Happy! Season 2 Premiere Review: An Ultraviolent, Irreverent Trek Through the Mind of an Angry Drunk

Happy! comes back on SYFY this week, and it doesn't miss a beat. Nick Sax and Happy are back together, while basically any villain left from the show's first season gets an upgrade for Easter -- remember how last time it was a Christmas story? There's a fair amount of subtext here; the first season was about birth, in the abstract sense that Christmas is, while Season Two is about rebirth and revival. There is a further irony to the idea of Easter as representative of resurrection, since the original comics by executive producer Grant Morrison and visionary artist Darick Robertson ended with Nick Sax dead, something that the first season feigned and then decided against.

That was always a given, though. "If it's a hit, we know exactly where we're going with it. We do have it planned out to three seasons so far," Morrison told us before the series debuted. "If it's a hit, we'll go back to that and see if we can extend it more. But we've taken it seriously. If the show is a success, we'll know exactly what we're doing. We know where it's going. There's a real big mythology behind it, which people won't really be aware of until somewhere around I think episode four you start to see hints of it. So yeah, very much so. We'd love to keep going with these characters because we love them so much."

The series retains its ultraviolence and its irreverence in the first episode while continuing something that it began last season, which is that it is becoming decidedly more "Morrisonian" as it goes, with latex gimp Easter bunny suits and supernatural forces at play that all feel like something you might have seen in The Invisibles. One exception is a shocking and bizarre opening sequence that is easy to picture Robertson drawing, in part because it almost feels more like a cut scene from Transmetropolitan than anything out of Morrison. This may be the contributions of a writers' room that includes Crank co-director Brian Taylor.

As the series gravitates somewhat away from the grimy look of Robertson's work, it loses some of its visual distinctiveness and appeal: while it makes sense and is fulfilling, from a character perspective, to see Nick Sax cleaned up and the world (and even villains) around him a little bit sunnier and shinier, that character progression never got to happen in the comics, and in some ways the visual of moving away from the original source material is emblematic of what the second season is inevitably going to be about.

Without its distinctive visual identity, and operating on the logic that Sax has evolved as a person, the show loses some of what made it unique. In a post-Breaking Bad world, simply being gleefully violent, gory, and irreverently funny is not enough to single a show out for distinction. An episode into its second season, Happy! has lost a lot of what made it stand out from the pack.

Does it hold up, compared to the show's first season? That is a question for the audience, in a lot of ways. The first season was uneven, and while it was on the whole pretty good, it lacked heart and a sense of direction a lot of the time, feeling mostly like we were just following an angry drunk around while he did stuff. By the time it finally became clear the shape the mystery was taking, fans were already in or out.

A strong finale set up the second season, but gave only the most minor sense of what such a thing might look like. The answer? The writers are still kind of figuring it out. Sonny Shine, an off-putting screen presence throughout his handful of season one appearances, gets a chance to really show what he's all about in the premiere, and that is bonkers fun that fits perfectly into the over-the-top world of the show, but it really does raise questions: is this really our big bad? Christopher Fitzgerald's performance is compelling, but he does not seem like much of a threat. Now that he has been "outed" among our heroes as the force behind the evil, he seems like the kind of character who poses very little threat because any of our main characters could and would kill him if they got into a room with him.

Happy! comes back somewhat listless, and rests on the laurels of bloody mayhem without the visual flair or compelling story reason for all that gore that drove the first season. Can it improve? Absolutely. Will it? Only time will tell. Maybe we just need to believe.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Happy! Season Two is scheduled to premiere on March 27th at 10/9c.

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