Ellen’s Big Happy Legacy

There’s a scene in “The Puppy Episode” of Ellen where Ellen chases Laura Dern to the airport, classic rom com style, and comes out to her, while accidentally leaning up against a microphone. It’s a huge moment in the history of television and even though we all knew it was coming – there’d been magazine and newspaper articles, not to mention Oprah specials – it was still a big moment. I was sixteen years old; it was a life changer.

That moment changed the future, and here we are today, where Ellen is one of the most popular people in the country (we only need to use one name for her!), and her talk show is on its fifty billionth season, and network TV decided to take a chance on another lesbian. Well, sort of. Ellen is the executive producer of the show in question, NBC’s One Big Happy, which was created by the comedian Liz Feldman (watch This Just Out on YouTube, you’re welcome). The premise of the show is that best friends Lizzy and Luke, who have reached the frightening age of thirty and are single, decide to have a kid together. But Lizzy is a lesbian (I know you’re rolling your eyes at the name, but this is semi-autobiographical so blame Liz Feldman’s parents) and then like a week later Luke falls in love and marries Prudence, who will be deported to England if she doesn’t get a green card.

Classic sitcom fodder, amirite?

In the pilot Lizzy chases Prudence to an airport, where she gets down on one knee and asks Prudence to stay, and stay married to, Luke.

The pilot was uneven, as most pilots are, and it spent a lot of time reminding us just how gay Lizzy is, which is sort of a mixed bag. ‘Cause, yeah, we get it. But also… why shouldn’t we make lesbian jokes all up in Tuesday primetime’s business? Regardless, the airport scene won me over. I don’t know if it was intentional, but it felt like an acknowledgement both of where we’ve been and how far we’ve come. I don’t think it was any coincidence that the people behind Lizzy included a man in uniform, and nobody really reacted at all to what was happening in front of them. After all, it’s LA, it’s 2015. Who cares?

Well, a lot of people still care. Like me, because even with Ellen and Modern Family, we live in a country where people wouldn’t want to serve me pizza, and where laws back them up. Visibility is important. Ellen may be one of the most visible people on the planet, but the amount of lesbians on scripted network TV is pretty low overall. And even though Lizzy is pregnant (a hook that almost kept me from tuning into the show), she’s single and that means she can date, which is another thing we don’t see the few lesbians on TV do very often. And Elisha Cuthbert is freaking fantastic. Her comic timing is excellent and the best scenes are always the scenes with Lizzy.

So how do I like One Big Happy? Well, I’m mixed. The best episode of the season was episode three, which was mostly about Lizzy and the crush she has on a lady from the gym, which is not only requited, but adorable. They followed this with a twitter-based episode that was not only a cool use of social media, but continued the adorableness. Unfortunately, the episodes since then have regressed back into the early-season formula of Lizzy and Prudence fighting over Luke, or about Luke’s relationship with Prudence. We’ve seen stuff like that before, and this show is at its most interesting when it’s about a character we haven’t seen much of: a lesbian. I understand that it needs to appeal broadly, but I hope that if they get a second season, they put the focus where it belongs: on Elisha Cuthbert and Lizzy. And maybe give some more screen time to the people of color, while they’re at it.

And that’s where we are now. The season finale airs tonight, which will potentially be the series finale. Sitcoms die hard and fast these days, and the ones that seem to last are the ones that, for me at least, seem the least interesting (I’m still mourning Trophy Wife). But despite the rockiness, I like One Big Happy. I haven’t watched a multi-cam sitcom regularly since Friends went off the air, but I hope One Big Happy gets another season so I can spend more time with Lizzy. Because sometimes Lizzy says stuff and I absolutely hear myself, which is the first time that’s ever happened in my adult life.

That’s a life changer.

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