The beauty of comics may be the infinite range of stories they can tell. Unlike film and television—with the accompanying restraints of those media due to production costs, broadcast standards, ratings potential, etc.—comics can simply get as crazy and imaginative as a writer wants.
Happy, SyFy’s new series drawing upon the Grant Morrison comic of the same name, is the kind of comic-inspired adaptation that may not have existed a few years back. The violence can be extreme, the concept itself (a twisted buddy-cop caper involving a disgraced hitman and an imaginary unicorn) is absurd, and the humor and situations definitely exist in the high-end of the TV-MA range. But as the array of content-hungry providers has diversified and comics as varied as The Walking Dead, Legion, and Preacher paved the way, a show like Happy can finally exist on television, too.
We’ve collectively come a long, long way from Adam West’s Batman or even the more recent Dean Cain in Lois & Clark. And for a certain type of fan, that’s a very welcome development.
NBC / SyFy
SyFy / NBC
Definitely not a Dick Wolf production
Christopher Meloni will probably forever be known as Detective Elliot Stabler on Law & Order SVU, but my second favorite role of his is the unhinged camp cook within the Wet Hot American Summer universe. Happy allows Meloni to flex both muscles. His character, disgraced cop-turned-hitman Nick Sax, constantly teeters on the edge of explosion (albeit physical or emotional). He can offer a quick and crude quip before dismantling a quartet of other hitmen and walk away a little dazed but no worse for the wear after a bus accident. He has the invincibility of The Tick but the sensibilities of Deadpool when viewers first meet him—basically, he’s the perfect centerpiece for a story this wild.
Without spoiling anything (the show premieres tonight at 10pm ET; Ars caught episodes one and two in advance), the show is set in a darkly lit city environment during the Christmas season. Sax finds himself in the middle of two ticking clock scenarios: a child abduction and a mob family seeking out one particular bit of information. Both involve their fair share of evildoers (notably creepy Patrick Fischler as a steely psycho mortician), meaning Sax will need some help if he wants to survive, let alone solve anything.
That partner arrives in the form of a blue flying unicorn/horse named Happy (voiced by Patton Oswalt). Happy is the manifestation of the abducted girl’s imaginary friend, and he seeks out Sax as someone who may be able to find the lost girl. Happy is inspired by one of the girl’s favorite children’s entertainment characters, meaning he has cute rhymes, advocates for things like telling the truth and being nice, and generally keeps the demeanor of an optimistic child. In other words, if you want to create a surreal world on the edge of absurdity, Happy may represent the perfect yin to Sax’s yang.
Despite Grant Morrison’s extensive comics catalogue, Happy marks the first time his work has made it to series. Even if one of his smaller projects (just a four-issue run compared to his time guiding Batman, Wonder Woman, or Justice League), Happy is indicative of his style. Morrison was influential for embracing the gothic aesthetic and showing a willingness to experiment and warp comic tropes and genres. A hyper-violent action-comedy with an imaginary friend playing half of a buddy-cop duo is totally a Morrison concept (one he told SlashFilm was inspired by often-distorted holiday standards like It’s A Wonderful Life and Dickens).
A high-concept series like this obviously won’t be for everyone. If the idea of Sax daydreaming about blowing his brains out and then dancing throughout a disco scene as he bleeds repulses you, you’re probably best skipping Happy. The same goes if the interactions of Who Framed Roger Rabbit struck you as juvenile. But for a certain type of comics fan, Happy will hit a sweet spot during an otherwise slow time for new or returning series. At worst, you’ve probably never watched anything quite like it.
Listing image by NBC / SyFy
More Info: arstechnica.com