Happiness (BBC2, 2001-2003)
Happiness is a sitcom with some comedy-drama elements that starred the great comedy talent of Paul Whitehouse, who also co-wrote and co-produced the show, and he was supported by a great cast. Danny Spencer (played by Whitehouse) is the voice of the popular children’s TV character Dexter The Bear. It has made him a minor celebrity and is steady work, but he is approaching the age when all the things that he feared would happen to him when he turned 40 are beginning, including losing his hair and needing glasses. And then as his wife dies suddenly, he begins to wonder what direction his life is going in. Can he find some happiness?
We also meet some of Danny’s friends who try to help him out during his confused time, including the couple Terry (played by Mark Heap who it’s always great to see, you can’t go wrong if you’ve got him taking part on your show) and Rachel who is Danny’s ex-girlfriend (played by Fiona Allen of Smack The Pony fame) who are having some marital trouble, and his work colleagues including the two young sound engineers who are both called Toby who Danny has trouble getting on with whilst working on his show.
Danny also often spends time with the down-and-out pair Sid and Charlie (played by Johnny Vegas). This is one of the first comedy shows that I remember seeing Vegas in, and I was rather amused by his acting which mostly seemed to consist of him being drunk and falling over as he suffered various mishaps (a style that has served him well throughout his career it seems), and such was his impact on the show he won a British Comedy Award for his work.
One of the interesting things about Happiness was that because of his voice-over work Danny sometimes bumps into celebrities, usually because they were providing a guest voice on his show, and they sent themselves up in the show by playing variations of themselves. These included Kathy Burke, Angus Deayton, Cat Deeley, Ricky Gervais, and Steve Wright. Also making some brief appearances as various characters in the show were some of Whitehouse’s mates from The Fast Show including Simon Day, Charlie Higson and Mark Williams.
Happiness ran for two series and like most other BBC2 sitcoms from around this time the first time I remember watching the show was when there was a repeat run of the first series late at night on the great digital channel Play UK, and that’s when I became a fan. Both series have been released on DVD, although there aren’t many extras and the first series is classified 18 surprisingly. Although this is one of Whitehouse’s less-remembered comedy shows, it was definitely a worthwhile project and it’s still a great piece of work.