I’m 42 that I’ve read Camus and know who Frank Miller is, am on Facebook and can use Twitter? Am I in the sweet spot between generations, able to bridge the gap between young and old? Or is it because this isn’t the most well observed pieces of writing and actually, what the show thinks is a generational gap is actually a class gap?

I leave that one up to you guys to decide (be nice).

The show does try to liven things up a bit with Fight Club style commentary and dream sequences…

…that unfortunately lack any of its perception or fights, and a sequence in which Coogan has sex with a cartoon grandmother, but it’s not enough. By the end of it, you’ll be longing for the sweet release of death almost more than Coogan does.


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.

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