Let's talk about Happy Town. You don't know what that is, you say? I'm not surprised.
Happy Town debuted back in April on ABC, taking over the 10pm slot on Wednesdays after Ugly Betty finished its run. And it failed miserably. It was pulled from the schedule after 3 episodes for the remainder of May sweeps and then again after another 3 episodes aired in June. But the final 2 episodes are now available online at ABC.com. So let's chat about this little turd, shall we?
Happy Town is not a good show. But it's a good show. You know what I mean? It's not particularly well-done; the plot is all over the place, some of the acting is a bit suspect, the pace is so slow at times that you want to fall asleep but so fast at other times that you feel like you missed an episode somewhere, and it's a fairly generic "how are they all connected?" mystery. It's basically ABC's version of last summer's awesome CBS flop Harper's Island. It's about a small town in Minnesota named Haplin, but commonly referred to by the townspeople as Happy Town. But obviously things aren't so happy there. Several years ago a man abducted several young people, and no trace of them was ever found again; among the kidnapped was a young girl whose family basically runs the town and has more say than law enforcement. All of a sudden there are new clues pertaining to the Magic Man (as the kidnapper is called, referring to how easily the victims disappeared), the town sheriff goes batshit, and his inexperienced son must takeover. Strangers arrive with unknown motives, severed hands pop up more than once, people are murdered, old murder weapons turn up mysteriously, a new kidnapping occurs... basically Haplin goes to Hell.
It was interesting enough, as you can probably tell from that description. A lot happens, and it happens fast; but whenever something isn't happening, everything comes to a crashing halt. The characters themselves are not the least bit interesting, and the only reason we care about any of them is to see how they tie into the bigger mystery at hand. Frances Conroy lends some creepiness (and a gross milky eye) as the town's First Lady and real power, Peggy Haplin. Amy Acker tries her darndest to make her role into something, but it's just not meant to be; her character is most interesting after she goes missing. Sam Neill is kind of awesome, but his character is just a confusing red herring and he thereby feels worthless by the end of the series' eight episodes.
But what I really want to talk about is the finale. The final two episodes, as previously mentioned, are available for your viewing pleasure (along with the others, I'm sure) over at ABC. If only every episode had been as tense and mysterious as the finale, this show might have stood a fighting chance via word of mouth. Because this episode really had very little to do with the rest of the series; everyone's motivations changed, everyone's previously established characters were thrown out the window, everything we knew about Haplin and the people in it was flipped on its head. We are finally told who the real Magic Man is (thankfully it was not the character whom they'd been setting up since the second episode), and it's a crazy reveal. I don't really understand where it came from or how the writers planned on moving forward, but it was pretty cool.
Which brings me to the problem. ABC only ever ordered 8 episodes of Happy Town. That, to me, screams "mini-series," similar to Harper's Island and this summer's Persons Unknown. The writers had to know that this show had to be a runaway hit in order to justify a second season. After all, how often is a show committed for 8 episodes? I can't think of any other examples, outside of maybe reality shows on Bravo. So I don't really understand why the writers left so much open-ended. Who is Henley really? What is her connection to the Sheriff? Why did Rachel think she seemed "familiar?" How is Alice still alive? Where are the other victims? What was the film Peggy showed her grandson? What is the relationship between Merrit and Dan? Between Merrit and Henley? These are important questions, and even though we know who the Magic Man is... it kind of doesn't matter, but the other questions are just as pressing.
So perhaps this should serve as an open letter to all television writers. If you are writing a mystery, always have a way to wrap up the series after your initial order. Because you may not get any more than that. And then you have people angry at you. People like me.