Sunday 25 April 2010
Happy Town (pilot)
Compartmentalized, hour-long mysteries never failed to draw an audience. When Twin Peaks premiered it introduced a new kind of prime-time storytelling and the format was successfully applied many times over. The season-long plot, a story played out over months, promised continued mystery and intrigue. Whereas procedurals and whodunnits offered closure week after week, these others offered suspense. Closure would come, but it was a long way off--its promise brought people to the table each week, but with each new revelation the larger mystery would deepen, it seemed. It's enticing, and if it's done right, it's wholly compelling.
I have my reservations as to whether Happy Town will live up to this pedigree. In the present and recent past, similar shows have failed to live up to expectations. FlashForward has ceased to be a mystery, Fringe's overwriting caused it to be much less interesting than it should be, and Harper's Island suffered from crippling stupidity in execution. Moving beyond plot, the problem, largely, is one of timing. Reveal too much too soon and the story stalls. Wait too long and there's no time to process. If, by some dubious miracle, a mystery manages both, then the story becomes tedious and incredulous; everyone will have long stopped caring when the end finally comes.
Although it's too soon to condemn Happy Town to any of these three fates, the show is going to have to slow down if it doesn't want to burn out before before its finale. The pilot begins with murder and ends in mutilation. A girl is forbidden to visit the third floor of a rooming house. The Sheriff is openly hostile towards a new arrival in town, and appears to be mentally unstable. We are introduced to a multitude of characters, all of whom appear to wear their emotions on their sleeves. There's no subtlety to the story or the people, and there are no less than five mysteries at work, three of which are tied together at the end of the episode.
All this isn't to say there weren't some good moments, but the hilarious bridge-playing ladies who moon over Sam Neill aren't enough to carry the show. And the levity of the moment is overshadowed by the show's forceful intrigue. I will continue to watch Happy Town, but I'd rather be doing it on my own terms.