Happy Town - Josh Appelbaum and Scott Rosenberg
Happy Town - Creators Josh Appelbaum and Scott Rosenberg © ABC Click top right & left sides to navigate images, or use arrow keys

Haplin, Minnesota, has lived with an uneasy peace for the past five years, following s number of unsolved kidnappings. That status changed abruptly with another bizarre abduction that the people in the small town believe has been perpetrated by the elusive ‘Magic Man.’

This is the premise of ABC’s new drama Happy Town, which many pundits have likened to the cult series Twin Peaks, which the producers of the new show, Scott Rosenberg and Josh Appelbaum, willingly acknowledge.

Is there any downside to the promo, ‘From the network that brought you Twin Peaks?’

Happy Town 1.03 - Stephen McHattie and Ben Schnetzer
Episode 1.03 'Polly Wants a Crack at Her' - Carl Bravin (Stephen McHattie) and Andrew Haplin (Ben Schnetzer) © ABC

Scott Rosenberg: 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.’

It’s one of those things that you can’t avoid. It’s a spooky, small-town show, and that was the gold standard for spooky, small-town shows, so I think we have to embrace it. 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.

Happy Town - Josh Appelbaum
Happy Town - Creator Josh Appelbaum © ABC

Josh Appelbaum: It’s a show made by some of the biggest Twin Peaks fans on the planet, that’s for sure.

Is there anything you’ve consciously avoided, mistakes that maybe Twin Peaks made?

Josh Appelbaum: One thing that we really focused on in the show is giving answers in a swift fashion. Every time we raise a question, I would say for the most part, by the next episode you will be getting an answer to that question which, of course, will open up into another question.

Do you think people have shorter attentions spans?

Scott Rosenberg: I don’t know if it’s about shorter attention spans. I think that audiences can tend to be frustrated if every episode is utterly enigmatic. So basically our mantra is to answer a question. By the end of the episode, we will give you the why, but we won’t tell you the where, the when or the how. Then maybe the next episode will give you the where.

You’re getting answers, so you feel like by the end of the each episode you have eaten a meal, but you’re still hungry for the next.

Josh Appelbaum: It’s worth saying, in Twin Peaks, one of the things was the mystery of who killed Laura Palmer extended into the second season. We will answer the question of ‘Who is the Magic Man?’ by the end of the first season, which we think is playing fair with the audience.

And then what do you do next season?

Happy Town 1.03 - Frances Conroy, Steven Weber and Natalie Brown
Episode 1.03 'Polly Wants a Crack at Her' - Peggy Haplin (Frances Conroy), John Haplin (Steven Weber) and Carol Haplin (Natalie Brown) © ABC

Josh Appelbaum: That doesn’t mean the rest of the ensemble will know. 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.

Are there going to be supernatural, weird, insane midgets running around?

Josh Appelbaum: No, it’s going to be a little more realistic. Twin Peaks was very much set in a world that was wholly bizarre, and Happy Town is much more the real world, and of course there’s a dark corners to all of that. There are certainly surreal moments that pop up through the show, but it’s grounded in the real world.

Happy Town - Scott Rosenberg
Happy Town - Creator Scott Rosenberg © ABC

Scott Rosenberg: When we came up with the idea, the basic notion was we were thinking that there really isn’t a scary show on television that doesn’t fall into one of two categories: The forensic porn, which is guys gloving up and the horrible bodies and women being abused and mutilated and all that stuff, or vampires and X-Files and that kind of stuff. What about doing a show that’s scary but that is  very earth bound. That was the jumping-off point.

Are you familiar with Harper Island, and are you afraid that this show could fall into the same traps it did?

Josh Appelbaum: I watched it, and I was a fan of it. The difference here is that show in so many ways was a video game. It was a slasher movie.

This is not, ‘We’re going to drop a body every week.’ There isn’t a trick to this show or a gimmick to it. It’s a big small-town drama with these dark elements to it. We have a central mystery, but there are so many other things going on in this show.


Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.