|In Short:||Questions, questions, questions. The greatest town Sherriff ever. Amy Acker. Steven Weber. Oh, and a really handsome man.|
|SHERRIFF GRIFFIN CONROY:||Woah. Look at this. A fracas. An imbroglio. A mob scene in downtown Haplin. That’s a rare occurrence, John.|
Creepy people live in idyllic little towns. We know this well. Twin Peaks. Stepford. Springfield (no, not the one from The Simpsons, though I guess that’s pretty freaky, too). None of these places are ever as they seem; there’s always a seamy underbelly, an unspoken ickiness, a deep well of crazy running just beneath the surface.
Hell, even Stars Hollow had Kirk.
In the town of Haplin, Minnesota – Happy Town to its residents – the picture perfect locale it presents to the casual observer belies a painful history of bizarre disappearances, a gruesome murder, some truly odd individuals and a nascent but palpable power struggle between good and evil.
I’ll tell you one thing: this show certainly keeps you guessing. The biggest question of all for me at the moment, though, is this: is it genre? And the answer is: I just don’t know. I mean, there may be some kind of Dark Magic at work here, or it may just be your garden variety human kind of monsters in the dark. For now, I’m going to put Happy Town squarely in the horror/thriller camp and leave it there (which, not incidentally, makes it utterly appropriate to include mention of it in this here magazine).
Things certainly start off spookily, with a young blonde ingénue (Sarah Gadon) espying nefarious doings in an ice fishing cabin late one night. Young blonde ingénue (who had, incidentally, just been making out with someone in a parked car) + nefarious doings should = death to ingénue, but she somehow manages to survive the night. (The inhabitant of the ice fishing cabin isn’t quite so lucky.)
The next morning we meet her, learn her name is Georgia and she’s from the wrong side of the tracks, and we later discover that the boy with whom she’d been tempting horror genre fate the night previous is the too-pretty privileged son of the town’s founding family, Andrew Haplin (Ben Schnetzer); the two of them have been Romeo and Julietting it up in secret, but are publically at cruel verbal war, which is just so Veronica Mars that it made me want to go and re-watch that show immediately.
We also meet new girl in town, Henley (Lauren German), who has purportedly come to Haplin to open a candle shop (?). She is greeted by perky realtor Miranda (Linda Kash) and is soon settled in at a Boarding House, a large manor peopled with fluttering widows and the slightly sinister but charming Merritt Grieves (Sam Neill), and boasting a mysterious third floor that she is warned never to dare enter under threat of eviction.
Oooh. Mysterious off-limits top floors. How very Gothic. Loving it.
Also in town is handsome and carefree family man Tommy (Geoff Stults), his lovely wife Rachel (Amy Acker) and their young daughter Emma (Sophia Ewaniuk). Turns out our ingénue is Emma’s babysitter, and Emma’s grandfather is the town Sherriff (M.C. Gainey), for whom the very uncomplicated Tommy works.
The two lawmen are called to a disturbance in town, and here is really where the cracks in the town’s peaceful façade begin to appear. A large banner is strung over the town square emblazoned with the pictures of seven people and the hauntingly redundant words REMEMBER TO NEVER FORGET.
Who are these seven people? What are we supposed to be not forgetting? Ah, I see. Those people are missing. Including amongst them the 8-year old daughter of one John Haplin (Steven Weber) whom we early identify as a Man of High Local Standing since he is the best-dressed of anyone thus far, and also shares a last name with the town. And he says something vaguely threatening about his mother, so one presumes she is the matriarchal martinet type who holds the whole of Haplin in her honeyed but vice-like grip. (We haven’t met her yet so I can’t say for sure. Like I said, I’m just kind of presuming.)
A near riot erupts over the presence of the banner (clearly, the people of Haplin don’t want to remember not to forget) and just when the remarkably erudite Sherriff (I love this guy!) has sorted it out and thinks he’s solved his biggest problem, he finds out about The Murder.
Now, in the general run of things, a murder is a big deal in a small town. Haplin apparently hasn’t had one in years. But surely, even if you haven’t ever had to tell someone that their husband has been murdered, you’ve seen enough TV shows to know how it’s done? Surely you know enough to take them somewhere private, let them sit down, and break the news gently? Surely you know enough not to give them this ghastly news quite baldly on the floor of a bread factory (the town’s largest employer and owned by the Haplins, by the way), where they have ready access to baking flower with which to attack you, in front of an entire Elementary School field trip -- being conducted by wife Rachel -- and while they’re wearing a hairnet?
Jeez. Sherriff’s get Tommy and his Deputy buddy Root Beer (named so, one assumes, due to his flaming hair and -- ew -- moustache) aren’t exactly the highest risen loaves in the town’s figurative oven, huh?
Meanwhile, new girl Henley is making nice with Sam Neill (I know he’s called Merritt something or other, but let’s just stick with Sam Neill), and he gives her -- and us -- every reason to consider him the weirdest of potentially serial killery weird guys this side of Norman Bates. And then the Sherriff throws a little more suspicion onto those dapper shoulders when he demands to know why Sam has yet to leave town.
And then Sam maybe does something to the Sherriff’s wedding ring, and then the Sherriff goes crazy!
Which is when we discover that not only is Tommy so very not a fitting person to be entrusted with a gun, but he may actually be mentally deficient. Let me ask you: you’re confronted with a glass door and the person behind it is acting like they’re gonna do themselves a mischief. Do you rattle on the door handle incessantly, begging them to open up? Or do you immediately, oh, I don’t know, smash the glass? Good thing Detective Hobbs (Robert Wisdom) was there, or Tommy might even now -- despite his father having cut off his hand while spouting some kind of maddened prophecy -- be politely knocking on the door and asking to be let in.
So, the end of the episode leaves us with a lot of questions (in addition to the big one of just what the hell kind of show is this?). Why did the Sherriff want Sam Neill out of town? Did Sam Neill put some kind of spell on the Sherriff to make him act all nutty? Or is he a red herring, and the Sherriff went insane due to the return of this “Magic Man” who is apparently responsible for those seven disappearances?
How did the Sherriff know about Chloe? Is it the same Chloe? Why is Henley calling herself that if her name is really Chloe? Of all the names in the world, why would you choose Henley?
Also, what does the question mark with the halo around it that is graffitied all over town, and was printed on that not-forget banner, and is tattooed on Henley/Chloe’s shoulder, mean--and just what is on that mysterious third floor? Who was Henley/Chloe talking to, and what is she expecting to find up there?
And how dumb is Tommy really?
Happy Town’s first episode asked all of those questions and more, and I, for one, am very interested in the answers. Let’s hope the show lasts long for me to get them… but it is on ABC, the new byword for foolish treatment of new shows (sorry, FOX, you have lost your crown), so that doesn’t seem especially likely.
Oh, well. Regardless. It was nice to see Amy Acker in a new kind of wife-and-mother-ish role, I totally loved that Sherriff, Steven Weber’s always fun to watch and despite the apparently stultifying density of his character, Geoff Stults is really handsome. Like, seriously. It’s ridiculous how handsome.
Just stand there and look pretty, dude. And I promise I’ll tune in every week of this 10 episode first season. If you manage to make it that far.
-- Rachel Hyland