There are a ton of shows out there right now, but it’s safe to say that “Happy!” is, by far, the very best one about an ex-cop-turned-hitman and his imaginary best friend. Christopher Meloni’s violent hero and a CGI blue unicorn/pegasus voiced by Patton Oswalt are just trying to get by in a dark, twisted New York City, but that’s not the only reason that the Syfy original series stands out. It’s got seasonal edge to spare, and a good heart behind all that madness.
When first introduced, the pairing of Meloni in full scumbum mode with a cheerful imaginary friend made for instant odd couple fun, and that dynamic blossoms further in Season 2 (debuting March 27). Nick also has the chance to reconnect with his daughter, Hailey (Bryce Lorenzo), and these scenes serve as the moving emotional core to an otherwise wild season. All the while, Nick’s trying to avoid his old bad habits — like drinking and drugs, whoring and murdering people — which is easier said than done, especially since the criminal underworld keeps pulling him down, inviting the former officer of the law to use his very particular set of skills.
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The first season of “Happy!” focused on Christmas, with a very bad Santa kidnapping children. Season 2 takes place a few months later, just in time for Easter, and bringing with it all the symbols associated with the holiday: chocolate bunnies, plastic eggs, exploding nuns… OK, maybe exploding nuns aren’t an Easter thing, but it’s just one of the very Catholic touches incorporated into Season 2. As far as holidays go, Easter isn’t all that often a focus for TV shows, so these additions bring a fresh seasonal edge to the series.
When “Happy!” thrives, it’s largely due to Meloni’s performance, as he brings out Nick’s various layers of depravity with deceptive ease. At times it’s hard to tell who’s more cartoonish, Meloni or the literal cartoon he’s acting with, but at the same time Nick never feels too far from human, especially when he gets frustrated by the ways the world doesn’t make life easy for him.
Meanwhile, Oswalt once again proves one of the best working voice actors around, embodying Happy’s optimistic spirit with the necessary nuances. Happy might be a perky little flying unicorn, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t occasionally horrified by Nick’s choices. The returning weirdos from Season 1, including Christopher Fitzgerald and Patrick Fischler, keep hitting the show’s very specific note of strangeness, and there are treats like Daniel Sunjata and Ann-Margret (singing!) to enjoy as well.
The show expands upon the world of imaginary friends to a degree, and it’d be nice to see the mythology behind Happy’s existence get even more definition. But that could also be asking for a lot more than this show has the time to provide. After all, there are creeps and freaks to be murdered, organs to be stolen, and children to be exposed to extreme danger.
It’s hard to know who, exactly, “Happy!” is for — there’s no obvious answer to who the target audience might be, beyond the general idea of “people who like chaos.” It’s a show that delights in trying to go to extremes when it comes to the content, at times almost unnecessarily so. Every once in a while, there’s the feeling it’s trying just a little too hard to shock the viewer, especially given that weird shit happens on TV on a regular basis these days. (Ryan Murphy’s been creeping us out with rubber BDSM suits for years.)
That quest for the extreme can sometimes feel like a distraction from the attempts at real emotional storytelling, but when it all comes together, it’s a whole lot of fun. And that’s not a bad answer to who this show is being made for: those who get a giggle out of the twisted and demented. Fortunately for “Happy!” that’s not a small number.
“Happy!” Season 2 airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET on Syfy.