So Far, We're Happy With Happy Town

By Louis Peitzman

Apr 29, 2010

I really wanted to like Happy Town: dark mystery, oddball characters, charming cast. And the interviews I conducted with its actors only upped my anticipation—this was going to be the next big thing. Inspired by Twin Peaks with a Stephen King feel? Can't see how that's a bad thing. Yes, I really wanted to like Happy Town, so imagine my surprise when I did.

That’s right, I liked Happy Town—and apparently I’m one of the few critics who did. No, it’s not perfect, and yes, it’s been overhyped, but I was suitably entertained for an hour and that’s more than I can say for many of my other weekly television obligations. Some reviewers are saying that episodes two and three are where things really take a turn for the crappy: I wouldn’t know, as I’ve only seen the pilot. But judging by what I did watch, this is an intriguing new series with real potential—even if it’s not quite there yet.

Let’s start with what worked; then I'll address my complaints. I dug the tone, which maintained a high level of suspense without taking itself too seriously. That’s important to me, because I need humor to appreciate a show like Happy Town. Otherwise, I’d spend too much time rolling my eyes. It’s easy for shows to get bogged down in mythology—each episode is a “game-changer,” each “holy crap” moment is underscored by a significant musical sting. And Happy Town may become that show over time, but the pilot felt light to me. Not completely shallow—that would be a waste—but at least balanced in terms of mystery and quirkiness.

Then there’s the cast, which includes several personal favorites: Amy Acker, Steven Weber, Linda Kash, M.C. Gainey. I recently jumped on the Geoff Stults bandwagon following his brief-but-memorable performance in She’s Out of Your League. (Yep, I unapologetically liked that, too. Flame me if you must.) I want to see more of these people, which could become a problem (more on that below), but for the time being, I’m just glad to see them here. The characters feel like they're integrated into the plot in a cohesive, believable way. I’m interested in their interactions. I want to learn more about their backstories. The mystery may not have me hooked—yet—but the characters drew me in from the get-go.

So why am I nervous? Because there are too many of them. This is a trend that’s been going on for years, and I’m still not used to it. Frankly, I blame Lost. A good series does not need 15 regulars—in fact, that’s far too many. It takes weeks to resolve storylines because the show keeps shifting focus. Not to mention the fact that as a viewer, it’s frustrating and often futile to keep track of what everyone is doing. Now, Lost works, because dragging things out is what it does best. But look at a show like Heroes, which started off with great promise and quickly devolved into suckitude. The problem? Well, all the fake-out deaths, for one, but too many characters was another major culprit.

Happy Town may prove me wrong here, and I hope that it does. Like I said, I want to like this show. Luckily, my other beef with the pilot is one that I anticipate won’t be an issue in the coming episodes—though critics who have watched ahead, feel free to contradict me here. That thorn in my side is info-dumping, the plight of many sub-par pilots and a pain in the ass to trudge through. I get it, there’s a lot we need to know. Happy Town’s first season is only eight episodes, so it doesn’t exactly have time to linger. But dialog full of exposition never feels organic, and the pilot was certainly guilty of that. Perhaps it’s unavoidable in a show of this nature, but I have to believe there was a better way of letting us know about the Magic Man and the dark history of Haplin. Info-dumping: Don’t let it happen to you.

Still, there’s enough here to keep me watching. Despite what others have said, Happy Town remains a likable show in my eyes. I’m curious to see where it’s going and I have some sense—due in part to the brief season—I’ll be finding out soon. I’m in for the long haul now, Happy Town. Don’t let me down.

What did you think of the premiere?

Follow writer Louis Peitzman on Twitter: @LouisAtTVDotCom

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  • Signal2Noise May 01, 2010

    Just got around to watching it.

    A Twin Peaks comparison? Please don't. Nothing has come even close to the vibe of TP.

    However, I agree that Happy Town did not disappoint despite the incessant hype and the flashbacks of the horrid Harper's Island. Hopefully it can sustain my interest thru the series.

  • marioni211 May 01, 2010

    good first episode

  • buffyangel4evr_ May 01, 2010

    The pilot was enjpyable and I will definitely tune in for more. Love Amy Acker, MC Gainey and Stephen Weber.

  • TroubleKills May 01, 2010

    I thoroughly enjoyed it. I lke Amy Acker ever since Angel and M.C. Gainey is rather cool (Tom Friendly from Lost). He also plays in Justified another good show. And that darling blonde who's seeing the kid romantically. she's very interesting. I think the show has a good premise and the fact that there all so many characters is we get to see them killed off one by one. (Who's next?)Cool. I think it may turn out better than Harper's Island. Hope so, 'cos the premiere was pretty good.

  • costello7 Apr 30, 2010

    It was crap. A step up from Harper's Island and a great cast, but crap nonetheless. Badly written, completely lacking in suspense, crap. Twin Peaks was genius (at least Season One) and anyone making the comparison is crazy or drunk. From the opening minute of Twin Peaks, the nation was hooked. And it was the nation, not just a few fanatics. It was jaw droppingly brilliant and compelling from the start. This? Crap. And the ratings do and will prove it. I really wanted to like it. I love the cast and I'm dying for a good murder mystery show, but this ain't it. Crap.

  • oldfilmsflicker Apr 30, 2010

    I liked it too, but it is definitely no Twin Peaks.

  • CaseyChase Apr 30, 2010

    @Murderboy your a dick :p...... But seriously! I don't see how the Twin peaks premiere was any more interesting than this in fact I believe it was far less interesting it just was successful because it was ahead of it's time but by todays standards it could be considered a bit slow. Twin peaks would have never gotten a chance to develop it's mythology and cult following if it had been canned before the end of the first season so how about we give something unique and different a chance to bloom before we stomp it out! Unless you are content to spend your tv watching hours watching reruns of reality tv!

  • csx3236 Apr 30, 2010

    I love this show! Finally, a show with characters you can enjoy. Everyone has a secret! A great cast, good writing and just quircky enough to make us cheer!

  • puredieselbc Apr 30, 2010

    If this isn't you're cup of tea so be it. Hating a tv show is like hating one blade grass...there's so many others around what's the point? I liked the whole pilot from beginning to end and I intend to watch the remaining 7 episodes. I'm pleased that ABC is following the British series model, meaning no dragged out plots that lead to dead-ends, ie. V, Flash Forward, Heroes. Naw man, you can keep all that. Plus, the producers say the murderer will be uncovered in the last episode to the audience but not the characters in the show. Great idea. You want to see something that really sucks just watch Romantically Challenged...oh it's challenged alright. YUCK!!!

  • Dudekotka Apr 30, 2010

    I liked it, some boring parts, but more than enough to keep me watching. Unless it gets worse, I'll stay for at least the first season.

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