Friday, April 17, 2009

Pilot Script Review - Happy Town

Written By: Josh Appelbaum, & André Nemec & Scott Rosenberg
Draft Date: January 22, 2009
Pages: 94 (two-hour pilot)
Network: ABC
Category: Jury's Out

Here's a script that I *do* wish I'd reviewed closer to the time of reading. As a "Jury's Out" review, I feel like there's an added need to justify the categorization beyond "I loved it" and "I hated it." The reason I put Happy Town in the "Jury's Out" category is because, frankly, it's a jumbled mess. There are too many characters, too ill-defined on the page, too quickly (I don't think many new characters are introduced in the second half of the script). However, a lot of that confusion can easily be cleared up on the screen (or, conversely, made more confusing by bad execution). The script being a two-hour pilot also put me in "Jury's Out" mode. Two-hour pilots (hell, even extended pilots) need to be something special... after all, you're asking studios and networks to drop more cash into a project that may not see its way to the fall (or midseason) schedule. Lost was special (and even it aired as two separate episodes). Happy Town is, well, jumbled and I wonder if streamlining the story to an hour, getting rid of some of the characters, and really setting up the "oooh, mysterious happenings in a small town" conceit more smoothly would have made me love it.

After all, this is a series that desperately wants to be the next Twin Peaks. I would love it if this series were the next Twin Peaks. But let's be honest... there is never going to be a next Twin Peaks. Also, do you trust the people who ran the American version of Life on Mars (and wrote its much-derided ending) to write the next Twin Peaks? No? Me neither (and I didn't even watch Life on Mars...)

God knows it tries, what with the ominous "Blue Door" (cough Black Lodge, Red Room, cough) and the central mystery of the "Magic Man" (who kidnapped kids years ago from the town, was never caught, and has now apparently returned and kidnapped a kid). The pilot is more concerned with a murder that takes place in the opening moments. We see the victim, but not the killer. The murder is solved in the pilot — someone murdered Jerry Friddle because that someone erroneously believed poor hapless Jerry was the Magic Man.

Happy Town takes place in Haplin, Minnesota, a small town with a bread-making factory. It is centered... sort of (there are, like 50 characters)... on the Conroy family (the grandfather is the county sheriff). But we also meet the mayor (a woman!), her family, some criminal elements, plenty of other residents, and even members of the old folks home / boarding house (where the Mysterious New Girl In Town winds up staying). Haplin is called Happy Town because it has been for the last seven years (since the kidnappings stopped when Sheriff Conroy chased the Magic Man out of town... or something... since the Magic Man was never identified...)

The first half, though filled with too many characters, plays fine. The second half is where things get very, very, very, very weird (kickstarted with Sheriff Conroy going nuts and chopping his own hand off). In addition we get some very "see, we're just like Twin Peaks!" stuff with the introduction of the "Blue Door" as well as the introduction of "Handsome Sam" who drugs a teenage girl's drink and then she's, like, maybe raped or something? I dunno, it was all very... weird. Oh, and we find out that The Mysterious New Girl In Town has a tattoo of some mark found around Haplin and with literature about the kids kidnapped / vanished / whatever you want to call it by the Magic Man (a question mark with a halo).

So I remain confused. But... there is potential here. And things could turn out well on the screen. This could fit in on ABC. I can definitely see that... if the execution of the pilot is excellent and it winds up far more coherent and compelling than the script.

We shall see...

1 comment:

airmeki said...

Super review Travis. Excellent, in-depth and detailed; nicely worded too. I particularly liked how you did not let yourself being biased by your own personal viewing experience. Well done. There are, however a couple of things that I'd like to point out:

1. You've mentioned the writers of 'Life On Mars' (American). And you let it sound like as if you had a problem with this show (especially the ending). Then you mentioned that you didn't even watch the show? I don't get it.
L.O.M. was a great show, great cast, and due to the cancellation, ABC 'generously' inhaled some life into this show by letting it run until the end of the season. Hence, the weird ending, as they HAD to conclude with some story, in a very, very short time.

2. That tattoo on the girl's shoulder was not the Mysterious New Girl In Town's tattoo - it was that of the girl she spoke with on her cell ... that girl’s name is CLOE. Remember? Cloe? The sheriff went off into a few 10 second trance attacks and mentioned that name over and over again? Then, due to Cloe he hacked away his hand.

I agree with you on most parts, though: Too many characters in too short of a time. Too much mystery right off the bat.

Let the pilot not fool us. I am never fooled by the pilot; I never ever judge a show by it. I too think, Happy Town, has potential. And I'm pretty optimistic that the show will see a dramatic increase in quality. Sam Neill will carry the show, for sure, and MC Gainey, hopefully, will continue to show off his great acting skills.

Thanks for this blog, Travis! Finally someone I was able to talk with about this show :-)