When describing ABC’s new hour long mystery drama Happy Town people have been quick to list other shows and movies that it reminds them of. The work of David Lynch has been a popular choice, with both his TV show Twin Peaks and his film Blue Velvet (because both starred a small town with a multitude of dark secrets) getting shout outs. Last year’s Harper’s Island has leapt to mind for others, as has the first, singularly good season of Desperate Housewives. And while all of those are worthy comparisons we would categorize it more as middle school horror book (think RL Stein) that has been put through the ABC grinder and made more digestible for the masses. At the core of the story is a town called Haplin, a strange little place that becomes all the stranger once a man shows up dead on a frozen pond with an ice pick driven through his skull.
Creators Josh Appelbaum, Andre Nemec and Scott Rosenberg have spent the first few episodes laying out all sorts of mysteries for us to be perplexed by. Besides that unfortunate murder which sits front and center there is all sorts of messed up shit going on here. Not the least of which a large handful of child kidnappings that have happened over the past few years, all of which have gone unsolved. There is also the town sheriff, who is showing distinct sings of being possessed, launching into crazed monologues about a “Chloe” – a person who he doesn’t know whilst sane. Not to mention that a certain somebody not going by the name Chloe has a tattoo on her back of a symbol that also, for some reason we hope, appears all over Haplin. With Lost ending this week something like this could easily fill the void left behind but without stimulating character development the people simply are not going to be gripped in the same way.
Since the writers weren’t up to the character development task they had to fall back on the few relatively famous faces that they had to work with. Sam Neill probably has the most star power, but as of now his character is just lurking around the edges. Robert Wisdom, formerly Bunny Colvin on the mid to late seasons of The Wire is another welcome face, though he must be disheartened with the lack of depth that his Roger Hobbs has especially after playing a deeply complicated man back in Baltimore. There’s also Amy Acker as the young, successful wife which should please Angel fanboys and really no one else. Geoff Stults, Lauren German and Steven Weber are also on hand, though none of them have the ability to attract eyeballs. The mood here, which is supposedly the main selling point, is sorta created by having the camera linger for a few seconds too long; by having ugly old ladies withhold smiles; and by having creepy music permeate every scene. It all adds up to a rather disjointed experience although you never get the feeling that it is due to lack of effort. Plus things that today may seem to be boring or pointless could very well boomerang back around sometime in the future.
Except that they won’t because after the fair shake of a two episode run ABC decided to cancel Happy Town, once again raising questions about the ways in which the networks treat their creators and producers. Granted the show was a midseason replacement that brought a high-concept to the table so it was an uphill battle to begin with and, granted, the ratings for those first two episodes were abysmal (5.2 and 3.8 million viewers). But has anybody bothered to ask if perhaps by now people have caught on that a show like this on a channel like this at this time of year will most likely be gone in a month anyways so why bother? Artistically Happy Town was a failure, but had it been broadcast on, say, Showtime, it would have at least gotten a season long run and time to grow and evolve before it was just discarded and replaced by The Bachelorette. It’s a shame, really.