April 26, 2010 / 7:54 AM / 8 years ago

ABC's "Happy Town" gets off to confusing start

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Haplin, Minn., is a wholesome place. Everyone smiles. The buildings are quaint. The sheriff’s son tells his adoring daughter that theirs is a “town with no crime.” There even is a bread factory that employs 12% of the town’s residents and floods ABC’s “Happy Town” with the scent of baking. Man, that is one smug little villa.

Cast members Lauren German, Geoff Stults and Sam Neill (L-R) of the series "Happy Town" participate in a panel discussion in Pasadena, January 12, 2010. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok

Fortunately, that’s all set to change. After an apparent break of a half decade, before which someone went mysteriously missing on average of once a year for seven years, Bad Things are starting to happen in Haplin. And after 10 minutes of wandering around town — via spunky new arrival Henley, who wants to use her inheritance to open a candle shop — attentive viewers whose eyes haven’t rolled into the backs of their heads after the ABC show premieres Wednesday will require a little Schadenfreude.

This ain’t “Twin Peaks” or even “Picket Fences,” but the two echo in “Happy Town,” where nice people have not-nice things lurking under their surfaces and some not-so-nice people are among the most intriguing. Henley has an agenda beyond making candles, and though the boardinghouse biddies she lives among flutter the moment the one man of the house shows up, it’s clear that Merritt Grieves (owner of a dimly lit movie-memorabilia shop) has more going on than his “eternally dashing” demeanor indicates. After all, he’s Sam Neill, who once played the Antichrist. The moment he shows up, things get very good, indeed.

“Town’s” premise remains an enigma at the end of its first episode; there are a lot of introductions to be made and not so much time for plot. Is the bogeyman called “The Magic Man” returning? What’s on the forbidden third floor of the boardinghouse? And who is Chloe, a name so powerful the sheriff (whose station house is quite well-staffed for a town with no crime) babbles it all day before doing something unspeakable to himself?

But the most confusing aspect of the series is its tone thus far. Perhaps viewers are meant to sympathize with the nice townfolk one minute, then giggle adoringly at phrases like “you’re cuter than a mouse’s pocketbook” the next, but let’s hope not. The minute “Town” demands an audience that gets scared along with the locals, all is lost. But so long as we get to dine on the same scenes Neill is chewing on, then count me in for dinner.

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