In Syfy’s new, nearly unclassifiable series Happy!, former Law & Order: Special Victims Unit star Christopher Meloni plays an ex-New York City cop, but that is the only thing even remotely similar to his previous well-known role. In fact, his character here, the morally dubious Nick Sax, is unlike anything you’ve seen the actor do before, and it is as invigorating for the viewer to watch as it likely has been for Meloni to play — a combination of the patheticness and sardonic humor of a world-weary and reluctant action hero.
Based on the graphic novel of the same name by Grant Morrison and Darick Robertson, Happy! sets this unique tone right off the bat, as we first meet Sax — now a washed-up drunk who moonlights as a hitman — while he is vomiting into the urinal of a seedy bar restroom before he hallucinates a colorful suicide fantasy sequence accompanied by a disco Christmas tune. So, yeah, Law & Order it ain’t, and the irony of the show’s title is evident immediately as we experience just a bit of the life of this decidedly unhappy antihero.
It turns out that Sax, as one perceptive bad guy tells him early on in the series, seems “to look at each new job as an opportunity to fulfill some half-acknowledged death wish.”
“My life is an ever-swirling toilet that just won’t flush,” Sax answers the villain. “I don’t think I can die.” He sounds disappointed at that prospect.
But he may eventually find something to live for. After a hit gone bad in the pilot episode, Sax suddenly finds himself communicating with Happy — a tiny, relentlessly positive, blue-winged horse who is the “imaginary” friend of a little girl who has disappeared (the CGI-created manifestation of Happy is winningly voiced by comedian Patton Oswalt).
Happy’s little girl friend has been abducted, along with other children, by a sinister sidewalk Santa who stands out as among the creepiest of the many vile villains featured in the series. As cops and mobsters relentlessly pursue Sax, Happy tries to convince him to help find the girl — even as we wonder if Happy is actually there or just another one of Sax’s hallucinations.
This is all set up in the series’ very fast-paced premiere, and it doesn’t seem like Happy! will slow down much in ensuing episodes. And that’s a good thing. With its bleak Yuletide setting that features Christmas carols played ominously, in unexpected settings and sometimes accompanying bursts of sex and violence, the series is hard to nail down as one particular genre and isn’t quite like anything else currently on television. At its best, it’s a darkly colorful Tarantino-esque holiday phantasmagoria that, like Happy himself, must be seen to be believed.
Happy! > Syfy > Wednesdays beginning Dec. 6