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While it can be argued that there are too many comic book TV shows on the air, or that there are too many murder-happy anti-heroes as main characters, I believe everyone can agree that there's never enough Christopher Meloni on TV at any point. The former Law & Order: SVU star's new show, Syfy's darkly comedic drama Happy!, is quite possibly Meloni's craziest project to date, as he plays a drug-addled and seemingly immortal ex-cop attempting to take down a Santa Claus-dressed kidnapper, and all with the help of an optimism-oozing imaginary horse. If that kind of madness speaks to you, Happy! aims to please.
In Happy!, Christopher Meloni is giving 110% as the unbridled Nick Sax, a man who used to be able to boast that he was the one of the best cops in the city. Nick can't boast about much of anything now, though, and he'd likely be drunkenly slurring when he did. He's making a living as a hitman, a lifestyle that can't be spoken of too openly, and after one such job puts him in possession of some important information, Nick enters a heightened world of ruthless killers, desperate families and drugged-out holiday mascots. But it's the new addition to Nick's world that raises this series above standard violent crime drama fare.
After waking from a near-death experience, Nick finds he's now in the company of a winged blue horse named Happy, and though Nick initially assumes Happy's presence is the result of narcotics and/or alcohol, it's soon realized that even though Happy is an imaginary friend, he's anything but a hallucination. Happy is amazing for two central reasons. One: as a sunshine-y ball of CGI designed to appeal to nature's innocence, Happy is this show's biggest weapon, with the character's untarnished positivity hilariously juxtaposed with the over-the-top criminal underworld that Nick gets drawn into. Two: he's voiced by Patton Oswalt, who completely sells not only Happy's whimsy, but also the way the character applies a best-case-scenario outlook to the dark and immoral moments of his burgeoning partnership with Nick.
Obviously, Happy didn't spring from Nick's imagination, but rather that of Hailey Hansen (Bryce Lorenzo), the young daughter of Amanda Hansen (Medina Senghore) who is the latest vicim of the creepshow Very Bad Santa villain played by Joseph D. Reitman. Happy is indeed seeking Nick's detective skills in trying to find Hailey safe and sound, though as one might imagine, convincing Nick to do anything isn't easy.
Hanging out with the flying horse is a slightly more enjoyable prospect for Nick than dealing with all the show's other criminals, though, including Francisco "Mr. Blue" Scaramucci (Ritchie Coster) and Smoothie (Patrick Fischler). Rounding out the central cast is Lili Mirojnick, whose Detective Meredith McCarthy is a mostly good cop who's made some mostly bad choices to keep her career and family intact.
Happy! is based on the strange and satirical comic book series created by DC vet Grant Morrison and Darick Robertson, and viewers are lucky enough to have Morrison as the creator bringing it to live-action as a writer and producer. It's Morrison's first time working on an adaptation of his work, and much like a comic's story, Happy! offers very little hand-holding when introducing its Christmas-set mystery and its myriad grit-covered characters. Not that intricate exposition is a necessary component of a successful television series. Plus, this show doesn't really need it, but we'll just say Happy! probably isn't for the most casual viewers.
Then again, maybe it is. One doesn't need to be able to connect all of the narrative dots to have fun with Happy! The show's sharp kinetic edge is maintained largely thanks to Christopher Meloni's magnetic and unpredictable performance, which is about as far from SVU's Eliot Stabler as the actor could have possibly delivered. His permanently-in-place DGAF attitude is especially fun when he's trying to undermine Patton Oswalt's give-a-fuck-about-everything charm, and they make for one of TV's most enjoyable lead pairings in 2017. The rest of the cast is great, too, but this is Meloni's show, at least in the early episodes screened for critics.
Another big reason for the amped-up fun and hyper-action is Crank writer-director Brian Taylor serving as both a co-writer and a director for Happy!'s episodes. (In another world's version of Happy!, Jason Statham is the one playing Nick Sax.) From the earliest minutes of the premiere, where viewers witness a highly stylized suicide fantasy, the darkly comic tone is apparent, and Taylor & Co. go the extra mile in making some sequences and action feel like they're jumping right off the comic book pages.
As enjoyable as Happy! is, it sadly doesn't feel like must-watch appointment television, and as fast-paced and frenetic as the scenes are, the overall storyline isn't imbued with urgency. Plus, the TV show lacks the satirical resonance that the Happy! comic books carried while snarkily responding to other hyper-adult comic stories. All of these elements may have been intentionally envisioned in the adaptation process, which would be understandable, but that doesn't make their negative effects any easier to ignore.
In the end, potential viewers will likely know within the first 10 minutes of the premiere where they stand on Happy!, which does not shy away from being one of the most unique and eye-catching shows of this year, or of any year. Syfy has been delivering a lot of top-notch original series in the past few years, reaffirming its genre cred. And if Happy! manages to get even better as the season goes on, then we'll be patiently waiting to see what award circuits have the balls to give Christopher Meloni's maddened performance some love. Even if those balls are animated and blue and are only in my imagination.
Happy! will make its fun-tastic premiere on Syfy on Wednesday, December 6, at 10 p.m. ET. Be sure and tell all the Law & Order: SVU fans you know to tune in and be amazed. And if you need more new and returning shows that are hitting the small screen soon, head to our fall TV premiere schedule and our 2018 midseason premiere schedule.