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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Happy! is based on a comic book series and pushes TV's limits on what it can say and show. Violence is frequent, brutal, and often commingled with sex. Characters are shot, bludgeoned, strangled, stabbed in the neck or the eyes, thrown out of high windows, etc., etc. One character is killed while receiving oral sex from a sex worker; after he is dead, the killer takes his place and declines to pay the sex worker (who is dressed as an angel). We hear that a character who enjoys being urinated on during sex, and the act is mimed on him after he is killed, as the killer makes suggestive comments. A man is threatened with removal of his penis "in thin slices like a salami." A main character makes his living as a hitman; a young girl is trapped in a coffin-like box, screaming, by a scary Santa-esque figure. Language is frequent and intense, too: "f--k," "s--t," "a--hole," "bastard"; a man is called a "little bitch," a sex worker is called a "hooker." We see characters smoking something out of a glass pipe and something out of a hand-rolled cigarette; many scenes take place in bars, with characters drinking heavily and complaining later of hangovers.
No one should watch under 18.
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What's the Story?
Once upon a time, Nick Sax (Christopher Meloni) was a valiant cop and a hero. But that was a long time ago. Now he makes his living as a broken-down, boozy hitman, and his latest job -- to kill the nephews in an Italian mob family -- is almost his last, until he's shocked back to life by EMTs. But when he wakes up, he has a new talent: He can see a tiny animated purple flying unicorn named HAPPY! (Patton Oswalt). Happy, you see, is the imaginary friend of young Hailey (Bryce Lorenzo), who's in terrible trouble: She's been kidnaped and imprisoned by a very scary Very Bad Santa (Joseph D. Reitman), and now Happy needs to get Nick to come to her rescue -- before it's too late.
Is It Any Good?
Surreal and ultraviolent, this series treads familiar ground and is way too intense for young viewers, but is elevated somewhat by a great cast. Patton Oswalt is a delight in anything, and Christopher Meloni looks like he's having a blast playing a dark counterpart to his iconic Law & Order: SVU role. Happy!'s setup is fun, too, though again, hardly fresh: The "unstable character sees life-lesson-imparting otherworldly figure" has been used in movies from Harvey to Drop Dead Fred -- made in 1950 and 1991 respectively. The characters are clichés too: the broken-bad character called upon for heroics, the little girl in peril, the detective who can't be trusted.
But despite all these damning facts and despite the fact that one of the show's most striking aspects -- the visually operatic over-the-top violence -- recalls shows like Preacher and Ash vs. Evil Dead, too, there are moments of interesting oddness that make things occasionally work. The holiday touches that bring more creepy to creepy scenes: lights, tinsel, red and green lights, Carol of the Bells thundering slowly over visuals of terrible things happening. This one is not for kids, but if Mom, Dad, or older teens like really dark violent mayhem, it may be worth a look.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about how Happy! is a very violent show, with bloody injuries and frequent on-screen deaths. Why do some dramas show blood and guts? Is it entertaining for the viewer? For you? What's the impact of media violence on kids?
Comic book adaptations are common on TV and in movies. What other adaptations can you name? Is it more or less enjoyable to watch a show when you haven't read the comic books on which it's based?
- Premiere date: December 6, 2017
- Cast: Christopher Meloni, Patton Oswalt, Medina Senghore, Patrick Fischler
- Network: Syfy
- Genre: Drama
- TV rating: TV-MA
- Last updated: February 18, 2023
Our Editors Recommend
Bloody, clever series has not-for-kids ultra-violent mayhem.
The Walking Dead
Grim zombie drama is artful -- but awfully bloody.
Morally ambiguous show has crime, drugs, Latino stereotypes.
For kids who love dark comedy
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.See how we rate