With seasonal television programming cramming the airwaves with a variety of holiday saccharine material it’s nice to catch something a little different and the SyFy original series Happy is definitely something different. There is certainly no shortage of dark and scary Christmas movies out there, ranging from classic like Bob Clark’s Black Christmas to more modern fare like Better Watch Out, but for television we’ve mostly been stuck with Hallmark type Christmas love stories and so coming across a program based on a comic by legendary writer Grant Morrison I was quite excited, and after watching the first three episodes I’d say this show has left me damn happy.
SyFy brings a comic book to life in all its goofiness and gore.
Nick Sax (Christopher Meloni) use to be a supercop, one of the best detectives on the force, but the series opens with him as a beaten and cynical alcoholic who now makes his money as a hitman and it’s on a job to kill three low level mafia punks that his life take a weird turn into bizarro world. He easily dispatches his three targets but unfortunately a fourth punk had joined the trio and before he dies he offers Nick a password, one that will apparently open untold riches for him, but Nick isn’t interested and he shoots the guy who then goes out the window to crash to the street below. Though wounded from the preceding firefight Nick’s real problem is his heart and soon he finds himself in the back of an ambulance having suffered a stroke of some sort, this is where we meet the title character of Happy (voiced by Patton Oswalt) a small blue flying unicorn who desperately needs Nick’s help to find his best friend Hailey (Bryce Lorenzo) a little girl who was snatched from an outdoor kid’s concert by a very bad Santa (Joseph D. Reitman).
Nick does his best to ignore this manic hallucination, despite its constant urging to help a little girl in trouble, and you can’t completely blame him at first because word that the dying man gave Nick that certain password, one that mafia don Francisco “Blue” Scaramucci (Ritchie Coster) desperately needs, has unleashed every made man and corrupt cop in the city to find poor Nick. As premises go for a dark dramedy you can’t get much better or more off the wall than that, with the violence that is gloriously over the top and a something that could best be described as Puff the Magic Dragon meets Martin Scorsese. The show is populated with an array of great characters; Det. Meredith McCarthy (Lili Mirojnick) who is Nick’s former partner and lover but now under the thumb of Scaramucci, Hailey’s mom Amanda (Medina Senghore) a woman desperate to find her daughter and who also happens to be Nick’s ex, and then there is the mafia torturer Smoothie (Patrick Fischler) whose job is to extract the password from Nick in the most painful ways possible.
The series is based on the fantastic comic book by writer Grant Morrison and artist Darick Robertson but that it was only a four issue mini-series is what makes the decision to go with a television series format a little odd as it certainly could have easily been adapted into a movie, but so far it has managed to work out quite well. Overall the first three episodes are quite faithful to the source material in theme and tone but as it has to last an entire season a lot of extra stuff is added to pad out the running time; we get scenes of Smoothie with McCarthy mentally unwell mother (Laura Poe) and a lot more time with Hailey in clutches of the psychopathic Santa.
There is also plenty of flashbacks of Nick’s past dealing with his ex-wife and ex-partner and his dissent from supercop to the wreck he’s become due to the horror’s he’s seen. I’m happy to report that all that additional material beautifully fleshes out the supporting characters that we barely got a glimpse of in the book and the only stuff that felt a bit unnecessary was the repeated arguing between Happy and Nick about finding the little girl. Now their heated debates do occur in the book but in the television series it becomes a little repetitive over the first three episodes and can be broken down thus…
Happy: “We have to save Hailey!”
Nick: “Not interested.”
Happy: “But if she dies I cease to exist.”
Nick: “Couldn’t care less.”
Happy: “But she’s your daughter!”
Nick: “I don’t have a daughter.
Rinse and repeat that conversation a couple of times an episode and you get the idea of how the show runners had to stretch the source material a tad. That both Patton Oswalt and Christopher Meloni are simply brilliant in their respective roles is the true saving grace but having read the comic I’m not sure how they can fill up four more episodes with the material that is left, but I’m dying to find out.
Simply put this oddball show is a violent work of genius with Nick being a master of surviving untold altercations and who takes on more damage than a Raymond Chandler character, but he’s also quite capable of dishing out a fair amount of brutality of his own and I particularly loved the bit where he dragged a thug’s face across a brick wall. So I have faith that the people behind the camera will somehow bring this crazed and dark story to a satisfying conclusion that will make fans of the comic and the show equally happy.
Note: I fell in love with the show in the first 50 seconds when Nick blows his own brains out and then proceeds to disco dance while blood fountains out of the top of his head. It was just a drunken hallucination but it perfectly set the tone for the rest of the show