PASADENA, Calif. — The producers of "Happy Town" fully expect their show will be compared to "Twin Peaks."
"I ran into someone who was in 'Twin Peaks' recently, and I said to her, 'I'll give you a dollar for every review of my new show that doesn't mention your show, and I guarantee you I won't wind up owing you a nickel,' " said creator/executive producer Scott Rosenbaum. "It's one of those things that you sort of can't avoid. ('Happy Town') is a spooky, small-town show, and that was sort of the gold standard for spooky, small-town shows.
"It's certainly not 'Twin Peaks.' It's a different time. It's a different show. But at the same time, there is a lot of 'Twin Peaks' DNA in 'Happy Town.' "
The most obvious difference is that the producers of "Happy Town" seem to have a plan, whereas the producers of "Twin Peaks" didn't have a clue where they were going.
"Happy Town" is set in the small town of Haplin, Minn. At first glance, it's a nice place, but there's a dark undercurrent. Things have been peaceful for the past five years, but there was a series of unsolved kidnappings.
And the kidnapper — the Magic Man — has never been caught.
In the opening moments of Wednesday's premiere, there's a horrific murder that's tied back to the Magic Man's crimes. (There are a couple of horrific acts of violence in the first hour, but — while it's clear what's happening — we don't actually see the acts.)
The town is filled with characters who may or may not be what they appear. Who have mysteries of their own.
At the center of all this is good-guy Tommy Conroy (Geoff Stults), a deputy whose father is the longtime town sheriff.
The cast includes Tommy's wife, Rachel (Amy Acker); his daughter, Emma (Sophia Ewaniuk); and his childhood friend, Big Dave Duncan (Abraham Benrubi).
Henley Boone (Lauren German) has just arrived in town, and she's not who she says she is.
The matriarch of the town's powerful Haplin family, Peggy (Frances Conroy), has her own agenda. Her son, John (Stephen Weber), is obsessed with the kidnapping of his daughter by the Magic Man years earlier. John's son, Andrew (Ben Schnetzer), is secretly involved with Georgia Bravin (Sarah Gadon), a girl from the wrong side of the tracks who witnessed a horrible crime.
Merritt Graves (Sam Neill) is a charming/sinister newcomer who runs a movie memorabilia shop — just another town oddity. Like the weird graffiti that's all over town — a halo over a question mark.
While Appelbaum tells us that "Happy Town" is "very grounded in the real world," there also seem to be sort of supernatural elements to what's going on.
"Supernatural is probably the wrong word for it. ... I would say there's magic working around the town," Appelbuam said.
The producers are promising that there will be answers. That, in eighth and final episode this spring, viewers will learn the identity of the Magic Man.
"In the final moments of the first season, that answer will be revealed, which is, to us, really kind of playing fair with the audience," Appelbaum said.
While ABC is advertising "Happy Town" as a "limited series," the producers have planned for a second season. And more.
"The audience is going to find out who the Magic Man is. That doesn't mean the rest of the (characters) will," Appelbaum said. "When you find out, it's a shocking revelation. So it will really turn the show on its head in a great way. It's not going to be as simple as, 'Oh, now let's go arrest that person.' It's going to have cataclysmic repercussions for the fabric of the town."
After watching the first three episodes, I'm not sure if "Happy Town" will deliver on its promise. Let's just say that I'm cautiously optimistic.
If it doesn't work, well, we only have to invest in eight episodes. And I'm willing to make that investment.
Particularly because those eight episodes have already been produced. So, one way or another, we'll get to see them.
What: "Happy Town"
When: Debuts Wednesday at 9 p.m.
Channel: ABC/Ch. 4
The bottom line: This creepy show has potential ... but it's iffy.