BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — "We got lucky. We clicked," said Adam Pally, one of the half-dozen stars of "Happy Endings," ABC's comedy about six friends being funny in Chicago. "We're all playful and don't take anything too seriously. The six of us are troublemakers!"
"It's very much a team," Elisha Cuthbert chimed in, "and I think that comes across on camera. We just really care about the well-being of our show and each other."
Isn't there even one member of the cast Cuthbert doesn't like?
"I don't like any of them," she answered, deadpan.
"It's a combination of like minds," said Damon Wayans Jr. "We spend so much time with each other, it's like we became a family."
Wayans plays Brad, the metrosexual exec who, as this third "Happy" season begins (Tuesday at 9 p.m. EDT), has been laid off from his job. Or so thinks Jane (Eliza Coupe), Brad's whippet-slim, high-strung and lovingly dominating wife, who likes the idea of her man at home waiting for her after her own workday.
"It's very important to us to not be a boring married couple on TV," Coupe said. "So we want our characters to give and take like a real relationship would be, and be best friends, like a real relationship should be. And it's really important to us to make sure they're weird and quirky!"
Penny (Casey Wilson) is resuming her eternal search for Mr. Right, but something about her is new in the season opener: She is in a body cast (don't ask). Meanwhile, Max, the sarcastic and openly gay slacker played by Pally, falls in lust with Penny's hunky physical therapist.
Rounding out this sitcom sextet are Dave (Zachary Knighton), who, on the series' very first episode, was ditched at the altar by his panic-stricken fiancee, Alex (played by Cuthbert). But after last season, during which the couple existed in a laughably awkward limbo within their circle of friends, they are resuming their romance this season.
"We're just gonna be friends with benefits," says Alex, "like in `No Strings Attached.'"
"Casually seeing each other," Dave sums up.
How casual, of course, remains to be seen.
"I'm excited about getting to be an actual, legit couple with Dave, over there," said Cuthbert, gesturing toward Knighton during this recent conversation with the cast. "I'm looking forward to that."
"Lotta making out!" crowed Knighton. "Get those Altoids ready!"
"When the show started," Pally recalled, "Elisha and Zack were our emotional core, because the show was about their relationship and how it affected the rest of us. But as the show evolves, the writers have opened up their two characters and let them be as funny as everybody else. And Elisha and Zack are amazing comedic talents."
Since premiering in Winter 2011, "Happy Endings" has found loyal fans yet remains somewhat of a secret to many other viewers.
"In a weird way," said Knighton gamely, "a lack of billboards or commercials or any promotion of any kind actually helped us. Sometimes it isn't a good thing to shove things down an audience's throat. It's good for them to just discover it."
A slow build?
"I want this to be a marathon," chorused Cuthbert. "I don't want this to be, y'know, a short race."
"Or a sprint," Knighton teased.
"I think what Elisha's trying to say is, she doesn't want this to be a short race," added Pally.
"Or a short sprint," Knighton fires back.
The distinctive formula of "Happy Endings" is a blend of physical comedy, sight gags and comic cutaways with Mach-speed wordplay. ("Why are you using a travel agent?" Max asks Penny, who's planning a trip. "The only travel agent you need is a time-travel agent to take you back to a time when people still used travel agents.")
"Nobody on our show talks the way people talk in real life," Wayans readily acknowledged. "They don't talk that fast, or make so many pop-culture references. Sometimes when I get the script, I go, `WHO is THIS?' and I have to Google to find out."
"`Happy Endings' lives in a world where everything is fast-paced. Everybody's up all the time," Pally said. "The hardest part of the job is keeping OUR energy up!"
"We have incredible writers," said Cuthbert, "so we don't improv too much. But we sometimes put our spin on things, and sometimes it sticks: The director will say, `Hey, that riff: Let's keep it.'"
But the show seems to be shaping the actors as much as the other way around. One of last season's funniest episodes found the gang was worried about Dave and his addiction to V-neck shirts. Finally they staged an intervention (or "inter-Vee-ntion").
Now, here at this interview, Knighton – aka Dave – was sporting a blazer over his very own V-neck shirt.
And when the reporter laughed at this instance of life imitating art, Pally compounded the vision by pulling down the neckline of his sweater to reveal ... a V-neck T-shirt underneath.
"Everyone's so funny and weird in their own right!" declared Wilson. "Even weirder than their character."
"If you're a V-neck guy," said Pally with pride befitting a star of television's funniest show, "BE a V-neck guy!"
EDITOR'S NOTE – Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at fmoore(at)ap.org and at http://www.twitter.com/tvfrazier