HAPPYish Episode 1 Recap

Channel Guide Staff

HAPPYish premiered tonight on Showtime. I’m not going to lie: it exhausted me to watch it, but I’m going to keep watching, nonetheless. It’s a bit eye-rolling to watch an angsty, artsy interpretation of a wealthy, white male having an existential crisis, but I’ll try my best to keep my recap positive because, even though the pilot episode wore me down, something about it interested me. I think it was the murderous elf. More on that later, though.


As the show opens, we see Mt. Rushmore, and hear a voiceover from Thom Payne, the show’s main character, which is pretty much the word f**k over and over (and over). He’s remarking on Thomas Jefferson’s “Pursuit of Happiness” and wondering what happiness really is. “A BMW? One thousand Facebook friends? A million Twitter followers?” He contends that we’re guessing and failing at the pursuit of happiness, and he gives Thomas Jefferson the middle finger salute. In Ryan’s preview of the show, he discusses vulgarity for the sake of vulgarity in this series, and oh, is he ever right. I’m not one to mince words; I’m a nice, sweet midwestern girl, but I will admit to having a mouth like a sailor at times, so I’m not easily offended. The cursing throughout the show didn’t so much offend me as annoy me, so to keep myself entertained, I kept a tally of how many times particular words were uttered in this episode. This may dissuade you from watching, OR it may encourage you to watch more.


Please note that this may not be 100% accurate. If you’d like to watch the episode and give a more accurate count, please feel free to do so and comment below.

In 30 Minutes, we hear:

  • F**k (includes f**king, f**ked, etc.) 52 times. That’s right. FIFTY-TWO times. That’s almost 2 f**ks per minute (or 2 FPM).
  • A**hole (entire word; “ass” doesn’t count) 16 times
  • P*ssy (mostly as female anatomy, but somewhat as character description) 10 times but it felt like 75 times.

But I digress. Upward and onward: let’s talk about what happened in the 30 minute episode!

We meet Thom, his wife Lee, and his son Julius (with another couple and their child) at a small birthday gathering for Thom at his suburban New York home. He’s turning 44, and his son Julius tells him “that’s like a million.” This sets the stage; throughout the entire episode we learn that Thom not only feels old, everyone else also seems to think 44 is freaking ancient. Julius plays with that other couple’s kid, who the adults all deem to be an “a**hole.” They have a conversation that lasts an eternity (probably a minute, but it FEELS like an eternity) that I can’t imagine real people ever having. Confession: I’m positive I’ve whispered at one point that a specific kid was a real a**hole (let’s face it, some kids just are), but this scene went over and above, with the 4 adults just throwing the word a**hole around like confetti at a New Year’s party. Lee, Thom’s wife, arrives at the conclusion that she’d rather their son Julius wind up being an a**hole than a p*ssy. Barry, the male half of that aforementioned other couple, tells Thom that maybe Julius is too happy; having a kid be too happy is setting him up for failure early on. The only shot at happiness in this world, he says, is having a miserable childhood.

As the too-happy Julius and his a**hole friend watch Frozen, the adults stand outside, sneaking cigarettes behind their kids’ backs and having another insanely long conversation, about how someone they know is getting her p*ssy tightened. (They’re talking about vaginal rejuvenation surgery. Clearly.) It’s … interesting. I don’t know–I have some pretty crazy conversations with my friends, but I just can’t imagine this one.


At this point, my hand is insanely cramped up from tallying the f*cks, and I get a nice break and am able to regain some feeling in it as Thom reads “Curious George” to Julius before bed, sans swearing. We see their loving, caring relationship, and Julius harps on the dad-is-so-old thing and asks Thom if he’s going to die. Thom tells Julius that he’s not old, he’s “old-ish” (so much -ish in this show) and tells him that he IS going to die, but not for a very long time. (Side note from the widowed writer: don’t ever make this promise to anyone. Any of us can go at any time. Were you feeling happy a minute ago? Well, BAM – I just totally -ished you. You are now only happyish. You’re welcome.) Julius and Thom snuggle together in bed, and then — hooray, juxtaposition — we see Thom and Lee snuggled together in bed sometime later that evening, only they are snuggled together watching porn on a laptop.

There is much discussion of whether the porn actress is really enjoying what’s being done to her, and Lee moves on top of Thom to f**k. (Their word, not mine.) I’d say she gets on him to make sweet sweet love, or something cheesy like that, but she asks over and over if they’re going to f**k. Spoiler alert: they don’t, because he’s on some neurotic rambling rant about being worried about Alzheimer’s. She suggests Viagra. He tells her he’s worried it’ll interfere with the Prozac. She contends that she’d rather have him hard and miserable than soft and happy. She asks if she should have vaginal rejuvenation surgery (that’s totally not how she asks it, of course). Julius yells for her, they agree that they’re not going to f**k, and as puts on her yoga pants, Thom complains that he used to like shaved p*ssies but now when he sees them, all he can think about is a naked girl in Vietnam covered in napalm. Lee tells him that she doesn’t want him to read “Curious George” to Julius anymore, because he’s terrified of The Man in the Yellow Hat, and Thom remarks that he’s a fearful child. “No, you’re fearful. He’s six,” Lee says.

Cut to a shot of him waiting for the train the next morning, alongside some young dudes in suits. As he reads “Resistance, Rebellion and Death” by Albert Camus (this show is thick with cliched angsty philosophy references), the dudes discuss Steve Jobs’ book, and what a genius Jobs was. There’s a whole discussion about how Steve Jobs once made 100 engineers work through the night to fix something on the sound coming out of the headphones. (This comes up again during angry elf time.)

Thom Payne works for Satan, or so he says. Actually, he works in advertising, and has for 20 years. It’s not cool or interesting, he asserts; it’s just kissing teenagers’ asses. There are new creative directors coming on–hip, Swedish guys named Gustaf and Gottfrid (this is the part where I start drifting off and thinking about what I need from IKEA, but I’m brought back by someone uttering “f**k” 7,000 more times). The account director that Thom is talking to is up in arms over whether she’ll be fired, and Thom is too, and there’s some sort of reference to “sucking Swedish d**k,” and another reference to Radar on M*A*S*H, and of course, Thom’s millennial assistant doesn’t know what M*A*S*H is; the implication is that only old people know what that is. (I’m sitting solidly between Gen X and the millennials, and I remember M*A*S*H fondly. I’m pretty sure my 25-year-old millennial niece knows all about that show. I’m sure the millennial production assistants on HAPPYish know all about that show. But, this has to be done to underscore the point that Thom is old, and the younglings in his firm don’t understand oldsters like him.) The assistant tells Thom that Gustaf and Gottfrid (the Swedish creative guys) want to do a face-to-face with him at 5pm; he tells her that he was planning on taking Julius to dinner at that time but backs down, and decides to cancel on his kid rather than risking his job. (Here I notice that there’s a cutout of Justin Bieber hugging a Keebler Elf, in Thom’s background. I want that for my cubicle, oh fine people of Showtime. HINT.)

Enter Thom’s boss, Jonathan, played by Bradley Whitford. After some exhausting discussion comparing 9/11 and terrorism to a marketing campaign, and an assertion by Jonathan that everything and everyone is a brand, he tells Thom he needs to play the game and rebrand himself, to keep himself relevant (and thus keep his job). Thom discusses his situation with a headhunter friend at lunch, who explains her concept of the joy ceiling to him (he has a low one), and tells him that he’s as happy now as he’ll ever be. It’s all very depressing. “It’s not the pursuit of happiness that’s our problem,” she says. “It’s our inability to accept when we’ve maxed-out.” Le sigh.

Thom goes to a GNC-esque store to figure out how to get himself ripped and in shape, and imagines a focus group where the panel discusses if anyone actually likes him, and if he should just kill himself. He argues with the (fake) group, and asks if they don’t like him because he doesn’t look like a ripped dude who’s in the store next to him. He contends that getting ripped would take too much time and effort, and that since he has a wife and child and job, he’s not actually supposed to look ripped. “Abs don’t tell the world you’re healthy. They tell the world you’re one Twinkie away from killing yourself.” The muscle-bound guy next to Thom in the store tells the group, “It’s true, I hate myself. I pursue an impossible standard of physical perfection in the hope it will make me worthy of love.” This is awesome. This is my second favorite part of the episode.


Thom ends up buying some of the Forta-Dude drink, and we see him drinking it as he listens to a voicemail from Lee reassuring him that it’s okay that he canceled dinner on Julius. We move to a shot of everyone at the company (mostly young people) watching one of the Swedes give some sort of pep-talk speech in a very Steve Jobs-esque manner. Thom looks at the bottle of Forta-Dude he just drank, which says that it may cause “irritability, sleepiness and occasionally rapid heartbeat.” As the Swedish creative director gives his speech about how the company should use “the social,” and discusses the possibility of giving the Keebler Elves an early retirement in exchange for a social media account, Thom gets irritated and asks why Keebler even needs a social media account. “Because it’s not the ’90s” says the young blonde man on stage. “It’s a cookie, Gustaf,” says Thom. “I’m Gottfrid” says the man. “Unfriend me,” is Thom’s curt reply, and he moves on to ask why a company such as Pepto-Bismol would need a Twitter account. (I too have often wondered who follows that type of stuff on Twitter; someone must.) His rant is met with stunned silence, and he points out that though the Keebler Elves may be old, everyone in America loves them. He turns to go up to his office.

Next, we see him running from bullets, in the forest. A Keebler elf is shooting at him; at least one elf is down and isn’t going to make it. Ernie, the main elf (and the shooter) sits in the tree with his gun, and goes on a tirade. Forty-six years he’s been in this tree, and now he’s going to be fired. He puts his gun in his mouth, and Thom tries to talk him down by telling him the Steve Jobs 100-engineer-working-through-the-night story from the train platform. Ernie tells him Jobs sounds “like a f**king prick” and offs himself.


Grandma Elf sees this, screams and drops her cookies, and as Thom starts to console her, he winds up having sex with her. This is all a dream (wow, I hope you realized that already without my pointing it out), so he’s humping the couch and talking dirty in his sleep when his assistant comes in to tell him that Gottfrid and Gustaf have canceled their face-to-face meeting with him. He’s missed his face-to-face AND dinner with Julius.

Lee is at an indoor playground with Julius, presumably after dinner, and is trying to convince him to go down the slide, but he doesn’t want to. Another mother pipes up that HER son “used to be like that” but now goes down headfirst, and Lee points out the smug superiority of her comment, which is actually another pretty awesome part of the show. Thom calls her, and she’s very angry to hear that the Swedes canceled, but reassures Thom that Julius is having a good time. (He’s clearly not.) Thom apologizes to Julius over the phone, then knocks the phone off of his desk, heads to Jonathan’s office and steals some Viagra from his desk drawer (who keeps Viagra at work?) and heads down the escalator on his way home. Jonathan heads up toward his office, drunk as a skunk and angry with Thom because he had to go clean up Thom’s mess with the Swedes. He gives Thom a whole drunken speech where he points out his hypocrisy (of being so jaded about advertising when that’s what got him to where he is now) and Thom leaves, stealing balloons and champagne from the gift basket that arrived along with the new creative directors.

At home, he brings the balloons to the sleeping Julius and tells Lee about the Viagra, and her response is a smiling, incredulous “Are we f**king?” They head to the bedroom, and next we see him headed to the train (presumably the next day) under a voiceover about Samuel Becket (something about Beckett doing his job every day because he loves his wife and kids). Beckett has found a sliver of happiness but now he’s f**ked because in order to keep that happiness he’s gotta “suck the same c**ks we all do.” Oh man. Really? He IS jaded. He runs into some guys on the train platform, and books spill everywhere. (Flashback to 8th grade when all the boys would push my books all over the hall!) Only, TOTALLY PREDICTABLY, he picks up the Steve Jobs book rather than whatever he had (probably still Camus) and, in his voiceover, makes some mention of buying skinny jeans on sale at Target. Because he’s rebranding. Because he wants to be happyish. Le sigh.