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'Happy Endings': A real winner or cheap 'Friends' rip-off?

April 13, 2011 | 11:34 am

Happy endings TV newsIn these final weeks of the Emmy eligibility period that ends on May 31, ABC has let loose a dark horse to trip up the derby -– "Happy Endings." It airs Wednesday night just before "Modern Family" (last year's winner of best comedy series) with Elisha Cuthbert and Zachary Knighton heading up a "Friends"-like cast of buddies who tackle life's ups and downs. "Friends" won best comedy series in 2002 and earned trophies for actors Jennifer Aniston (2002) and Lisa Kudrow (1998).

TV fans last saw Cuthbert in the Emmy-beloved "24." Although her character was often the butt of jokes due to her habit of finding herself trapped in improbable situations (remember her face-off with that mountain lion?), Emmy voters still associate Cuthbert with a show they adored.

What are the critics saying? USA Today hated the show, comparing it unfavorably to other Emmy-winning sitcoms it resembles, like "Friends." In fact, the paper's Robert Bianco said "Happy Endings" (as well as "The Paul Reiser Show") serve as "fairly good examples" of why the bosses of their respective networks were fired. Ouch.

However, the Los Angeles Times was less perturbed. The review takes note of the show's familiar structure and themes, but sees positive potential in the fact that costars Eliza Coupe, Adam Pally and Casey Wilson have roots with sketch comedy troupe the Upright Cititzen's Brigade — "where the cool kids hang out these days" — and in the presence of executive producers and directors with an Emmy pedigree, among them Anthony and Joe Russo of "Arrested Development" fame, and Jonathan Groff ("How I Met Your Mother").

At post time, "Happy Endings" was looking mildly sweet, trending toward sour, with a Metacritic score of only 58. But don't worry about the disparate critical views; savvy awards watchers understand most worthy films and television programs are either loved or loathed.

-- Tom O'Neil

Photo: Zachary Knighton and Elisha Cuthbert in "Happy Endings" Credit: ABC.

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