Well, television has just gotten a little more twisted with the arrival of the Syfy series Happy, the completely unique cops and unicorns drama starring former Law & Order star Christopher Meloni as the cop, and Patton Oswalt providing the voice of the CG-created unicorn.
Based on the graphic novel written by Grant Morrison, the series follows Meloni's Nick Sax, an intoxicated, corrupt ex-cop turned hit man adrift in a world of casual murder, soulless sex and betrayal. After a hit gone wrong, his inebriated life is forever changed by the sudden arrival of a tiny, relentlessly positive, imaginary blue winged horse named “Happy” (Oswalt).
In this exclusive interview, showrunner Patrick Macmanus provides an inside look at the show, which premieres December 6th and airs for the next eight Wednesdays on Syfy.
FHM: We have to say that we were under the impression that Fox’s The Mick was the most twisted show on television. Well, that title seems to have been inherited by Happy.
Patrick Macmanus: You realized that The Mick is actually like PBS?
FHM: Yes, though not sure if that can necessarily be taken as a compliment.
Patrick Macmanus: We're looking forward to everybody out there trying to weigh in on that, so we'll take those honors.
FHM: So what’s the journey from Grant Morrison’s graphic novel to this show?
Patrick Macmanus: I came in after the pilot had already been shot, so I was brought on board to help Grant and [director/executive producer] Brian Taylor break the season. What I do know is that Happy had been in the mix for about a year and a half, give or take, prior to Syfy actually picking up the pilot. The God's honest truth, I've been in this business now as a writer since I was 25 professionally, and I'm 40 now. I, to this day, still have no idea how this show has made it on to the air. I think it is a testament to the sheer creative willpower of Grant and Brian, number one. Number two, it's a real testament to the people at Syfy for having the guts to give it a go.
I can say without stepping on anybody's toes that I think all of us are waiting with bated breath to see exactly how this is going to go down when we premiere, because for better or for worse, for good and for bad, people bandy about that it's the most original thing that's ever been on TV. I've said it, I think, a couple of times on shows that I've worked on. And I used to believe that until I got into Happy. It doesn't fit into any single category. It never plays it safe. And as the show goes on, it builds to a wonderful place of such absurdity that you begin to wonder what planet you're on as you're watching it.
(Photo Credit: YouTube)
FHM: What was it about the pilot that drew you in and made you want to be a part of the series?
Patrick: I read the script and was blown away by it, and then I watched the pilot. By the time they got to the moment in which Sax kills the four Scaramucci brothers in the pilot, where he just shoots them without a blink of an eye, I was sold on it, because that's not how TV normally works. There's usually some sort of talking that goes on before somebody comes in and blows people away. I knew from the very beginning I had to be a part of it, and a lot of it had to do with Meloni. The other part of it had to do with specifically Grand and Brian's vision of the show. As the co-creator and as the director, Brian was setting the look and the tone, and it's impossible to take your eyes away from it.
FHM: How would you describe the dramatic thrust of this first season?
Patrick Macmanus: There's one moment in the graphic novel in which Happy and Sax get stuck on a train. It's on this train that they begin to cross philosophical and emotional paths. Where Happy, this ultimate optimistic creature, becomes cynical and realizes that he's learned new things and bad things about the world. It's on this train that Sax becomes a little bit more optimistic and hopeful and finds life again. It was in reading that graphic novel, when I interviewed with everybody, I said, "That's the moment that I'm looking forward to getting to in the series more than anything," the idea of building these two opposites, watching them grow towards one another and begin to understand one another more and actually, as I said, cross paths. Building these characters as characters that people could relate to and that had real arcs and real journeys, because it's very easy to just flap an animated creature onto something and have it look amazing and have it be mind-blowing in terms of what we're doing visually, but it's a whole other thing to make that character something that you can connect to.
The same goes for Sax. He's one of the most cynical sons of bitches on the planet. To find the areas in which you can relate to Sax and in which you can find empathy for his journey. It's easy to gloss over and just get to the pizazz, but it's very challenging to try to make these characters come to life.
(Photo Credit: YouTube)
FHM: If he is on a journey, one would assume that part of that arc is going to be a healing process for him; to come back to being human again, so to speak. If that is part of the plan, is there a balance you have to walk between healing this guy and/or making him more complete, and losing what's unique about the show? Beyond the unicorn, of course.
Patrick Macmanus: That's a great point, really. The answer that I can throw out, having obviously seen all eight episodes, is that it would be a copout for Sax to just suddenly be dad of the year by the end of the season. I can assure everyone who is reading this or who will read this that we never go to that copout place. We do our version of it. We keep saying that this is a tale of redemption. This is a coming of age tale. This is in many ways like a Christmas tale, though I can assure viewers that no one is going to be bounding to the streets saying, "It's Christmas. It's Christmas. Thank God, it's still Christmas." We keep the tone all the way through the end while still making it a fulfilling arc and setting up some real places to go in seasons two and beyond.
FHM: Chris Meloni and Patton Oswalt — what are they bringing to this show, individually and together?
Patrick Macmanus: Patton is a proven commodity as it relates to voiceover work and animation, as we know. He brought all of his talents and all of his own style. It would be very easy to turn Happy into kind off a little bit of a cloying happy character that’s sort of typical, I guess is the way to say it. He has something in his voice, something in the way that he approaches the character that still makes Happy feel real and doesn't feel just like a cartoon character. While Happy's journey went from optimistic to a little bit more realistic over the course of the season, Patton brings a certain sense of reality to the character that we all really liked.
(Photo Credit: YouTube)
And while Patton was in L.A. doing all his VO from afar, Meloni has been on the ground with us beginning in the writers room. He spent several days a week in there listening in and very rarely weighing in. That's actually an important thing to point out. He really wanted to see how the process worked, and when he thought he had something valuable to give, he gave it. He's been in it from the very beginning, and he has been an extraordinarily invaluable player from start to finish. When you then get him on set, everybody has to remember that this is a guy who nine times out of ten is talking to literally nothing. We had our script supervisor reading the voice of Happy. We didn't have a green tennis ball or little doll or anything like that. He was actually doing his acting with air. And there wasn't a single day where he let the exhaustive days get to him. He was always upbeat. He was always having fun. I think Chris has said it, that this is the role of his lifetime, where he actually gets just to have fun. He was built to play this role. There was no one else that could possibly do it. We always joked that if you look at his character from Wet Hot American Summer and you looked at the character from Law & Order, Stabler, it's kind of like the mash-up of those two characters into one. It was almost kismet that we were able to get him.
FHM: If John Wick was on crack, you’d have a sense of the Sax character.
Patrick Macmanus: That's actually not a bad comparison. When you see episode three, the show takes a hard 180 degree turn, and takes a totally different tone, a different genre, as it begins to delve into the back story of how Sax became Sax. He ends up meeting his match throughout the course of episode three that sets up our finale quite nicely. Episode three is an amazing episode. I'm looking forward to everybody getting to it.
FHM: For the audience that has no idea what the hell Happy is and looks at the promos and goes, "What the frak?", what would you say to them to get them to tune in to this show?
Patrick Macmanus: I would tell them that I thought it was the stupidest script I'd ever read, even though it's extraordinarily witty and smart and funny and gritty and raw and all of that. There will always be preconceived notions of people who see the billboards or who see the trailer and they're just going to say, "Oh, my God. This is going to be like them trying to do Roger Rabbit. It's going to just be stupid and sophomoric." You know what? In many ways, there are absolutely times where it is sophomoric, but I would say that if people give it a chance, if people get to episode three, that's where the show really, really digs down deep, and you begin to realize that it is something far smarter than it first appears. It's a rocket ride that grabs you by the throat, and never let's go right up until the last frame of the finale.