'Happy Endings' new start

Elisha Cuthbert's 24 character was one we loved to hate. So the actress jumped at the chance to flex her comedy muscle in a new role about a quarter-life crisis, writes Jacqueline Smith.

After her Kim Bauer was seemingly kidnapped in every other season of 24, Elisha Cuthbert says she was ready to flex her comedy muscles with a light-hearted sort of character.

That arrived in the shape of Alex, a confused twentysomething who left her partner at the altar, then went on to get corn braids and a shirtless, skateboarding boyfriend.

Her quarter-life crisis threatens to divide her tight group of friends Max, Penny, her sister Jane and Jane's husband Brad. They are already torn between comforting wayward Alex, and her moping ex-boyfriend Dave.

That might not sound like the frame for a comedy but the cast, which includes Zachary Knighton of FlashForward, Eliza Coupe of Scrubs, Damon Wayans jnr of My Wife & Kids, deliver fast-paced one-liners that has brought comparisons to Friends.

Cuthbert says it's nice to be on a show that makes her belly-laugh whenever she replays an episode.

"I always feel like my character doesn't have these, jokey jokey lines. But then all of a sudden, because the writing is so natural and comes from a real place, it somehow ends up being funny. I literally will watch and be, like, 'Oh, my God, I didn't realise that was a funny line'."

It's a welcome change from the terrorist dramas of 24, where her character, the daughter of Kiefer Sutherland's Jack Bauer, was voted the TV character audiences loved to hate.

"I was really excited to play someone that everyone would really love, you know. And obviously it comes with a few complications because I'm not really setting myself up for any quick loving, but, you know, I think she redeems herself after a few episodes." When the series opens Alex is in the throes of an existential crisis.

Firstly, she must understand why she would want to dump her boyfriend of three years at the altar. Was it really because he gave her $40 in cash for Valentine's Day?

"I don't think it's as simple as she's completely done with the relationship. I think she was just at a moment in time where she's feeling like something is not right and probably just trying to figure out what that is and also who she is without Dave. I mean, they've been together for so long." As the friends convene at a local diner or drown their sorrows in bars, the show's writers explore the typical dilemmas of twentysomethings for whom friends are family.

For Cuthbert's character, it's a question of whether settling down with Dave really would have prevented her from living life to the fullest, and if dating on the rebound will cure her misery.

"I think Alex is sort of terrified to get out into the world of dating. She sort of feels like, you know, in some way she's destroyed this relationship.

"Why on earth would she want to go out and start another one right away?

You know, obviously Casey Wilson's character Penny wants her to start getting back into the scene. But it's going to take some time." Cuthbert has enjoyed the change of pace of comedy, and says she has found the format calls for team work - bouncing off her co-stars - rather than relying entirely on the details in the script.

"I realised it has to be a really safe environment, and you've got to be with people that are willing and ready to sort of go to the comedy battle with you because it's one of those things with drama; you can go in and know your plot and know your storyline and go in and execute it. But with comedy I feel like you're only as good as everyone else around you. You all have to have this incredible chemistry and it's a lot more difficult, I've found, but so much more fun."

• Happy Endings screens Wednesdays at 9pm on TV2.


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