Happy!, Syfy's adaptation of the comic by Grant Morrison and Darick Robertson, already set tongues wagging Thursday with the debut of the first full-length trailer. Online descriptions ranged from "bonkers" to "unhinged" to "[insert Tarantino title here] on speed," which may not be surprising, considering the source material. The cable channel followed that on Sunday with an advanced screening of the drama's premiere at New York Comic Con, which proved the Internet's assessment to be pretty spot-on.
The eight-episode series, which stars Christopher Meloni as human-horror Nick Sax and Patton Oswalt as the voice of the imaginary(?) blue unicorn that needs his help, is a beautiful mess of humor, pathos and so, so much delightful discomfort.
We won't spoil the pilot for you, but if you're unfamiliar with the comic, Happy! is the story of Sax, a washed-up detective turned morose hitman. When it comes to his mental state, if he's not trying to kill someone else, he's trying to kill himself, slowly, with constant substance abuse and a serious lack of self-care.
During a particularly arduous hit, Sax suffers two or three heart attacks and winds up in an ambulance. Enter Happy, the aforementioned flying blue unicorn who's the imaginary friend of a recently kidnapped girl named Hailey. At first, Sax thinks Happy is a side effect of the morphine he's just demanded at gunpoint from the EMTs, but as the episode progresses, it becomes clear the little guy is more. How much more, we'll have to wait and see.
Following the screening, Morrison, Meloni, director Brian Taylor and writer Patrick McManus appeared on stage to discuss the new series.
When asked about his inspiration for the original comic, Morrison admitted the idea came to him while watching an episode of American Idol, of all things. The hopeful working-class kids singing their hearts out only to be torn down by a cynical and bored Simon Cowell inspired the writer to explore the conflict between intensely positive and intensely negative outlooks.
So out of that came Nick Sax, who, as you can see [is] a very cynical, a very sarcastic man who's fallen from grace," Morrison said, "and against him we have this fantastic little flying ball of positivity, who's also quite annoying in his own way. and we hoped that we could kind of talk about some of the things that get on in the world and entertain people at the same time."
Meloni, best known for his roles on Oz and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, said he was immediately attracted to the uniqueness of Morrison's world when he received the first script from Taylor.
"I'd never gotten a script that presented a world that was on the page here," the actor recalled. "I mean, so much so I had to have two or three Skyping meetings with Brian which basically went like this, 'So Brian, what is this world? What's the tone of this world?' And he just went, 'It's crazy, right?' I just get this maniacal laugh out of Brian and so I basically signed on because of his maniacal laugh. That was about it."
That said, while Happy! is a disturbing funhouse inhabited by the world's anti-est antihero, it still manages to achieve moments of subtlety. It's those scenes that make Nick and Happy more than just stale archetypes playing out the never-ending conflict between hope and cynicism. Sax doesn't have many kind words to throw around, but part of him is still clinging to some kind of moral code. And Happy, while definitely a cartoon, isn't so saccharine that he's brainless. Although he definitely walks on the sunny side of the street, Oswalt never lets him become stupid. Think Ratatouille, but dialed to 10, and very much out of his element.
Happy! premieres Wednesday, Dec. 6, at 10 p.m. on Syfy.