As longtime running shows like Lost and 24 are singing their swan song this May, the opportunity is ripe for new shows to hook viewers in the late spring/ early summer phase of primetime television, and hopefully beyond. Happy Town is hoping to be one show you’ll gladly slide into your weekly routine. The pilot airs tonight (April 28, 2010) and will run on the Wednesday nighttime slot at 10pm EST/9pm CST.
The show features a long list of veteran actors such as Sam Neill (Tudors), Steven Webber (Wings), M.C. Gainey (Lost, Justified), and Amy Acker (Angel) to name a few and revolves around a murder unravels a small town that was dubbed “Happy Town” is anything but. Acker and a few other members of the cast and crew made it out to Wondercon 2010 in San Francisco earlier this month and will be part of my three-part peek into the new ABC whodunit.
The air may smell of the sweetly baked wheat from the local “Our Daily” bread factory, but there’s something bad brewing in the small, and often cold Minnesota town of Haplin. Geoff Stults stars as Tommy Conroy, a deputy under his father, Sheriff Griffin Conroy (Gainey). Their relatively quiet lives are shaken up when the city experiences its first murder in a long time, unearthing some unhealed wounds in Griffin, and many of the locals.
Meanwhile, Henley Boone, played by Lauren German moves into town looking into her family’s history and using her inheritance to open a small candle store. She meets a distinguished, but peculiar Merritt Grieves (Neill) explains to her how a mysterious person known as the “Magic Man” is linked to the disappearances of several people many years ago.
Acker plays Rachel Conroy, Tommy’s wife, and describes the show as two shows in one. “There’s this October Road-like feel of a small town where everyone knows each other and there are relationships within the town. My husband steps into the role of the sheriff in the pilot and everything in the town starts to falls apart at the same time, and that affects our relationship.”
“There’s one guy we’re trying to find and it’s about the lives of these people. You’ll have to follow from week-to-week. It’s one of those things where you think you know everybody but bad stuff happens so somebody you know has to be the one causing this stuff and then people start to distrust each other.”
Amy Acker is no stranger to television shows that build on every episode. She’s best known for her long stint on Joss Whedon’s Angel as Winifred/Illyria was also on Alias, Dollhouse. So what attracts her to such shows?
“You get to do so much more. I’ve watched procedural shows and you can’t tell if it’s season one or seven. I like that the characters get to evolve, and the journey you get to have as an actor. On Angel for example to go from Fred to Illyria and just even the journey of Fred, these shows for me are so much more fun because you get to challenge yourself more.”
So Acker embarks on another mythological show, this time for ABC on Happy Town hoping that they’ll get an audience big enough, and quick enough to show what the show is all about.
Some longtime TV viewers will want to quickly compare this to Twin Peaks because of the whodunit element and even though she admits never seeing much more of an episode of David Lynch’s cult TV show, she explains what’s different about Happy Town.
“Our show has some quirky characters and one of the things I love is that there are 35 recurring characters there are three guys over 300 pounds on the show and you just don’t see that on T.V. [laughs]. We have all types of people to watch and real character actors. It has the quirkiness but not the quite the weirdness of Twin Peaks.”
Acker says that the hook is the whodunit, but what you really want to see is the interactions between the characters.
“Haplin has been “Happy Town” for seven years but prior to that there were these disappearances. When Tommy gets to be sheriff people start going missing again. As things happen it brings out all of these things people have bottled inside and causes people begin to act crazy and react on fear.”
Which brings to another theme of the show, the scare factor. I asked Acker if the show sets out to really scare TV viewers, a task that’s not easy to do.
“When we were shooting it I didn’t feel that way but then watching the previews, I was like, ‘What? It’s that scary?’ [laughs] And now people are coming up to me saying that they’re a little scared to watch it.”
“It’s more of a puzzle,” Acker continues. “They give you a piece every week. It doesn’t remind me of a horror movie but there are some gruesome parts but that’s not what drives the story.”
Acker admits to being more of a nerd than a geek, perhaps channeling her inner-Winifred, her book worm character in Angel. She likes shows that get her involved so she can try and figure it out, and thinks this show will appeal to those who share her opinion. She still trying to figure out who the Magic Man is.
“I was joking with someone, but I think this is the first time I think I haven’t killed anyone. [laughs] But then again, who knows, I may be the one killing everyone.”