Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Happy Town vs Twin Peaks

At today's TCA, critics who have seen clips of ABC's upcoming series Happy Town began the session by comparing the show, set in a seemingly idyllic Minnesota town bedeviled by the serial killer "The Magic Man," to another ABC classic, the early '90s show Twin Peaks.

According to executive producer Scott Rosenberg, some similarities may be intentional, since exec producer Josh Appelbaum and others on the show are huge fans of the show; Rosenberg, he admits, was not. "So if you think it's too much like Twin Peaks, blame them. If you think it's not enough like Twin Peaks, blame me."

Rosenberg says he's actually more a Stephen King fan -- "Salem's Lot was a huge book in my childhood like Twin Peaks was to them," he explained. "So it's like a stem cell smush of Salem's Lot and Twin Peaks. No one did better that small town thing like [King did] with Castle Rock."

Appelbaum and Rosenberg were also the creators of two other failed series, Life on Mars and October Road, "which for some reason you people hated more than anything. We were treated like Michael Vick," Rosenberg joked. But as even he admitted, in that series, "there wasn't a lot of incident. It was just a small town world. But we loved that world, the small town and the sense of community. So we thought, 'Let's do October Road, but where shit happens.' That should be our tag line actually. 'October Road, where shit happens.'"

That shit, the producers went on to explain, won't include Peaks' predilection for weird midgets and supernatural phenomena. As Appelbaum explains, "Twin Peaks was very much set in a world that was wholly bizarre. Happy Town is much more the real world. there are dark corners to all of that. there are certainly surreal moments that pop up, but it's very grounded in the real world."

The producers reveal that they created Happy Town -- set in the fictional town of Haplin, MN but filmed in Port Hope, Ontario -- upon realizing that "there isn't a scary show on TV that doesn't fall into 2 categories. There's 'forensic porn,' which is bodies and women being abused, or vampires. And we realized, 'What about doing a show that's scary but very earthbound and grounded in reality?'"

Lauren German's character's Henley is our entry point into Haplin, and seems from the clips to be soon in jeopardy due to the Magic Man, whose terror reign had seemingly ended years before but has now begun anew. "There are a ton of entry points into the show," Appelbaum explained. If you're into romance, or crime, the show will hook you in.

And unlike with Twin Peaks, he promises that the core Magic Man mystery will have a satisfying conclusion, within the show's first season. "'[Who Killed] Laura Palmer extended into the second season, but we will answer the question of who is the Magic Man in the final moments of the first season. It's all about playing fair with the audience." And unlike say a show like CBS' Harper's Island -- of which Appelbaum says he was a fan -- Happy Town is prepared for a season 2 even beyond that revelation. "That doesn't mean that the rest of the ensemble will [learn the killer's identity.] It's a shocking revelation, and will turn the show on its head in a big way. It will have cataclysmic repercussions for the town."

Also on the panel: series stars Geoff Stults, Amy Acker, Steven Weber and Sam Neill, who revealed how, even as the cast filmed in the frigid Canadian outdoors last March, the show's producers kept a tight hold on all the show's secrets. "None of us knew whether we were bad guys or good guys so we had to keep things ambivalent." And as far as the identity of The Magic Man, that was kept "on total lockdown."

We won't learn the identity of the Magic Man anytime soon, either; ABC has not yet scheduled the debut of the show's 8 episodes.

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