HAPPY! Wednesdays, 10 p.m., Syfy. Premieres December 6.
Now that basic cable shows can include nearly the full range of swear words, it takes more to push the envelope than just foul-mouthed characters doing terrible things. In Syfy’s Happy!, reprehensible, foul-mouthed cop-turned-hitman Nick Sax (Christopher Meloni) doesn’t just perpetrate horrific violence on nearly everyone he meets—he does it in the presence of the title character, an animated blue flying unicorn voiced by Patton Oswalt. Self-described “imaginary friend” Happy’s irritating wholesomeness is meant as an ironic contrast to the grim brutality, but the character is nearly as annoying to the audience as he is to Nick, and the novelty of a cute cartoon animal witnessing horrific violence wears off quickly.
Happy’s presence makes the show only a slight variation on a typical dark antihero drama, with Nick facing off against a clichéd group of sadistic mobsters. Ritchie Coster gives an especially grating performance as an eccentric mob boss, with a warped, overwrought version of a Robert De Niro impression. Based on a graphic novel by writer Grant Morrison (who also co-created the show) and artist Darick Robertson, Happy! has a cartoonish sensibility more suited to drawings than live action. The more it strains to be edgy and shocking, the more laughable it becomes.