‘Happy Town’ Pilot Recap: They Should Call It “Crappy Town”

Did’ja see what I did there? I took the title ‘Happy Town’ and changed it to something that sounds similar but means something different. Different and all funny-like. Did’ja get that? Oh, you did? Well, OK then, anyway… ABC’s new mystery thriller series ‘Happy Town’ premiered last Wednesday with an episode called ‘In This Home on Ice’. I’m a little delinquent in recapping it, because I DVRed it and only recently got around to watching. I figured now would be a good time to talk about it, in anticipation for tonight’s new episode. That is, if I had any anticipation for a show I didn’t really care for.

Here’s the premise. In the exceedingly quirky small town of Haplin, MN, the lives of the exceedingly quirky residents are disrupted by a gruesome murder. Any one of dozens of quirky characters with Big Dark Secrets in their pasts could be the killer. The murder also reawakens anxieties about a string of unsolved child disappearances from a few years earlier, which the townsfolk blame on a mysterious presence they call the “Magic Man,” who has some seriously weird supernatural overtones going on. Ooh, spooky.

Listen, I know that it’s been almost 20 years since ‘Twin Peaks’ went off the air. And it only lasted a season and a half when it was on. Many of today’s viewers, especially younger viewers, may not remember the show at all. Nonetheless, ‘Twin Peaks’ was an incredibly acclaimed and influential series that inspired dozens of later shows. Some were quite blatant about it (like ‘American Gothic’). Others took little bits and pieces of the ‘Peaks’ formula and spun them off in different directions, as disparately as ‘The X-Files’ to ‘Northern Exposure’ to ‘Picket Fences’. Even ‘Desperate Housewives’ owes quite a bit to ‘Twin Peaks’. (It’s certainly no coincidence that Kyle MacLachlan has a recurring role.)

It doesn’t surprise me that, after this much time, someone would try to launch a new ‘Twin Peaks’ imitator. What does surprise me is just how shameless and obnoxious ‘Happy Town’ is about it. One of the characters even claims to be from Snoqualmie, WA, wink-wink. (Did’ja get that, fanboys? That’s the real town where ‘Twin Peaks’ was filmed!)

But all of that would be forgivable if only ‘Happy Town’ were, you know, any good. Based on the pilot episode, so far, it’s not. Everything about the show is just far too overbearing, from its monotonously droning music score, to its over-reliance on “Gotcha!” stinger scares, to its ham-fisted fake quirkiness. There’s barely a single character in the town who’s not a complete “Hey, Look at Me!!” weirdo, every one of whom practically holds up a sign reading, “I Could Be the Killer!!”

That’s kind of a shame, because there’s a good cast being wasted here, including Sam Neill (as a creepy shop-owner who is thus far the main suspect), Amy Acker (seemingly wasted in a boring housewife role; we’ll have to see what secrets she’s hiding), and Steven Weber (as a wealthy resident who’s daughter was kidnapped by the Magic Man). That’s M.C. Gainey from ‘Lost’ as the good-natured sheriff who schizophrenically breaks into diatribes about someone named “Chloe” but doesn’t remember it seconds later. And hey, there’s Abraham “Kubiac” Benrubi as “Colorful Background Character that Other People Confide In.” (Basically, the same schtick he did on ‘Men in Trees’ a couple years ago.)

As I mentioned in a previous post, the creators of ‘Happy Town’ were recently responsible for the American version of ‘Life on Mars’, a show with great potential that got flushed down the toilet with a thoroughly idiotic ending. What really stung most about that one was the recognition that, as awful as the resolution to the show’s mystery was, it was clearly planned that way from the start. I fully expect something similar to be the case here.

With that said, will I watch again? I might give it another episode or two. I’ve seen plenty of shows that start badly but find their footing later. But it’ll have to pick up quickly. I didn’t find much to be happy about in this ‘Happy Town’.

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