'Happy Town' Review: Heavy on Ham, Light on Quality
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Happy Town, the new ABC horror drama premiering tonight at 10pm,
desperately wants to be Twin Peaks. It wants to be an eerie,
thought-provoking mystery with a town full of weird characters and
strange events. Unfortunately, Twin Peaks had David Lynch, and Happy
Town only has the men who brought you October Road.
The result is a painfully forced attempt at horror with stilted writing,
shameful overacting and a plot more confusing than the movie Mulholland
Drive. Happy Town isn't just a town you wouldn't want to
live in, it's a show you shouldn't watch.
Happy Town is set in Haplin, Minnesota, a seemingly idyllic small town with local oddballs and a looming bread factory that fills every nook and cranny with a sweet smell and most of the town's jobs. The town suffered a series of unsolved abductions perpetrated by "the Magic Man," and after five years of silence, murder, mayhem, and possibly the Magic Man, return.
The crimes are investigated by the town's deputy, Tommy Conroy, played by the blandly handsome Geoff Stults. He's surrounded by his father the sheriff (M.C. Gainey from Lost) and wife (Amy Acker from Angel). Those two actors in particular deserve a lot better than this hodgepodge of a show.
For that matter, so does Steven Weber, who plays bread factory owner John Haplin, and Frances Conroy who plays his dottering mother. Their family, like everyone in Haplin, is full of secrets, stemming from the fact that John's daughter was one of the Magic Man's victims.
The cast goes on and on, from Henley, the new girl in town (Lauren German) to the dashing and possibly evil Merritt Grieves (Sam Neill) to even more odd and mysterious people with ulterior motives and hidden agendas. It's hardly worth mentioning them all because no one is what they seem.
The massive scope of Happy Town is just one of its many problems. There are so many characters and so many secrets that it's impossible to keep track of who's related to who and which person is trying to get what from whomever else. The cast has a decent pedigree, but they're all so concerned with trying to show off how secretive and mysterious their characters are that they add unnecessary drama to every line. The result is the kind of hammy overacting that would even make William Shatner wince.
None of that would really matter, though, if the writing were interesting. As I mentioned, Happy Town comes from creators Josh Applebaum, Andre Nemec and Scott Rosenberg, who previously created ABC's October Road. That show had a small and loyal following, but the truth is that it was laughably overwritten, with awkward dialogue that lacked any sense of realism and existed solely to drive the plot forward.
The same problems exist on Happy Town, a show where the introduction of every new character is as clunky as possible, and where the action moves so quickly between so many different stories that it feels like a juggler who's trying to handle two too many balls.
Happy Town wants to be Twin Peaks, a moody and thought-provoking study in mystery and small towns. Failing that, it tries to resemble Harper's Island, a mindlessly entertaining horror drama that offered cheap and exciting thrills. Instead, what you get is a TV show that will leave you begging to be taken away by the Magic Man just so you won't have to endure any more.
(Image courtesy of ABC)