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'Happy Town' - 'In This Home on Ice' Recap

by Bob Sassone, posted Apr 28th 2010 11:35PM
Happy Town
(S01E01) "A well man doesn't put a hole in another man's head." - Sheriff

Every single review is going to compare 'Happy Town' with 'Twin Peaks.' This isn't just because both shows involve mysterious goings on with mysterious characters in a small town, it's because ABC itself has been driving the point home in all of its marketing for the show. "From the network that brought you 'Twin Peaks ..." I don't really understand why they're mentioning a TV show that ran on their network over 20 years ago, but maybe they feel they have to connect it to something cultish and beloved.

Is it like that show? I guess. A little. It has that small town mystery vibe. It also has dashes of 'Harper's Island' and 'Salem's Lot,' but those ran on CBS so I guess they can't mention them in the ads.

If I were to summarize 'Happy Town' in three words or less, it would be this: EVERYTHING IS MYSTERIOUS. Seriously, there isn't one person in this town that is above suspicion in either the nasty murder in the ice cabin or the "Magic Man" abductions that plagued the town for many years. Someone abducted people every year for several years in a row and then just ... stopped. Is he back, only this time murdering people by putting holes in their heads?

But EVERYTHING IS MYSTERIOUS. No one in this town can be trusted, I don't care how much they smile. Everyone could be completely innocent or everyone could be completely guilty. And that's both the show's biggest strength and its biggest weakness. If everyone has a secret, then when the secrets are revealed it might be a little underwhelming and unbelievable. But at the same time you don't know what's going on and what secret is related to the murder/abductions. Some people in the town have secrets for personal reasons and some have secrets for crime reasons. Unless several people in the town are in on the crimes, which wouldn't surprise me either.

But there are new people in town too. Sam Neill is the mysterious gentleman who decides to come to Haplin, Minn., to open up a rare movie memorabilia shop (or maybe he's going to spell it shoppe). Not sure why he would want to open up such a place in a small town, even if he does explain that he wants to bring some culture to the townspeople. He's the 'Salem's Lot' element in all this, the James Mason character coming to town and opening a shop. He's so unbelievably mysterious that he's probably a giant red herring and completely innocent. Or he's the devil himself. Again, EVERYTHING IS MYSTERIOUS.

He's not the only newcomer. Henley (that's a girl) has come to town to open up a candle shop(pe). Yes, a candle shop. The nation's economy might be terrible right now, but everyone is flocking to Haplin, Minn., to open up quirky stores.

So everyone is a suspect in the town. Neill's character, who might even have some sort of power. The new girl. The nosy (and oddly horny) gaggle of old ladies at the house. The bar owner played by Abraham Benrubi (especially him -- he's a big enough guy to throw the murder victim around that shack at the beginning). Hell, I'll even throw in goody-goody couple Geoff Stults and Amy Acker. Sure, he's a lawman, but he's so good and nice that he could be a nut too. Bread company owner Steven Weber could be guilty in some way, even if his daughter was abducted. His wife could hold a secret too because she's gone off the deep end. The Barney Fife-ish deputy nicknamed "Root Beer" could be guilty too.

At the very least Stults and Root Beer should be fired for telling the murder victim's wife about his death in such a callous, public manner.

The exposition in this first episode was painful at times. There's a lot of characters and a lot of back story, and the explanations they have to squeeze in to set up everything was a little overdone. In the first scene with Stults and Acker and their daughter, the exposition was torturous. "Now, as you know honey, I'm the sheriff of this town and your mom works at the bread factory that employs a lot of people. This is a great place, and mom wants to move to California but I want to stay here, for the following reasons ..."

I gotta say though. For all of its faults -- and some of the writing is over the top and the characters more caricature than character -- I'm definitely in for the long haul. I don't get some of the real hatred that this show is generating from some people. It's really not that bad. It's probably filled with too much symbolism and oddness, but at least you get the feeling they're trying.

More thoughts:

- Haplin is supposed to be a nice, friendly small town you'd love to live in. But what evidence is there of that? What kind of "nice" town has a person abducted every single year for several years in a row? The people are either nasty, weird, yokels, or mysterious and they argue all the time. And now a brutal murder? Yeah, it's a regular Mayberry.

- A lot of this show is predictable. It was kinda obvious that the kid taunting the girl about her meth-addict dad would turn out to be the boyfriend hidden in the car shadows at the start of the episode. But I did like the fact that Henley turned out to be Chloe, she was talking to someone on the phone who knew why she was in town, she purposely went upstairs to investigate the third floor, and she had a tattoo of the "question mark with a halo" logo used around town to memorialize the missing townspeople. That was an interesting touch.

- If your landlord tells you in a serious/evil voice that the third floor of the house you're staying in is off-limits, it's time to look for other living arrangements in town. Or perhaps out of town at the nearest Red Roof Inn?

- So at the end the killer went back to the ice shack? Why?

- The boat is named Dallas Alice, so I guess that will have a bigger meaning later. Perhaps Stults likes old CBS shows. But this is an ABC show. Couldn't they have named the boat Dynasty Angie?

[Follow Bob on Twitter.]

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Sir Yuck-Yuck

this show was filmed in my province
in Southern Ontario (Canada)
Port Hope, Ontario

May 03 2010 at 3:46 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Gordon Werner

I thought this show was incredibly stupid.

I am willing to give it a shot ... first episodes should never be used to judge a whole series ... but it was more than evident that the writers were trying WAY to hard to make things seem ominous and mysterious.

April 30 2010 at 2:23 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

"Dallas Alice" is from the song "Willin'" by Lowell George. The show opened with "Watching the Detectives" by Elvis Costello, and "Teach Your Children" by CSNY ... I don't think there's a hidden meaning in the boat's name.

April 29 2010 at 3:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Jungie's comment
Sir Yuck-Yuck

I prefer Linda Ronstadt's version of willin'

May 03 2010 at 3:44 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

First of all, most of Minnesota towns have candle and memorablia stores. Gee, we also have museums and the theater. The writers took time to explain the difference between lakes and ponds, then show the murder "pond" as the size of lake Superior. This show is a comedy, every line is repeatable as a "Rocky Horror Show", or a 1950's Nancy Drew with blood. I will watch it again next week just to see if Jason Robards shows up.

April 29 2010 at 2:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I can't believe this review did not make reference to October Road, which was a so-so ABC show that was a bit overly-nostalgic and deserved to be canceled when it was (but i did watch it).

The shows are practically identical. Same creator/director (Gary Fleder), several of the same actors (Geoff Stults, the pizza girl from OR plays stults' wife, the agoraphobic from OR plays Root Beer), plus the small town setting felt like a carbon copy of the one in OR as well. I even think Stults is wearing the same lambs-wool lined coat he wore in OR much of the time.

anyone else notice this? If Tom Berringer shows up next week, I'm out.

April 29 2010 at 10:18 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to J.D.'s comment

Pizza Girl from OR does not play Eddie Latekka's wife in this one. I wish she did, lol. Everything else is true, though - "Happy Town" is pretty much "October Road" if half the town was populated with nutjobs and there was a serial killer running around.

Also, the little girl being told by "Angela Ferrelli" that someone got "killeded" - Angela Ferrelli was the name of the "coolest 10-year-old girl in the world" on OR, the girl all the guys worshipped as kids who moved away and died in a car wreck as an adult. Probably the best episode of OR produced revolved around their finding out this girl died and traveling to her funeral.

"Cook's Ridge" is where the cute white trash girl in this show lives, same as Katie Holmes' similar character in Disturbing Behavior.

Can't wait for a Knight's Ridge shoutout. Or one for Rizzo, Stinky Pete, or Sammy B.

April 29 2010 at 11:06 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Download the office

Download the office episodes online

April 29 2010 at 8:19 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jane Boursaw

Great review, Bob. I'm already hooked on the show and can't wait for the next ep. Although I'm so lame I didn't predict the taunting kid being the boyfriend. Love all the players (Frances Conroy - woot!)

April 29 2010 at 2:55 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Peggy C

Alice was the Sheriff's dead wife's name, the mom of the boat owner. Not sure what "Dallas" is about....

April 29 2010 at 2:50 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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