So Far, We're Happy With Happy Town

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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