Here’s a Halloween Horror for you: the suspenseful, potentially supernatural mystery show that gets canceled before the mystery resolves. Or even before questions can be answered. Technically, they let you know who the bad guy is. But that’s a revelation that raises so many more questions!
Happy Town, released in 2010, canceled 6 episodes in, with 2 more available.
I always figured this show was a casualty of being too early for its niche. It seems like it would fit right in with some of today’s shows. But back then, maybe it was just too weird. Or maybe some of the middle episodes dragged (which they did!), or maybe I’m the only person in the world who was intrigued by it. It’s a vague precursor to things like True Detective or Fargo. It probably had its own genesis in Twin Peaks. A small town, a detective in over his head, a lot of people playing manipulation games, and of course, lots and lots of secrets.
But I want to tell you all about it, so you can share in my suffering.
The cast was great: all of them believable as who they were, all of them familiar SF actors.
Geoff Stults (from The Finder, also canceled too soon) as the easy-going deputy who just happens to be the Sheriff’s son, promoted beyond his competence level, when a freakish tragedy strikes his father down.
Lauren German (from Lucifer) as the mysterious woman with a mysterious agenda.
Frances Conroy (American Horror Story) as Peggy Haplin, the town’s matriarch, who runs things ruthlessly and effectively.
And of course, no supernaturally tinged story would be complete without Sam Neill chewing at the scenery (delightfully) as the ominous shop owner who knows more than he’s saying.
Also, Amy Acker’s in it.
The premise is that Haplin, the town, is a small, isolated town that seems deeply peaceful, except for that little matter of The Magic Man—a serial killer who snatched one person a year for seven years, out of the middle of crowds, never to be seen again. The Magic Man vanished, but his victims were never found.
Then, someone commits a violent murder of the local pervert and… everything goes to hell. The Sheriff starts losing his mind, and all he can say is that now that blood has been spilled, the Magic Man will return.
At the same time, the Mysterious Stranger ™ in the person of Henley Boone comes to town. She’s got an agenda—to find a specific item and use it against Peggy Haplin, who has somehow wronged her mother.
And once the Magic Man is rumored to be back, so come the hunters: Dan Farmer, the state policeman; Merrit Grieves, there to avenge his stolen son.
Plus, strange birds, dead birds, a random polypterus fish swimming through a dead body, and mystical movies of some significant import (never to be deciphered, damn it), and criminal junkyard brothers, and hallucinations, and kidnappings and truth serum and and… they just keep piling it on.
Which is actually part of the problem. The pacing is rapid-fire for the first three episodes. Then it suddenly slows, content to deepen and add mysteries, but not to move the plot forward. Or even give you small answers. So, I’m not really surprised it got canceled. Only sad, because the pace picks up dramatically again around episode 6, and continues to be quick until the truncated end.
So much is left unexplored. So much is left unexplained.
Is the Magic Man supernatural or not? And either way, what the hell was their motive for their actions? There really aren’t that many options. And what role does Henley’s mother play in all this? That stays opaque. In fact, if you consider Tommy Conroy (Stults) and Henley Boone (German) the two protagonists, they don’t actually meet up until episode 7, which is … probably another reason the show got canceled.
That said, it’s still a source of despair. I really wanted the answers. I really loved the atmosphere and the build-up and the is it/isn’t it taste of the supernatural. At the very least, thankfully the show-writers gave us the identity of the Magic Man, which allows us to chew over motives, rather than a fruitless hunt for his identity. Because trust me, the answer comes out of the blue.
Either way, if you have six hours or so to kill, and you like murder mysteries laced with bizarre and supernaturally-tinged elements, you could do worse than Happy Town. If you watch it, come and tell me what you think.