TV Review: ‘Happy Together’ on CBS

Damon Wayans Jr. and Amber Stevens West go underutilized on this throwback sitcom

In their breakout TV roles, Damon Wayans Jr. (“Happy Endings”) and Amber Stevens West (“The Carmichael Show”) proved themselves to be perfect sitcom utility players. Both were tasked at times with lending grounding reality to ensemble series that only just managed to keep their balance without spiraling into mania, and both displayed their own amiable willingness to indulge and heighten their respective show’s quirk.

What a shame, then, that two such talented performers are marooned on CBS’s “Happy Together,” a show whose title says it all; unlike even most of CBS’s prime-time comedy slate, it fundamentally lacks a point-of-view or anything that help it break free from the generic—even as its stars struggle against a tide bearing them back to the bygone era where this show’s jokes seem to have originated. A running joke in “Happy Together’s” pilot revolves around our central couple’s attempt to record an outgoing message on their landline answering machine; the rest is only slightly more up-to-date.

Wayans’s Jake is an accountant semi-happily stuck in routine with his wife, Stevens West’s Claire; it’s a life of Toaster Strudels and weekend nights on the couch blazing through the DVR. Through plot contrivances, Jake’s client, a rock star (Felix Mallard) modeled on executive producer Harry Styles, comes to live with the couple. Through days on the couch, he gains stability from them, and through wild nighs out, they gain spontaneity from him—or so the thinking goes.

Perhaps it’s inescapable, given the script, that our central couple would be quite so much more charismatic than the interloper—after all, they’re the ones with whom we spend most of the show’s running time, so they had better be engaging on their own merits. But it’s odd, and works against the show’s conceit, just how easier it is to spend time with Jake and Claire, for all the old-married-couple shtick the show throws their way, than it is to spend time with Mallard’s Cooper, who in the pilot evinces little of the compelling charisma most successful musicians yield like a weapon. Stevens West and Wayans are both young and fun-to-watch, and do their oddball-couple routine without Cooper better than they do the script’s overwrought dithering over whether or not they’re washed-up.

Ultimately, it’s not really clear who “Happy Together” is for. Young Harry Styles fans aren’t necessarily likely to tune into a broadcast sitcom, and thirtysomething married couples on the precipice of being washed up themselves are bound to feel a bit hectored by this show, which insists in increasingly shrill terms that Jake and Claire have been needing to shake their lives up even as they had seemed perfectly, well, happy together. Perhaps it’s for anyone who misses the days when all a sitcom needed was a vague premise to get a shot on the air—but even they’d have to admit that Wayans and Stevens West’s talent, pushing up hard against the limits imposed by the pilot’s script, deserves better.

Comedy, CBS. (One episode screened for review.) Mon., Oct. 1, 8:30 p.m. E.T.

Executive Producers: Austen Earl, Tim McAuliffe, Ben Winston, Harry Styles, Michael Rotenberg, Jonathan Berry

Cast: Damon Wayans Jr., Amber Stevens West, Felix Mallard, Stephnie Weir, Victor Williams, Chris Parnell

TV Review: 'Happy Together' on CBS

More TV

  • Jussie Smollett Empire

    Chicago Police Want to Talk to Jussie Smollett as New Evidence Emerges

    Chicago police are seeking to re-interview “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett, after new evidence emerged in his alleged assault. Smollett has claimed that two men attacked him at 2 a.m. on Jan. 29, yelled racial and homophobic slurs, poured bleach on him, and put a noose around his neck. The Chicago Police Department has consistently said [...]

  • Five Takes on Canal Plus, Federation’s

    Just Days Left to Catch Canal Plus’ ‘The Bureau’ on MyFFF

    The most lauded of titles on this year’s MyFrenchFilmFestival, UniFrance’s online showcase featured by over 50 OTT services around the world, may not be a film but a drama series. With four seasons aired, and a milestone in world sales on a French TV show, slow-boiling espionage series ‘Le Bureau des légendes’ (“The Bureau”) is [...]

  • Walt Disney Archives Founder Dave Smith

    Walt Disney Archives Founder Dave Smith Dies at 78

    Walt Disney Archives founder Dave Smith, the historian who spent 40 years cataloging and preserving the company’s legacy of entertainment and innovation, died Friday in Burbank, Calif. He was 78. Smith served as Disney’s chief archivist from 1970 to 2010. He was named a Disney Legend in 2007 and served as a consultant to the [...]

  • TV Writer Christopher Knopf, Former WGA

    TV Writer Christopher Knopf, Former WGA West President, Dies at 91

    Prolific Emmy-nominated television writer Christopher Edwin Knopf, former president of the Writers Guild of America West, died in his sleep of congestive heart failure on Feb. 13. He was 91. Knopf was born in New York and attended UCLA, leaving during his senior year to join the Air Force during World War II. He finished [...]

  • Jussie Smollett The Black AIDS Insitute

    Jussie Smollett Case: Two Suspects Released Without Charges as New Evidence Emerges

    After two days of questioning, the Chicago Police Department announced Friday evening that it has released two suspects in the Jussie Smollett case without filing charges. Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said that detectives had developed new information in the case. Police no longer consider the men to be suspects. “Due to new evidence as a [...]

  • GOTHAM: L-R: Guest star Cameron Monaghan

    TV News Roundup: Fox Drops 'Gotham' Final Season Trailer (Watch)

    In today’s TV news roundup, Fox released a new trailer for an upcoming episode of “Gotham” and Disney has announced the cast for its upcoming “High School Musical” series.  FIRST LOOKS Showtime released a new trailer and the official poster for the upcoming fourth season of “Billions,” premiering March 17 at 9 p.m. ET/PT. In [...]

  • Chris Rock

    Chris Rock to Direct Kenan Thompson Comedy Pilot at NBC

    Chris Rock has come onboard to direct the NBC single-cam comedy pilot “Saving Kenan,” Variety has learned. Rock will also executive produce the pilot, which stars “SNL” mainstay Kenan Thompson. Thompson will play a newly widowed dad determined to be everything for his kids while begrudgingly letting his persistent father-in-law become more involved in their lives [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content