At first glance, “HAPPYish” seems like another show about dissatisfied urban white yuppies, but there’s thankfully more to it than that. Steve Coogan, Kathryn Hahn and Bradley Whitford lead a strong cast in a dramedy that chronicles the elusive nature of personal fulfillment.
Set in the world of advertising, “HAPPYish” traffics in slogans, images and demographics, the currency of modern consumer living. Adapting his book for the series, author Shalom Auslander scripted many of the episodes.
Central character Thom Payne (Coogan) is the creative director at an ad agency undergoing reorganization. Through Thom, we see the travails of aging in a world where survival depends on appealing to Millennials, forcing Thom to constantly re-think strategies and approaches that worked for him and the agency in the past.
The past is ever present as each episode incorporates the words of great philosophers, historical luminaries and religious figures relevant to the storylines — along with the characters often telling them to “fuck off.”
“HAPPYish” first made news when Philip Seymour Hoffman was cast in the lead role and then was recast due to his untimely death. Coogan is nimble as Thom, deftly navigating both the dramatic and comedic moments. Hahn is a tad strident as Thom’s wife Lee, a neurotic artist who strives to preserve “the bubble” she’s created with Thom and their young son Julius in Woodstock, New York.
There are funny moments involving the products being advertised, with much of the comedy including props like the Geico gecko. Points go to the writers for using time-worn marketing symbols for smart comedy.
“HAPPYish” is impressive as it convincingly drives themes of selling, selling out, anger, whoredom, mortality and the true meaning of happiness — and whether it’s even attainable — drawing upon established talents such as Ellen Barkin, Carrie Preston, Molly Price and Andre Royo. They provide Coogan, Hahn and Whitford with great foils and sounding boards for both the mundane and serious matters addressed.
Thom’s friendship with his colleague Jonathan (Whitford) is also intriguing as both men try to stay relevant and hold onto their jobs at a time of major upheaval in the agency. Thom tries to stay positive for the sake of his son Julius, but his mind goes to some very dark places, which is yet another source of humor for the show.
Here’s the thing: the title tells you exactly what to expect — you may never make it all the way to happy, but it’s possible to achieve something in the proximity of whatever that imaginary place might be. On the way there, “HAPPYish” will make you wince, laugh, cringe and think.
“HAPPYish” premieres Sunday April 26th at 9:30 p.m. on Showtime.