HAPPY TOWN 1.1 - "In This Town On Ice"

ABC have a new Twin Peaks-esque drama, from the trio behind the Life On Mars remake...

Happy Town: Cast

ABC's mystery drama 'Happy Town' (ABC, Wednesdays @10|9c) comes laden with clichés (it opens on a full moon with canoodling lovers in a car, of course), familiar actors given rote characters, and plenty of baggage for the enlightened. You see, the last time Josh Appelbaum, Andre Nemec and Scott Rosenberg put their minds together it was for the short-lived US remake of 'Life On Mars', which concluded with a finale so excruciatingly inept that it's impossible to have faith 'Happy Town' will lead anywhere logical and worthwhile. Haplin, Minnesota is the prototypical American small-town, with an oh-so-ironic nickname of 'Happy Town' given it was the scene of several unsolved kidnappings a decade ago. Those unsolved crimes have scarred the community, who have lived crime-free for the five years, until a local man is found inside an ice-fishing hut with a hole punched clean through his skull. This inexplicable murder spells trouble for stout Sheriff Griffin Conroy (M.C Gainey) and his handsome son, Deputy Tommy Conroy (Geoff Stults), who are keen to close the case before gossips start spreading the idea that Haplin's enigmatic kidnapper/killer "The Magic Man" has returned to resume his activities...
'Happy Town' will unavoidably be compared to the work of Stephen King on account of its small-town intrigue and supernatural overtones (see: 'Salem's Lot) and also touches on themes the maestro of TV mystery 'Twin Peaks' tackled in the early-'90s. More recently, CBS's 'Harper's Island' (an update of Agatha Christie's "Ten Little Indians" with added gore) trod similar territory, sans the supernatural tone, as both shows feature a remote hamlet hiding secrets regarding a tragedy, fearing the return of a boogieman when death comes a-calling once again. So yes, it's wantonly derivative and very unoriginal, but the same could be said of at least a quarter of King's own oeuvre, so that's certainly no indomitable barrier to enjoyment. But, speaking as a fan of this type of hokum, it was clear to me that 'Happy Town's' too much of a box-ticking exercise, with no real sense of how to build compelling characters and drip-feed a mystery. Henley Boone (Lauren German) seems to be our heroine; a beautiful woman who arrives in Halpin following her mother's funeral, intending to open a candle shop there (I'm serious.) She is accommodated at Dot Meadow's (Lynne Griffin) boarding house, and told not to venture up some spooky stairs to the third floor. So no prizes for guessing how this episode ends. We also meet boarding house habitué Merritt Grieves (Sam Neill), a genteel man who improbably runs a movie memorabilia shop called "The House Of Ushers" (making him a fan of Edgar Allan Poe); red-haired cop Eli "Root Beer" Rogers (Jay Paulson); burly "Big Dave" Duncan (Abraham Benrubi) who owns a popular diner; Deputy Tommy's hot wife Rachel (Amy Acker), who gives tours of "The Bready" factory that's perched above town radiating its doughy aroma; said factory's magnate John Haplin (Steven Weber), whose daughter was a victim of the Magic Man and is determined to keep the unsolved mystery prominent in townsfolk's lives; star-crossed lovers in the form of Haplin's teenage son Andrew (Ben Schnetzer) and the Conroy's babysitter Georgia Bravin (Sarah Gadon), whose dad's a meth-dealer; local scumbag brothers the Stiviletto's; and hard-ass Detective Roger Hobbs (Robert Wisdom). Happy Town: Lauren German & Lynne Griffin My biggest complaint about 'Happy Town', which does a serviceable job of introducing its core characters and concept (ignoring some very on-the-nose dialogue), is that none of its strangeness feels unforced. A lot of weird stuff happens very overtly, which is mild fun but ultimately fails to unsettle you. For a show with so many nods to David Lynch and Mark Frost's seminal 'Twin Peaks', it's disappointing to find the writers of 'Happy Town' haven't understood what made that show click. Here, the Sheriff sometimes get possessed and starts spouting absurdities ("did you realize the glow from her mouth was the silvery moon?) in-between mentioning someone called "Chloe"; Henley notices the motif of a halo above a question mark around town, which matches a tattoo she has; Merritt talks of a movie curio called "The Blue Door" about "a porthole into the heart of man", and suchlike. There's superficial intrigue to all that stuff, naturally, but the lack of subtlety makes you feel the rest of the series is going to be heavy-handed claptrap. It's as if the writers don't trust their audience (an ABC audience who made 'Lost' a hit!) to be drawn into mystery through character and story, so instead chose to push the back-story and have everyone act creepy. Maybe it'll mature and get a toehold on the characters in the weeks to come, but I still can't shake the feeling Happy Town's triptych of showrunners just aren't up to the task. There's too much evidence in their filmographies to support my apprehension. Asides There are lots of familiar faces to note: Sam Neill (Jurassic Park), Amy Acker (Angel, Dollhouse), M.C Gainey (Lost), Robert Wisdom (The Wire), Steven Weber (Brothers & Sisters), Sarah Gadon (Being Erica) and Abraham Benrudi (ER). Weber also played the Jack Nicholson role in that Stephen King-blessed Shining miniseries. Geoff Stults and Jay Paulson also starred in Appelbaum, Nemec and Rosenberg's TV series October Road, which was itself about a small-town. This pilot was originally filmed with John Patrick Amedori as Andrew Haplin and Dean Winters as John Haplin. ABC, Wednesdays @10|9c
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