Happy! Season Two Review
The second season of the comic book-based lunacy that is Happy! starts with a bang. Literally. Several bangs to be precise as nuns wearing plastic explosives explode in fountains of blood. You read that right, nuns. Incredibly this is the one of the least offensive thing that happens. It does however give you a taste of what you are in for and, I suppose, gives you the chance to bail if your sensibilities are on the more delicate side. Let’s face it though, if you watched season one you should know exactly the sort of show you’re watching.
Happy! is adapted from the comic book by Scotsman Grant Morrison of 2000AD fame. Season one introduced us to Nick Sax, ex-cop, hitman and an all round screw up. Booze, drugs and violence are his only reasons to live. That is until the daughter he never knew he had is kidnapped by an evil Santa. The only ones who can help are Saks and Happy, his daughter's imaginary friend. Obviously Happy is a little blue flying horse who only Nick can see. Suffice to say mayhem ensues.
Season two kicks off about a month after the events of last season's finale. Nick is now driving a cab and is actually clean and sober (sort of, if you don't count the suspicious amount of cough medicine and mouth wash he consumes) and enjoying a relationship with his daughter. It doesn’t take long however for things to unravel, and unravel they do on a gigantic scale.
The first season of Happy! was very straightforward and pretty much self-contained. The story of the Very Bad Santa kidnapping children and an imaginary friend enlisting Nick to help save them is quite simple and was resolved by the time the end credits rolled. It is to the producers credit then that season two feels very much like an organic extension to the story and not at all forced. A good sequel tends to build on its predecessor and expand the story in new and interesting ways. Happy! certainly does this as it introduces new plot elements and takes characters on unexpected journeys. With this season expanding from the first's eight episodes to ten, there is extra breathing room for the story to really flourish. I was worried with there being no source material this time round to base things on, but if anything this season is better and more imaginative than the first.
When Sonny Shine declares war on Easter in the first episode I thought I knew where the story was going. It seemed logical that after dealing with Christmas in season one, the series was turning its sights to another major holiday. The appearance of a rubber gimp-suited Easter bunny appeared to confirm this as I assumed he was the evil Santa substitute. Several curve balls later and you begin to realise there is a lot more to the story.
There is the often used cliché to describe a film or TV show as a rollercoaster. A description of something that thrills and excites us with highs and lows. A literal ride that entertains and perhaps leaves us slightly giddy and euphoric at the end. Using that same analogy, Happy! is a rollercoaster that has derailed, plunged straight through the waltzer and careened into the ghost train leaving a trail of carnage in its wake. The neon lights are too bright and there’s the sickly sweet stench of popcorn and blood in the air. I say this in the absolute best possible way.
Virtually all the uniformly excellent cast return, including some characters you probably thought were dead due to the amount of incredibly serious injuries wrought upon them. Happy! fully embraces its comic book origins in that respect. Nobody ever really dies, except Very Bad Santa. He’s certainly not coming back. I must admit to not being very familiar with Christopher Meloni’s previous work but he is an absolute revelation in his portrayal of anti-hero Nick Sax. His erratic behaviour and gruff demeanour are nicely juxtaposed against the tender feelings he has for his daughter. Patton Oswalt puts in another solid performance as the voice of Happy. His sense of fun and innocence are a nice counterpoint to pretty much everything and everyone else in the show.
Another standout is Brit actor Ritchie Coster returning as the now incarcerated Blue Scaramucci. His mannerisms and just general facial expressions make his sleazy depiction of the gangster fascinating to watch. He then manages to dial it up a notch when it’s revealed he’s been possessed by the demon Orcus who is pulling a lot of the strings and shaping the plot behind the scenes. He effortlessly switches between the more refined demon and it’s equally psychotic but far more volatile host.
Blue/Orcus is not the only villain of course, Christopher Fitzgerald is back as Sonny Shine. Having seemingly got away completely scot-free with all his evil exploits last time around, Sonny is the epitome of every creepy children's entertainer that ever got investigated for wrongdoing. It is quite something that with two such incredibly engrossing bad guys that there is room for another, and not just that but he’s the most disturbing of all. Somehow Smoothie survived his beatdown last season, albeit with a strange eye injury, and is back to his skinning people alive, tortuous sort of ways. Patrick Fischler excels in his role as Smoothie and is a very integral part of the plot this season as he befriends Nick and Amanda’s daughter Hailey and sets about driving a wedge between them. It’s a very interesting dynamic and skilfully shows how predators can insert themselves into children lives. It’s certainly not an easy watch and it is testament to Fischler that he even manages to make you feel sorry for Smoothie even when you know what a despicable creature he is.
The women of Happy! round out the outstanding cast. Medina Senghore has a fantastic arc as Amanda. Clearly suffering from her traumatic ordeal at Sonny’s hands she spirals into a hell of drink and drugs. It’s painful to watch as this doting mother alienates herself from her daughter and starts down a path of self destructive behaviour. Her journey and ultimate redemption make for captivating viewing. Lili Mirojnick is also solid as Merry who has been let go from the police force and is conducting her own obsessive investigation into Sonny. Upon seeing her place full of photos and red string strewn everywhere connecting the pieces, Nick states it’s “the best crazy person room he’s ever seen”.
Bryce Lorenzo also deserves accolades for her portrayal of Hailey, Nick and Amanda’s much put upon daughter. Her role in season one was limited to looking scared at the hands of Very Bad Santa but now she really gets to show her acting skills. For such a young actress,she does a very good job especially as she is the most normal character and as such is the audience's surrogate. Her manipulation by Smoothie and the subsequent abandoning of her parents to pursue the man responsible for all the horrible things that have happened to her would be testing for even a seasoned actress. Lorenzo pulls it off with aplomb and I suspect she has a very successful acting career ahead of her.
New to the cast is ’60s sex symbol and Hollywood legend Ann-Margret as Sonny Shine’s wife Bebe DeBarge. She still has an immense screen presence as she performs a song and dance number with Happy.
There are several standout action set pieces including a fight between Nick and several dozen escaped convicts. It is beautifully shot, almost Matrix-like in it’s execution as the camera prowls around frozen tableaux depicting Sax having fun with a clawhammer. It reminded me of the scene in Wanted where James McAvoy wraps a keyboard around a pre-Starlord Chris Pratt’s face. Incredibly violent but beautifully so in its execution. There is also a massacre at an old peoples home as Nick yet again shows off his more extreme tendencies. Don’t worry thought, they’re all nazis so its perfectly fine to enjoy it. The whole of the episode 19 Hours and 13 Minutes is a visual delight after Nick eats what he thinks is a jam sandwich (it’s actually the blood from one of Sonny Shine’s multi-dimensional teletubby-like creatures) and has the trip of a lifetime. Salvador Dali references abound as giant elephants and melting clocks invade Nick’s hallucinations. Christopher Meloni throws himself into the role as he runs around the city in fishnet stockings searching for answers and a pair of trousers.
Visually the show looks great. Saturated colours add to the show’s lurid feel. The surreal nature of the show suits the technicolor array of colours thrown up on the screen, even if one of the colours is predominantly the red of blood. Watching in HD you can see every sweaty detail on the contorted faces of the villains and anti-heroes alike. I’d recommend watching with a good surround sound system too as the music and sound effects are very effective, particularly during the more riotous scenes.
It’s strange to think that if Happy! had been released several years ago there would probably have been an avalanche of outrage. These days it’s mix of offensive comedy and extreme violence hardly raise an eyebrow. At times Happy! could be difficult to watch if it wasn’t so damned entertaining. As I’ve previously mentioned, the three main bad guys are so repulsive in their behaviour you could almost be forgiven for feeling guilty at the enjoyment you get from watching them. The makers of the show seem determined to go out of their way to come up with more and more offensive things to show. Orgies, abortions, self mutilation and nudity are among the many delicacies served up for our entertainment. There is even a flashback to season one's most dubious scene as if the producers are saying “hey you think this is bad? Remember we put a baby in a microwave last time out?”
A lot has happened by the time season two comes to an end and your senses have been pummelled into submission. Amanda is is prison, Merry has been inducted into a sort of gypsy witch cult, several people have died violent deaths (possibly for good this time) and Nick has made a Faustian deal with Orcus. And Happy himself? He’s experienced puberty, his first sexual encounter and then meets God, “the ultimate imaginary friend”. God, of course, is played by Jeff Goldblum. There are many interesting story threads which I can’t wait to see explored, but……
As at the time of writing Syfy have, in my opinion, made the huge mistake of not renewing Happy! for a third season. It is however being shopped around to other networks and hopefully it will get picked up. Maybe Netflix will step in seeing as they already host it in the UK. It would be a shame not to see the next chapter in what is currently one of the most thrilling and straight up insane shows around. If you're not easily offended I cannot recommend this show enough. If you are easily offended you may want to give it a miss which would be a shame but as Nick Sax says "don't go to an orgy if you're not prepared to get fucked!"