The only way a Grant Morrison comic could ever possibly work on television would be if he directly involved – his work is just not in the purview of the average (or even quality) TV writers/producers.
Happy! Was developed by Morrison and Brian Taylor (from the graphic novel by Morrison and Darick Robertson) – who just happens to be one of minds behind the Jason Statham hit Crank. It’s a writing marriage made in every heaven and several of the seven hells.
Nick Sax (Christopher Meloni) used to be a cop – a heroic cop, even – but somewhere along the way, he lost it. Now he’s a second-rate hitman with a predisposition for booze and drugs.
After a hit goes wrong – contracted to kill three Scaramucci brothers, he finds four when he makes his move. Before the youngest brother dies, he whispers a password in Sax’s ear – not that Sax gives a damn – and the next thing you know, Sax is targeted – the brothers’ father wants him alive to get the password; others want him dead to prevent the password being divulged.
Sax winds up in the hospital where, when he regains consciousness, he is confronted by a small blue horse that calls itself Happy (voiced by Patton Oswalt)!
In a tangential, but soon to become relevant arc, a young girl named Hailey Hansen (Bryce Lorenzo) gets separated from her mother at a Sonny Shine concert and is taken by a guy in an ill-kept Santa suit.
While Sax is avoiding his ex-wife and cop, Detective Meredith McCarthy (Lili Mirojnick) – she wants him to give her the password before it gets him killed) – he is also trying to persuade himself that Happy is a hallucination.
The series premiere was scripted by Morrison and Taylor and directed by Taylor and it sets up the very different worlds of Sax and Happy – Sax is a disheveled, unkempt mess of a man; Happy is a positivity-reinforcing go-getter of an imaginary friend – though not Nick’s imaginary friend.
The premiere’s action is more Death Wish/Dirty Harry than it is typical TV cop show violence – it verges on grotesque and is frequently implausible (for example: what happens to Sax’s interrogator Smoothie). It takes tip-top writing and stellar acting and directing to make it work. Fortunately, that’s what we’ve got here.
Happy! Is also very, very funny at times – like most of Morrison’s work, it’s a mix of dark humor, scary wit and gritty danger combined with just enough heart and hope to keep an audience involved.
Meloni is outstanding as Nick Sax; Oswalt definitely gets Happy and the rest of the cast is very capable.
Taylor’s direction could be described as muscular – there’s serious weight given to the grit and grime of Sax’s world, while Happy is just bouncy and cheerful enough to keep things from falling into the abyss.
Both the password and Hailey Hansen arcs are extended (I’ve seen the first two eps and can safely say they extend past that point) and the twists that unfold at key moments do not feel forced or unnatural (inasmuch as twists involving an imaginary friend can be said to be unforced and natural, at any rate).
Happy! Is one of those shows that you might fervently hope will be a hit but is equally likely to be brilliant but canceled. Brilliant but canceled would be a shame. This is one deeply disturbing good time.
Final Grade: A