'Happy Town' ... not so much

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With "The Deep End" in January and now "Happy Town," ABC corners the market on TV shows that have some appeal despite their utter blandness.

"Happy Town" (10 p.m. Wednesday, WTAE) wants to be a modern, more accessible "Twin Peaks," but viewers who reveled in that show's obtuse artistry will be let down by "Happy Town," from the producers of the equally humdrum "October Road." They populate their newest show with generically quirky characters.

Great TV always flows from the specificity of a show's characters; "Happy Town" traffics in banal generalities.

Haplin, Minn., is known as Happy Town by the locals so of course it must be hiding something dark and terrible. In this case, it's a series of disappearances that happened once a year for eight years and ceased a few years back. Local residents blame the unseen, so-called "Magic Man," and now he may have returned.

The series begins as young Henley Boone (Lauren German) moves into town with plans to open a candle shop. While she searches for a home, she stays in a boarding house populated by widows, an occasionally stern owner (who orders Henley not to visit the third floor, so of course she must) and dapper, sinister-seeming Merritt Grieves (Sam Neill).

'Happy Town'
  • When: 10 p.m. Wednesday, ABC.
  • Starring: Geoff Stults (above).

Henley appears to possibly know Grieves and it's soon apparent her visit to Haplin is orchestrated; she even bears a tattoo -- a halo over a question mark -- seen in graffiti all around the town.

The locals at the center of the story include town sheriff Griffin Conroy (M.C. Gainey) and his son, Tommy (Geoff Stults, "October Road"), a sheriff's deputy with a family. Tommy's wife, Rachel (Amy Acker, "Dollhouse"), works in the town bread factory, which is owned and operated by John Haplin (Steven Weber, "Wings"), son of the town matriarch, Peggy (Frances Conroy, "Six Feet Under").

Add to that a Romeo and Juliet story among two of the town's teenagers, a pizza maker (Abraham Benrubi, "Men in Trees") whose secret ingredient is New York tap water and a gruesome murder that kicks off the first episode.

Viewers may need a scorecard to keep track of who's who and how these townsfolk are connected to one another in this over-stuffed series. Then again, the characters feel so overly familiar, it's not too tough to grasp their purpose in this series that's more interested in using people as plot drivers or representatives of an aspect of the town's mysteries than as full-bodied, believable characters.


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