THE SHOW "Happy Town"
REASON TO WATCH Lots of fine actors, notably Sam Neill, Frances Conroy and M.C. Gainey.
WHAT IT'S ABOUT Haplin, Minn., is one of those idyllic spots where everyone knows everyone, and likes everyone. But trust everyone? 'Nother story. There are mysteries here, most notably a string of unsolved disappearances that took place years earlier and were attributed to the "Magic Man" - so named for his ability to make his victims vanish without a trace.
In the opening moments, a young woman hears the screams of a man in the distance; the poor fellow is about to get a spike through the noggin by an unknown assailant. Sheriff Griffin Conroy (Gainey) and son, deputy Tommy Conroy (Geoff Stults), later investigate the murder in a town brimming with oddballs. They include matriarch Peggy Haplin (Conroy) - owner of the town's major industry, a bakery - to the ne'er-do-well Stiviletto boys, who are kind of the Larry, Darryl and Darryl of Haplin.
But what about that curious newcomer, Merritt Grieves (Neill), who opens a movie memorabilia shop named "House of Usher"? Or Henley Boone (Lauren German), another new arrival, whose dearly departed mother once lived in "Happy Town"? There's nothing odd about Big Dave Duncan (Abraham Benrubi), who runs the local pizza joint . . . is there? Oddest of all could be Sheriff Conroy, who lapses into bizarre reveries about someone named Chloe.
MY SAY Sinister towns are as much a glorious prime-time staple (from "Wolf Lake" to "Twin Peaks" to Mystic Falls of "Vampire Diaries") as a glorious Stephen King staple, and a King-like aura very much hangs over "Happy Town." The show also is packed with movie references - some cleverly and amusingly masked - and even the stray literary ones.
For example, I'm willing to wager this will be TV's only series this spring to reference "Tess of the d'Urbervilles." (It's also a modern spin on "The Pied Piper of Hamelin;" Hamelin, Haplin...get it?)
But never pretentious or show-offy, "Happy Town" is like that girl who just wants to have fun. It plays with TV conventions, pokes (occasional) fun at them, reveres pop culture and still manages to mount a reasonably good mystery.