Sunday, July 11, 2010

TV: They didn't name it Lucky Town

"Don't let the name fool you," ABC bored in their tease last April for Happy Town. Happy Town, like Eastwick and assorted other ABC shows of the last ten or so months, existed mainly to allow a few ABC execs to delude themselves into thinking they were all-powerful and all-knowing. While canceling shows made them feel all-powerful, an actual all-knowing exec would have realized they had way too many holes in their schedule.


Happy Town could have filled one of those holes this fall. The show had a lot going for it, chiefly its two stars: Lauren German and Geoff Stults. Both gave amazing, full-bodied performances that could hook you in and, given the chance, created a loyal following. It never got that chance. It was canceled and, despite ABC promising to run all eight episodes, they dumped the last two episodes online.

Which is not to say there were no problems with the show. It suffered, for example, from similar problems that the creative team's last show suffered from. That show was October Road. Set aside Stults and there was no man who was involving and sexually appealing. Possibly had a woman been a part of the team (Scott Rosenberg, Andre Nemec and Josh Appelbaum), Dean Winters would never have been dropped from the show to be replaced with the hideous Steven Weber.

Steven Weber, to put it into lingo the producers can understand, is an erection shriveler.

There are no moist moments when Weber is on air. First of all, he's never been that attractive to begin with but, when he almost passed for attractive, his hair was blond (Wings). Twenty years after he started playing that role, his hair is dark and worn as if it were colonial times. The hair, like the body, is revolting. Add in that he comes across onscreen as a lightweight and there was never any reason to cast him of John Haplin. Unattractive, unappealing and unable to deliver any line without a whine reading, Steven Weber may have been the very thing that ran viewers off.

Certainly, his post Wings career demonstrates that he is both an audience and show killer. But he was supposed to be the most important man in the twon of Haplin and, in fact, the most important man in the Haplin family. While Peggy Haplin (his mother, played by Frances Conroy) ran things, her power would have appeared all the more frightening if her son hadn't been such a simpering fool.

Haplin was a "Happy Town" largely because the series of kidnappings had ceased. Henley (really Chloe to those outside Haplin, played by German) came into the mysterious town just as things began to shift -- including the sheriff's freak out which puts Deputy Tommy Conroy (Stults) into the sherrif's seat.

Henley moves into a local boarding house with a bizarre landlady who thinks she can steer all conversations and keep people off of the house's third floor. The boarding house has one male resident, Merrit Grieves (Sam Neil). He runs a film curio shop in town and has all the older ladies enraptured. He and Henley bond over their natures (both are highly secretive). Henley is not 'new' to Haplin as everyone thinks and, through numerous phone calls, she's guided by another Haplin native.

As the episodes progress, Henley makes it to the third floor, grabs what she knew was hidden there (a hammer) and is almost caught but a distraction by Merrit allows her to continue her own secretive plot. Driving out of town with Carly Simon's "You're So Vain" playing on the stereo, her car is basically attacked by a bird causing her to run off the road and into several trees. At which point a tall, dark stranger appears. He 'rescues' her and they end up bedding down in a motel. When he's gone, she quickly learns, so is the hammer.

TDS is just out of prison, Tommy's old high school buddy/nemises and part of the town's low-life Stiviletto family. When she turns her hammer over to Peggy Haplin, Henley is paid off with millions; however, there is a catch. She can't leave town. Henley takes Peggy's words to mean that she must stay, as in order. She doesn't really believe Peggy can prevent her from leaving. She soon finds out otherwise as the roads close down, the train stops running and much more. After several cat and mouse games, a confrontation takes place in which Peggy pretends to know what Henley must be thinking: Did Greggy Stiviletto really love her or just seduce her because Peggy paid him to? Peggy went on and on and on. Then ordered her henchman to take Henley to a guest house and keep her there. On the way, Merritt knocked him out. The same Merritt who was aiding Henley by pretending to . . . be in love with . . . Peggy Haplin.

Frances Conroy's finest moments on the show came when she was forced to relive the taunts she hurled at Henley and realize that they applied to her own life.

Henley's was the plot that move steadily forward. There were many other plots and the bulk of them circled around each other.

But it was a show that could involve you and, provided Weber wasn't onscreen, could keep you longing for more.

It had a teen love story, it had a class (economic class) storyline, it had a little bit of everything.

The kidnapper was known as the Magic Man (and Heart's "Magic Man" was often played on the show). At one point, the end of episode three, the Magic Man has kidnapped Tommy's wife Rachel (Amy Aker). Which made the revelation of who the Magic Man was in episode eight all the more shocking.

The hammer. Henley stole it back from Peggy. She took it to Tommy and explained that his mother did not die of natural causes, as he was told, but was instead killed with this hammer by Peggy Haplin. Tommy confronted his father. As Henley (and whomever was guiding her from outside the town) expected, his father then rushed off to see the Magic Man.

Who was . . . Alice Conroy (Dee Wallace). Obviously not dead. And that she was the Magic Man and that she was alive (and that she'd kidnapped her own daughter-in-law Rachel) raised a series of questions. Ones that Henley would have, no doubt, pursued.

But ABC, as we noted at the start, instead has way too many holes in their schedule.

"They'll just fill them up with new shows," you say.

Well, yes, they will; however, will anyone watch.

FlashForward wasn't our favorite show of the year by any means; however, it did have some dedicated fans. It was far from alone and ABC canceled a lot of shows from fall 2009 through spring 2010. That's really not how you encourage viewing. Especially when it comes to new shows. If, for example, you enjoyed Eastwick or FlashForward, you might intentionally avoid ABC's new shows this fall feeling that anything you enjoy will end up canceled by the network anyway.

In the end, thanks to ABC, all that Happy Town really accomplished was demonstrating that Geoff Stults and Lauren German are two of the most interesting talents to emerge. Stults was known for playing the boy (we use that term intentionally) on 7th Heaven. Here he played a very complex man and gave an always surprising performance. German had to both make her character come alive and act as the show's tour guide. She carried both tasks off with plenty of talent and charm to spare. The suits may have canceled the show before it could find an audience, but not before Stults and German had a chance to strut their stuff.
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