Third-episode verdict: Happy Together (US: CBS; UK: E4)

More to say about married life than Modern Family

Happy Together

In the US: Mondays, 8:30/7:30c, CBS
In the UK: Acquired by E4. Starts Thursday, October 18, 9pm

Normally on CBS, a sitcom like Happy Together would be something to avoid. A happily married couple in their early 30s (Damon Wayans Jr and Amber Stevens West) have to deal with a young A-list celeb (Felix Mallard) moving in with them? Imagine the hijinks as they laugh at how stupid and vain he is, and how he’s always on his mobile phone! Imagine the point-scoring conversations as everyone tries to be meaner than everyone else. What larks, hey?

Fortunately, Happy Together isn’t a standard CBS sitcom and Chuck Lorre has nothing to do with it. Instead, it’s a pleasing three-hander that throws up surprisingly accurate observations about married life and growing older, with a bunch of self-deprecating, charismatic characters. Most of the comedy stems from the gulf between the self-image of people who still imagine themselves as young but are on the cusp of middle-age and the actual reality of their life, but there are just as many insights into the downside of being rich and famous.

Each episode so far has been a ‘meeting of cultures’ – if being an A-list celebratory or a 30-something married couple are cultures. Episode 1 saw our married couple learn what it’s like to be a young celeb going to parties and discover that 10pm is when the action starts not stops – and that everyone will be watching you when the action does start. It was relatively pleasing and fun, even if not totally laugh out loud.

Episode 2 saw a slight uptick in the comedy, with some genuinely good lines and good performances from everyone, as our young celeb moves in – if bringing a shoebox of goods can be classified as ‘moving in’ – and our couple learns just how much ‘stuff’ they’ve accumulated over the years. Can they be minimalist, too, or have they grown to love their things?

Meanwhile, episode 3 sees our thirtysomethings learn that the benefits of youth are about to wear off on them in terms of physical fitness and they can’t get away with not exercising any more. But will they be able to survive Mallard’s Calvin Klein underwear model fitness regime? And is giving up junk food and being in constant pain too high a price to pay to fit into those skinny jeans again? As Wayans Jr puts it, “I promised ‘in sickness and in health’ but I never realised ‘in health’ would be the bad one.”

In on the joke

Rather than being one long sneer at the characters or the standard “superior unfunny wife tuts at funny inferior husband’s little foibles” sitcom, Happy Together allows all the characters their moments to shine and is an equal opportunist when it comes to weaknesses. The characters all know their limitations and laugh along with them, too.

Wayans Jr and Stevens West are as funny as each other, get to be as silly as each other and actually have a genuine chemistry. You can well believe that these are a comfortable, happily married, well matched pair of characters with a well established Friday night routine; equally, Mallard manages to make his character charming and innocent, rather than stupid or the butt of every joke.

I found myself smiling and even laughing a lot at most of the situations the show has thrown up so far. Sure, I might not live with an A-list celeb, but the show is a perfect study of a modern marriage between two not especially hip but not totally unhip people. In many ways, it has more to say about modern relationships and family than Modern Family does these days. Give it a try.

Barrometer rating: 3

Happy Together