By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist April 28, 2014 at 2:15PM
Though it started to become a little grating and self-absorbed by the time it reached the end, for most of its run, “Happy Endings” burned bright, taking the “Friends” formula that’s been copied a billion times and finding a fresh and genuinely funny approach to it. It’s done very well for much of its cast, with Damon Wayans Jr., Adam Pally and Casey Wilson all proving in demand since its cancellation, but we’ve been most keen on seeing the next move of the brilliant Eliza Coupe. The actress was previously probably best known for the last couple of years of “Scrubs,” and for starring in the unaired pilot of the American remake of “No Heroics” (the show created by future “Iron Man 3” writer Drew Pearce), but really showed what she could do as the gleefully deranged Type A Jane on “Happy Endings,” forming, with Wayans, one half of the best married couple on TV, and basically walking away with every episode. Coupe’s had some success on the big screen, with brief roles in “Somewhere” and “Anchorman 2” among others, and has worked constantly since “Happy Endings,” with a recurring gig on “House Of Lies,” while she’ll soon topline a series for USA Networks called “Benched.” But some smart indie comedy director with the right script wouldn’t need much effort to make her into a movie star.
For many, landing a big gig on 'SNL' is a career-maker, so it must be heartbreaking to get that far, only to have your run cut short after a single season. But for those in that situation in the future, someone like Michaela Watkins must be a balm, as she’s gone on to bigger and better things since leaving Lorne Michaels’ baby (alongside the equally successful Casey Wilson) in 2009. Watkins started off with various theater and TV gigs (including “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Medium”), but after departing Studio 8H has only had better luck. On TV, she had a recurring role on the great “Enlightened,” and has appeared in “New Girl” and “Modern Family,” while on screen, she was almost inescapable, with prominent parts in “Afternoon Delight,” “Wanderlust,” "Enough Said” and “In A World.” The latter in particular allowed her to show real dramatic range suggesting she’s far more than a comedian, and the right people seemed to have been paying attention: Watkins has spent this year alongside Marcia Gay Harden, Malin Akerman and Bradley Whitford on the excellent, chronically underseen “Trophy Wife,” as hippyish second wife Jackie. Next up, Watkins will appear in Rob Reiner’s “Just Before I Go,” but it’s easy to see her following the path of people like Kathryn Hahn and Jenny Slate into a solo leading role in an indie at some point down the line.
Right now, Aya Cash isn’t especially well-known even by the standards of the others on this list, but after she’s kicked ass quietly in a wide variety of roles in recent years, we have a feeling you’re gonna be hearing a lot more about her soon. Cash, who is the granddaughter of a Wimbledon-winning tennis champion, started off with the familiar mix of Off-Broadway credits and “Law & Order” appearances before grabbing lead roles in short-lived Fox series “Traffic Light” and aborted Tony Shalhoub/Allison Janney pilot "Friday Night Dinner,” and also cropping up on the big screen in “The Oranges” and, more memorably, “Sleepwalk With Me.” More recently, she had a memorable guest appearance on “The Newsroom” as an Occupy Wall Street activist, managing to overcome Aaron Sorkin’s mansplaining, and also appeared in Tribeca pictures “Begin Again,” with Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo, and “Loitering With Intent,” with Sam Rockwell. But she’s probably best known for a brief but highly memorable appearance as Jordan Belfort’s badass assistant in “The Wolf Of Wall Street,” where she made a huge impression with very little. She just starred in the world premiere of Zoe Kazan’s new play “Trudy And Max In Love,” and next up is the lead in new FX series “You’re The Worst,” directed by “Kings Of Summer” helmer Jordan Vogt-Roberts. Will that finally be the big break she’s long deserved? We certainly hope so.
Honorable Mentions: Among the other names we'd like to see graduate to big screen leading roles, we could name Apama Nancherla, Phoebe Robinson, Mindy Kaling, Anna Chlumsky, Krysten Ritter, Ellie Kemper, Jessica St. Clair & Lennon Parham, Tig Notaro, Natasha Leggero, Kaitlin Olson, Claudia O'Doherty, Cariad Lloyd, Aisling Bea and Josie Long. Anyone else we've missed? Let us know in the comments.