Welcome to the first installment of Happy! Hype. Much like a countdown to Christmas, Happy! Hype is like a mini advent calendar with the greatest door opening on Wednesday the 6th, when Happy! finally airs on SyFy! Join me for a full week of debauchery with Happy! Hype & head on over to Twitter next Wednesday the 6th for a live-twitter party to kick off Happy! properly — with a drink in each hand, scantily clothed, and broken holiday decorations strewn about.
To kick things off, I sat down with Patrick MacManus, show-runner on Happy! to chat about what fans can expect from the craziest (and fan-freaking-tastic) new show on television!
TibS: Even though it’s got a very dark feeling to it, Happy looks like it could be the holiday story that will take us all by surprise.
Patrick MacManus: I think Happy will definitely stand on it’s own as one of the classics, whether you agree with it’s take on it or not is a different situation. It definitely has a cynical point of view and at the top but that’s kind of the point of the show. To follow the arc of these two characters from a more cynical point of view on Sax’s part but more hopeful at the end of the season.
TibS: My first impression of Happy! thus far is that’s is quite gritty and noir. Will you take me through how you worked to keep the balance between keeping that darker story-line without it getting too depressing?
Patrick MacManus: I think that part of the point of the series as a whole is that these two characters – Sax being very cynical and living in a gritty world but Happy being the utmost optimistic creature – and setting those two points of view against one another is kind of what’s most interesting about the show. And to be honest, is where we find the humor of the show. The humor is setting these two complete opposite worldviews against each other and how they ultimately find a middle ground as we arc the characters in this season. I think that lot of our humor and lightness comes out of Happy exploring a very dark world and Sax being forced to look at his vision of this dark world through a different lens. It is gritty, it is dark, but I think that people are going to find a lot of humor within that. And I will readily admit, I found myself sometimes a little bit ashamed for laughing at some of the things I was laughing at. I think that for our audience they’ll find some fun in laughing at things they never thought they could laugh at before.
TibS: Happy! has got a beautiful feel to it visually, the raw backdrop of New York city being a huge aspect to the story. What was it like filming on location in New York and did you have any big challenges or rewards from that experience?
Patrick MacManus: Two things: First – the visual nature of the show. Brian Taylor the co-creator and the director, he really set the stage for the show. I think that his visual stylings are extraordinarily unique. Everything that he does I say it has the Brian Taylor fingerprint on it in anything he’s ever directed. I think that actually his tendencies visually as a director we’re a real boon to Happy! as a whole. The kinetic-ism of his shots and cuts really lends itself nicely to this world. Second – This is not me being a wise ass but me giving you an honest point of view into how difficult it was for us to film sometimes in New York. I couldn’t imagine this being shot anywhere but New York, and that’s not just because it was set in New York in the graphic novel, but just because New York is a character unto itself. I think that if you had set it in any other city in the country it wouldn’t have had that same raw, gritty feel. There’s no other city in the country that feels the way that New York feels, and there is a liveliness within its’ rawness. The hard part we had is that we’re shooting a show that takes place at Christmas time and we’re shooting it in the summertime. You think of New York as the star in this raw gritty place and then you’re trying to shoot around beautiful foliage, and you realize exactly how gorgeous New York can also be, even though it’s a pain in the ass to try and match it to what winter would look like. Outside of that challenge, New York was magnificent, and should we have a season two and beyond, there is no other place we could set this show, it’s such a spectacular city.
TibS: Speaking of a season two and beyond… is there a definite plan in the writers’ room for story-lines goings beyond just season 1?
Patrick MacManus: Yeah, I would like to take some of the credit for it, but I can’t. When I was hired to come on to work with Brian and Grant, I asked them that same question. Because if you’re aiming to do more than one season of television you really hope to be able to plant clues in each of your seasons for subsequent seasons. I get season 1, it’s going to be the graphic novel and to a certain degree we’ll expand upon that but where is it going from here? And Brian and Grant laid out a very in-depth 3 season roll-out of story with plenty of open ends to be able to go for 4,5,6 and more seasons. But they have a very detailed 3 season structure that when people watch the first season they’ll see we went to great pains in the writers’ room to lay in some blatant clues and a little bit more covert clues. So that people looking back a couple seasons from now will be able to say we had some semblance of a idea of what we were doing. We have at least 3 seasons working right now.
TibS: I’ve heard you refer to the graphic novel as the “spine” of Season 1, but it’s a limited graphic novel with only so much material. What was the process with the creators and in the writers’ room to flesh out the spine of the show from the graphic novel to being a complete season 1 as a television show?
Patrick MacManus: The graphic novel absolutely was the spine of the season. For fans of the graphic novels there are numerous touchstones to the graphic novel that they will readily recognize and I hope they’ll see that we were trying paying respect in many ways to that. There are some touchstones from the graphic novel that we’ve put twists on, so that hopefully fans of the graphic novel, unless they’re complete purists, know that we are kind of winking and nodding to them while trying to put own our spin on it. And all of those touchstones were the things that we built the original story around. What the audience will see in season 1 is invented from a lot of hard work from a lot of great writers all of whom we’re lead by Brian Taylor and Grant Morrison. Everything that will be shown on TV was helped to be molded by Grant. One of my more proud moments, is that in the writers’ room before Grant flew back to Scotland, he told the writers how proud he was and that they had made him proud of the work. Yeah we took a lot of liberties, but they were always guided by the touchstones within the original material.
TibS: Happy! I think is a very new type of show for SyFy channel, what was the experience like for you working with SyFy on something that is so different for them and branching them out to a whole new audience?
Patrick MacManus: In all honesty, they gave us a ton of rope to hang ourselves with. I think that they realized at the very beginning that they were trying something very different, outside of their comfort zone, and they made it clear to us at the beginning that they wanted to make some noise with this. That they wanted us to push the limits of what people think is acceptable on a Sci-Fi show and what is acceptable on television as a whole. I will say as a writer who is very cognizant of being given that much freedom, that we never wanted to be gratuitous for gratuitous sake. We wanted anything that we did to be relatively organic out of our characters even though our world is often times inorganic. We pushed the limits in violence, we pushed the limits in comedy, in character evolution arc’s and in terms of the supernatural. This show just purely is the most original thing that’s ever been on television. I feel completely at ease making that statement. We had more boundaries put on us about costume design than we did anything else, so if those are the worst notes you get, then you know you’re being given a whole lot of latitude.
TibS: What is one thing from the graphic novel, or that you remember when filming, that you are very excited to see come to life for the audience when it airs?
Patrick MacManus: I know I want to give something that’s really cool and off the wall, but that’s spoilery and there are plenty of those. I’ll give you the reason why I wanted to come on board the show and it’s taken from the graphic novel so I’m in no way spoiling anything. There’s a moment in the graphic novel in which Sax and Happy are stuck on a train together trying to get out of town. Happy is trying to convince Sax to turn around and go find this little girl. In the graphic novel that is the moment that he reveals that Hailey is Sax’s daughter. For me, that moment is the moment that Sax and Happy cross paths in the graphic novel. The moment in which Sax becomes a little bit more like Happy and Happy becomes cynical enough to just disappear because the world is too gritty and raw for him. We do a version of that in the series and for me that is still the most important moment of our season. It’s where our characters journeys intersect. There’s plenty of amazing violent pieces, and humorous moments, and plenty of moments that push the envelope of story-telling in general. But it’s that character moment where we see Happy realize the world that he lives in is not one that he might able to survive in and that Sax gets a reason to live is that I’m most proud of, and it’s all Grant Morrison and Brian Taylors’.
TibS: With Happy! airing next week (Wednesday the 6th at 10/9c on Syfy) how would you describe the show to someone who has either hasn’t heard about Happy! yet or is on the fence about tuning in?
Patrick MacManus: Whatever your preconceived notions are about Happy!… you haven’t got a clue what you’re actually in store for. I truly mean that, I’ve said to people time and again, that if you give it 3 episodes, whatever your preconceived notions might be, that it’s an animated live-action so it must be silly or that it’ll just be soft-core humor, give us to episode 3. Our episode three the entire story turns on its’ head; the level and depths of the characters, the depth of the story-telling, and the degree to which we are exploring, (and I mean this I’m not just blowing smoke) the human condition within the world that we all live in as seen through Sax’s eyes, it’s a visceral gut punch. I don’t think that people will see it coming when they get through just episodes one and two. The whole show turns in episode three. People will have their preconceived notions as to what the show is, but if they actually tune in and watch they will I think be amazed to what it actually has going for it.
Happy! is based off the best-selling graphic novel of the same name and stars Christopher Meloni as degenerate, drunk ex-cop-turned-hit man, Nick Sax & Patton Oswalt as an overly perky, flying blue horse named Happy. Together they form a unlikely partnership somehow bringing us one of the best Christmas stories around. Filled with alcohol, murder, prostitution, and shitty human beings in general — Happy! will blow your mind (figuratively of course) and is easily the strangest freaking show you’ll see this year. But don’t let that rub you the wrong way, Happy! is must-see-TV that will take you for the best trip ever.
Happy! premieres Wednesday December 6th at 10/9c on SyFy!
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