The notion of continuing SYFY’s Happy! after what turned out to be a highly stylized, hyper-violent, and always over-the-top first season seems like a difficult task. After all, the story of Nick Sax (Christopher Meloni) racing through the streets of New York City to find his kidnapped daughter Hailey (Bryce Lorenzo) from a deranged Santa, all while a corrupt children’s entertainer, Sonny Shine (Christopher Fitzgerald), made the world a creepier, less festive place, seemed, like the comic of the same name from Grant Morrison and Darick Robertson on which it was based, destined to be a one-and-done series. Instead, SYFY and series showrunner Brian Taylor have seen fit to get the gang back together for a spring-themed second season, one that, unfortunately, has to follow in the footsteps of its unhinged predecessor.
The self-destructive nature of Happy! is a large part of its initial appeal — well, that and the talking animated horse voiced by Patton Oswalt. But really, naive imaginary creatures aside, Happy! season 1 got a lot of mileage out of, well, driving like it was headed off a cliff. That pervasive recklessness, the sense that the series — like its characters — were perpetually on the verge of going off the rails, was, in essence, not just the source of its puerile charm (if you want to call it that) but also the element that enticed viewers to keep watching. Happy! sold itself on being the Peak TV version of a car wreck in progress. Soon enough the whole thing would end up a smoldering pile of mostly resolved plot threads.
Because of how the first season ended, though, the season 2 premiere, ‘The War on Easter,’ finds itself in a tricky situation of juggling the edgelord-y elements that made it work in the first place, with the responsibilities of longform storytelling. In other words, though Happy! happily walked its main character right up to the edge of oblivion in its first season, its been forced to walk Nick back more than a few steps as season 2 gets underway.
There’s some humor in this, as Nick has mostly given up his vices — drinking, drugs, and killing lots of people — and has replaced them with relatively (for him, anyway) wholesome activities like spending time with his daughter, attending to basic bodily hygiene, driving a cab, and dealing with the fact that Hailey’s former imaginary friend has now latched onto him in a more permanent way. Of course, this being Happy!, things aren’t quite so cut and dry, with “dry” being the operative word here as Nick is hitting breath spray and cough syrup harder than the mafia types who were out to get him last season.
Most of the premiere is spent getting caught up with the new Nick (mostly the same as the old Nick), and understanding that while his experiences from last season have put him on a different path (otherwise known as not-quite the straight and narrow), his daughter, former partner Meredith (Lili Mirojnick), and ex Amanda (Medina Senghore), aren’t equipped with the same coping mechanisms as he is. In other words, their behavior is more like that of a normal human being who has been through a traumatic experience. That being said, much of what ‘The War on Easter’ attempts to do in its first hour is strike a compelling balance between the aftermath of the first season’s storyline, and trying its darnedest to drum up some interest in a fittingly blasphemous Easter-themed storyline wherein Sonny Shine is selling “MEGA” (Make Easter Great Again) to the Vatican, while a crazed lunatic with a pink eye dressed in Easter Bunny bondage gear is blowing up nuns and abducting not-so-wholesome charity organizers for likely nefarious purposes.
In other words, it is and it is not the Happy! viewers have come to expect. But whereas things get off to a somewhat slow start in the story department, the show still has plenty of attitude and willingness to show off Taylor’s signature style with one very bloody hyperactive action sequence that seems designed to mitigate concerns that the show has somehow lost its edge or its juvenile sense of humor. What seems missing from the sequence, though, is any sense that it’s connected to the larger story. From the way in which it’s resolved (spoiler: Nick kills everyone), it would seem he’s inadvertently stumbled on some run-of-the-mill wrongdoing and only stepped in because one of his sex-worker friends got wrapped up in said wrongdoing because of him.
To that end, much of ‘The War on Easter’ unfortunately feels like Happy! is spinning its wheels. That might be because the show has two more hours to fill this season, an addition that may have thrown the usual kinetic pacing off somewhat. It also has to do with the show’s intentions with regard to its characters, like Patrick Fischler’s Smoothie and especially Ritchie Coster’s now incarcerated and demonically possessed Francisco ‘Mr. Blue’ Scaramucci. The latter seems destined to play a significant part in some larger story that Happy! is building toward, while the former is revealed to be much more a part of the show’s current goings-on.
In all, Taylor has clearly focused the show’s energies on the idea of change and rebirth and renewal. Like season 1, Happy! is happy to wear its thematic elements on its sleeve, and always ready to turn any potential subtext into text. It’s part and parcel of what makes the show tick, and while it doesn’t get off to as roaring a start as season 1, there’s plenty evidence to suggest Happy! will be back to its old ways soon enough.
Happy! continues next Wednesday with ‘Tallahassee’ @10pm on SYFY.