In the US: Wednesdays, 10/9c, Syfy
In the UK: Netflix. Starts April 26
Grant Morrison is one of those comic book writers who started off well but who began to feed on his own reputation over time, almost to the point where he’s just reputation. Back in the late 80s/early 90s, he was part of the post-Alan Moore surge in DC comics with more adult writing. While Neil Gaiman was off giving us the Endless in Sandman, Morrison was dishing up Animal Man and Doom Patrol, which was full of people with multiple personality disorders and characters who were actually streets (yes, you read that correctly).
After that, he was allowed to do pretty much anything he liked, which usually involved reading lots of comics and resurrecting characters you’d never heard of so that he can undermine genre. Fancy a comic featuring the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh? Of course you don’t, but Morrison brought him back anyway.
His most recent project of note was an attempt to retell Wonder Woman’s origin story. But while Morrison talked a lot about all the research he did, reading feminist texts such as The Second Sex and trying to put the sexy back into her storyline, Wonder Woman: Earth One was really just Morrison playing around with genre conventions without adding much.
And so it seems to be with Happy!, Morrison’s adaptation of his own, original comic Happy!. It sees Christopher Meloni (Law & Order: SVU) playing a disgraced cop turned hitman who gets shot and left for dead. But when he’s restored to life by paramedics, he finds that he can now see a flying blue unicorn called Happy (Patton Oswalt). Yes, you read that correctly.
Happy wants Meloni to help a little girl called Hailey, who’s been kidnapped by a man dressed as Santa Claus. But is Happy real or a figment of Meloni’s imagination? And if he is real, who’s Hailey and why does Happy want to help her?
These two questions are the most interesting aspects of a show that is otherwise just the standard Morrison semi-comedic, semi-serious messing around with genre and convention. Meloni gets good lines and some of the violence is graphically innovative, if massively implausible. Everything else is cliché, though. There are crime bosses with secrets, there’s a good cop who might also be a bad cop (Lili Mirojnick) and everyone has as much depth of characterisation as the Batman of Zur-En-Arrh, even Meloni. Not one character revelation will surprise you. You probably won’t even laugh much.
Even the bits with Happy aren’t that good. He just flies around and chats. He doesn’t advance the plot really, doesn’t have any great insights or talents. He’s not even that funny. He’s there… because he’s a blue flying unicorn and isn’t that a great meta, incongruent concept for a dark corrupt cop storyline that makes you re-evaluate its genre underpinnings? Hey? Hey?
That said, I did like the idea that (spoiler) Happy isn’t Meloni’s imaginary friend, but is actually Hailey’s, Hailey being Meloni’s daughter, which at least opens up some possibilities for future storylines that won’t simply be either deliberate cliché or an attempt to undermine cliché by being silly. I guess it’ll probably be a “road to redemption” storyline with a hint of It’s A Wonderful Life crossed with Harvey, but there are worse things in the world than that.
Meloni is great, although playing it as much for laughs as Morrison is. Aside from the impressive Patrick Fischler as a torturer, the supporting cast are unimpressive, but at least they won’t screw it up. The CGI needs work, mind, so maybe Happy can sit down for a bit.
There’s enough potential in Happy!‘s story that I’m prepared to try a couple more episodes. But this feels less like an original new story that needs to be told, more like an intellectual exercise in sub-Daliesque dadaism than it needs to be to support a whole series.