An estimated 65% of all greenlit TV shows never see a second season. Today, we'll take a look at one of these unlucky ones, to see if it was a fate well-deserved or one most cruel.
Show: Happy Hour
Original Run: 4/3/99—7/25/99
Number of Episodes: 11
It's been a hell of a week over here in my little corner of the world, and the past couple of days seem to have been particularly bad for everyone else, too. There were llama shenanigans, the Internet nearly tore itself asunder over a dress, and the news of Leonard Nimoy's passing hit a lot of folks particularly hard. I don't know about anyone else, but I could certainly use a good stiff drink and something fun to take my mind off of my troubles.
Say, perhaps, a bunch of second-string celebrities playing embarrassing party games and just generally making fools of themselves?
This is the core concept behind Happy Hour, a game/variety show hybrid hosted by Ahmet and Dweezil Zappa. Male and female quasi-celebs are pitted against each other, battle of the sexes style, for ridiculous prizes (many of these are signed photos from other quasi-celebs; occasionally the prize will be something you could get from a TV infomercial). To round out the 45 minutes, the game show segments will be intercut with two or three live performances, either from the Brothers Zappa and their house band or from that week's musical guest. Whenever music is playing, the lyrics flash onscreen karaoke-style, encouraging viewers at home to sing along and get into the party mood.
It's a pretty unique and interesting concept for a show, and if this is the first time you'd ever heard that such a thing existed, I'm not surprised. For whatever reason, this seems to be the show the Internet collectively forgot. There is no Wikipedia entry for Happy Hour (not this one, anyway—there also appears to be a 2006 sitcom with the same name), the IMDB entry is almost totally bare, and most of the Google links that actually have to do with the show are of the few reviews it garnered in its short lifetime. Not a one of those are positive, by the way. Ken Tucker at Entertainment Weekly compared it to the then-fledgling Man Show, dismissing both as fratty and sophomoric. The other two reviews, from Deseret News and Variety, call the show a "waste of time" and "the sort of banality Frank (Zappa) railed against", respectively.
The thing about Happy Hour is that it is emphatically not a show for the critics. It's dumb and goofy fluff. It's meant for you to turn your brain off for an hour and watch the people you know from that thing you saw once compete for meaningless points and stupid shit. That's not to say that there aren't very real issues worth critiquing, however, and the big one has to do with the Male Gaze.
Happy Hour has a troupe of dancers called the Bombshells. They are basically go-go dancers, whose job is to dress in skimpy outfits and keep the crowd's energy up. This is in and of itself not necessarily a bad thing; plenty of clubs and such hire go-go dancers for the same reason. Where it starts to get squicky is A) how all of them are women, despite the existence of male go-go dancers (and the fact that the crowd is literally 50% female, and probably not 100% straight on either side) and B) how they're treated by Ahmet and the show, particularly in the first half of the season. Up until about episode 8, the announcer introduces the Bombshells as "10 very naughty girls". In addition, every time Ahmet needs to address any one of the dancers, he always, always introduces them as "sexy Bombshell dancer ____", often with extra "sexy"s in there for good measure. It's not enough for the dancers to just be hype-women, they have to be turned into objects of desire, devoid of any real personality other than what they're given by the show.
Luckily, this characterization gradually begins to fade by the end of the series. The Bombshells are eventually given stuff to do besides dance—they give clues for some of the games (which can consist of reading the clue, singing it, or in one case, acting them out). Their introduction also changes, becoming more silly and less sexual (though the exact wording changes in each of the last 3 episodes). The series as a whole is also not completely devoid of Female Gaze, either. Notable instances include Charmed's Dorian Gregory performing a striptease at the end of his episode (while Ahmet and Chuck Woolery sing "I Got You, Babe" in the background for good measure), Michael Rosenbaum taking off his pants, and Mario Lopez just existing. But the ratio is definitely heavily skewed.
Ahmet himself is also a weak point. While Dweezil is more or less content to hang back and go with the flow, Ahmet is constantly yelling for no good reason, with his attempts to steer the show usually only creating more chaos in the process. He's not funny or engaging; he comes off as more of an asshole than anything else. It's tolerable for an individual episode, but it becomes grating if you try to binge-watch the series.
On the whole, however, the series is really fun, with the good stuff mostly eclipsing the bad. It's hard not to get caught up in the giddy infectiousness of it all, because everyone involved is clearly having a blast playing these silly party games. In addition to your more run-of-the-mill stuff like karaoke, other games require the contestants to identify candy bars by their cross-sections, guess random facts about players on the other team, and match unique sounds to their usage in TV shows.
Because information on this show is hard to come by, there's no definitive answer for why it was cancelled. But according to posts made on the Zappa forum and IMDB, the reason the show was dropped so quickly (and scrubbed from the Internet) had to do with copyright infringement. It seems that for broadcast purposes, the name "Happy Hour" was owned by NASCAR. When legal action was threatened, USA yanked the show, or so the story goes. It's likely that even if this were the case, the ratings for the show were low enough that USA's parent company didn't care enough to fight the charge.
If you're interested in checking out Happy Hour yourself, the show's production company has put most of the episodes up on YouTube (episodes 7 & 8 are missing, for some reason). It's a good blast of late 90's nostalgia cheese, and you'll get to see such luminaries as Weird Al, Chaka Khan, and Patton Oswalt embarrass themselves for fun and prizes, while flash-in-the-pan bands like Citizen King and Blessid Union of Souls perform the songs that earned them their 15 minutes of fame. It's a fun little ride, if you're up for it.