HAPPY TOWN 1.1: Are you happy now, ABC?

Unless you have been avoiding ABC programming entirely for the past few months, you are doubtless aware that the network had a new crime series, HAPPY TOWN, debuting this week. This question is: Was it worth the saturation promotion and megahype?

Well, not really. HAPPY TOWN is enjoyable enough, but in no way is it groundbreaking appointment television. The bizarre serial-kidnapper whodunit invites – make that begs – comparison to TWIN PEAKS by openly aping the iconic series with everything from its rustic small town to its quirky residents to a sheriff investigating a bizarre murder. In this case, the victim has a railroad spike driven into his head, resulting in a hole that goes clean through his skull, allowing sunlight to shine through. While somewhat novel for network TV, this is no Laura Palmer, the homecoming queen “wrapped in plastic.”

Of course there are unique spins – or, rather, differences: The town of Haplin, Minn., is built around a bread factory (“Haplin is alive with the aroma of fresh-baking bread.”) instead of a lumber mill. Rather than a lone Log Lady, there is a veritable sewing circle of busybody old biddies. Unfortunately, the oddness in town feels like it’s supposed to be odd, just for the sake of the show. Sam Neill (Jurassic Park) plays the dandy Mr. Grieves, whose babbling about a “blue door” sounds a lot TP’s Black Lodge. And instead of a pretty girl with secrets being the killer’s victim, in HAPPY TOWN, a pretty girl wanders into town secretly intent on investigating…well, something.

Viewers are clearly supposed to be interested in Henley Boone, but pretty much all Lauren German’s (Hostel: Part II) character does is wander around town, looking pretty. Henley claims she moved to Haplin because her mother spoke well of the place before she died. (Hey, that’s exactly the same reason why the Browns moved to Everwood in EVERWOOD!) The only character who does anything really interesting is Sheriff Griffin Conroy, played by the bearish M.C. Gainey, best-known as “Mr. Friendly” from LOST. He appears to a tough, no-nonsense kind of guy – unless he’s periodically spouting nonsense about a mystery woman named “Chloe.” (Sample: “Chloe burnt the can!”) And then – what are the chances, I mean, really? – in the final moments, Henley makes a mysterious phone call and identifies herself as “Chloe” while flashing a question-mark-with-halo tattoo. She’s intensely interested in the forbidden third floor of the boarding house. For someone on a secret mission, she is doing a pretty good job of calling attention to herself…

I don’t want to give the wrong impression; I did not hate the premiere episode – let’s face it, it’s pretty much impossible to hate a show that features the delightful Amy Acker (ex-Fred/Illyria, ANGEL) and a shout-out to her last series, DOLLHOUSE. I just think HAPPY TOWN wilts under the burden of all the fanfare surrounding its debut. People may be tuning in looking for something extraordinary, only to find something…somewhat unusual. The TV schedule is chockablock with eccentric characters, so HAPPY TOWN is going to have to work hard on its story in order to avoid leaving viewers unhappy.

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