Exactly how Canadian specialty channels choose their menu of imported series from U.S. cable and streaming services is a great mystery. Always, there are several acclaimed series that are unavailable in Canada. And always, the oddest things are chosen and offered here.
Happy! (starts Thursday, Showcase 10 p.m.) comes from the SyFy channel and is distinctly odd. In fact, it's downright demented. That is not to say it is without merit. It's just genre-fluctuating and zany, and based on a graphic novel by Grant Morrison and Darick Robertson. Me, I'd never heard of the book so I looked it up on Goodreads, as one does. A lot of readers like it. One review pronounced: "This is not a comic book. This is a dark, dirty, depressing, distressing, gruesome, gritty, gory story that can actually make you laugh and maybe even feel a little good."
That can be accurately applied to the TV adaptation. The series is absolutely bonkers but so is the world we live in – where truth is dismissed as fake and what's fake is interpreted as fact.
One reason it's airing on Showcase is the familiarity of the lead actor. Christopher Meloni spent 12 years playing Elliot Stabler, the always tense detective on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Here he's Nick Sax, a once great and decorated cop whose life fell apart and now he's a mostly drunk and stoned bum who works as a hired gun for gangs and bad guys.
When we meet him, he's vomiting into the sink in the bathroom of a dive bar and fantasizing about blowing his brains out. He resists the temptation because he's been so battered and near-death so many times he considers himself "un-killable."
For reasons that are unclear – this is comic-book stuff, remember – some mob guys in a restaurant are planning to whack Nick Sax. They talk in broad wise-guy language about "a little ballistic therapy" in the matter of shooting Nick.
Meanwhile, in the gloomy but garishly lit metropolis in which events are unfolding, a little girl named Hailey is kidnapped by a sinister Santa Claus figure. When her mom goes to the cops, they are utterly indifferent. This is one cynical place and Nick is the most cynical of them all.
One thing leads to another. Nick sets up a date with a sex-worker to lure the bad guys out to whack him. There's a lot of gunfire and blood. A bad guy tells Nick, as a secret: "The world is run by devils. They look like people but they're devils."
Also the bad guy offers Nick a password to some secret file about the mob. "Yeah, whatever," is Nick's reaction. He's shot and has a heart attack. "I've had hangovers worse than this," is his initial response.
Then, however, things turn more peculiar. Nick is joined in his violent adventures by a tiny flying cartoon figure named Happy (voiced by Patton Oswalt). Happy is Nick's new imaginary friend, giving him advice and informing him how many no-goodniks are out to get him. Also, he's a happy little critter.
Further, he informs Nick, the point of his presence and attachment to Nick is the much-needed rescue of that little girl Hailey. Outlining these twists isn't giving much away. The entire thing is absurdly twisted.
What we have here is a strange, violent fantasy that is, at times, hilarious. The premise is neither fresh nor original, but Meloni is using all his gusto to inhabit this good-guy gone to seed, an anti-hero, action-hero who is far from the first blush of youth. (There's a trend of male actors over 50 turning into action heroes, but that's a whole other symposium.) In fact, there is such energy and oomph in Happy! that you begin to forgive the outrageous amount of blood and violence.
If you're in the mood for a bonkers mash-up of hard-bitten of Dashiell Hammett-style crime drama and feel-good cartoon, you'll find it funny and engrossing in a disconcerting way. It's all very cartoonish, just like reality today.