The cast of Showtime’s “Happyish” gathered at New York’s Landmark Sunshine Cinema on Monday night to celebrate their original comedy series about a 44-year-old ad exec who struggles to find meaning and happiness in his life after a pair of 25-year-old wunderkind bosses arrive. The night marked a happy ending to the two-year process it took to bring the show to the screen following the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman.
“It’s been a long and bumpy road to get to where we are today, but I’m very thrilled,” Ken Kwapis, director and executive producer, told Variety prior to the screening. “All of us are very proud of the show.”
The series — created and written by author and “This American Life” contributor Shalom Auslander — was originally a starring vehicle for Hoffman before he died from a drug overdose in February 2014. Hoffman had already shot the pilot in the lead character role, leaving the show in limbo until British actor Steve Coogan (“Alan Partridge,” “Philomena”) stepped in to take over the role last October.
“After Phil’s death, it wasn’t easy to move forward with the show and at first, I didn’t want to,” said Auslander, who’d brought Hoffman to the series. “I wanted to go back to my office with the blinds closed, lock the door and write. (But) as time passed, I realized that it deserved to live on and the things that were said in the script and the reasons Phil was interested in it were still valid and it needed to be said.”
The show — premiering on April 26 — revolves around Thom Payne (Coogan), who longs to feel even happyish after the younger bosses disrupt his work life and unhinge his whole existence. Showtime president David Nevins believed in the show’s “wickedly comical voice that has a lot of heart and soul” ever since he read a first draft about two years ago. He never wanted to pull the plug on the project after Hoffman’s death and patiently waited for Auslander to make a decision.
“We waited six months and I talked to Shalom about moving forward. I told him I really want to make these scripts. Great comedies don’t grow on trees and this was a cutting edge comedy,” Nevins said. “I believed in this project and I wanted to keep it alive and support it. There’s no other show like it.”
When the script was sent to Coogan, he was instantly drawn to Auslander’s quirky and scathing screenplay about the pursuit of happiness, and he immediately knew he wanted to be a part of the show. “It was intelligent, thought provoking, controversial and it has genuine heart at the same time,” Coogan said. “I hadn’t read anything quite like it. I identified with the character a lot, so I felt comfortable playing him.”
For Emmy winner Bradley Whitford — who portrays Coogan’s colleague that tries to adapt to the new corporate ideology rather than fighting it, by wearing skinny jeans and spouting words such as “social,” “viral” and “digital” — dressing like a millennial was much preferred to his recent cross-dressing gig on the acclaimed Amazon series “Transparent.” Though he still had critics.
“Skinny jeans are fun, but my kids make fun of them,” he said with a laugh. “When I dressed as a woman for ‘Transparent,’ they walked in on me shaving my legs, and I’d say, ‘You’re welcome. Daddy’s working!’ My kids were so embarrassed. But, wearing skinny jeans are not scary after putting a bra on.”
As for stepping into the role after Hoffman, Coogan took on the challenge with great respect. “I felt a responsibility rather than pressure,” the comedian said. “I was happy to take on the responsibility. I thought I was up to the job and picking up the baton he has passed on.”
When asked if Hoffman would be proud of the series, Auslander smiled and said, “Yes, very much. It’s been over a year and it’s still very difficult, but I think he would be happy that we moved forward with the show.”
After the screening, Coogan joined co-star Kathryn Hahn, who plays his wife on the show, Whitford and Showtime execs at the after-party held at the swanky Bowery Hotel. Cast member Carrie Preston and her husband, “Person of Interest’s” Michael Emerson, chatted with friends; Hahn’s former “Crossing Jordan” co-star Jill Hennessy gabbed with actress Julia Stiles; and “Pretty in Pink” alum Andrew McCarthy made the rounds greeting acquaintances. Meanwhile, comedian Sandra Bernhard enjoyed the night laughing with a pal, as guests ate mini steak filets, pasta and arugula salad.
[Pictured: David Nevins (President, Showtime Networks), Steve Coogan, Kathryn Hahn and Matthew C. Blank (Chairman and CEO, Showtime Networks) at the premiere of Happyish.]