October 1, 2014

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “Happyland”


HAPPYLAND:  Tuesday 11PM on MTV – Worth A Look

After years spent as far away from scripted series as it could get, MTV has been accumulating a tidy set of programming lately that caters to its target demo without pandering to it, including Teen Wolf and Finding Carter on the drama side, along with Awkward and Faking It as its comedies.  To the latter group, it’s now added the likable HAPPYLAND, created by near-newcomer Ben Epstein.

The setting is an outpost of a worldwide amusement park empire.  (Despite the very different genre, it appears to owe a bit to Stephen King’s novel “Joyland,” which detailed life at one version of such a place.)  Happyland has a very specific mythology that includes a raccoon mascot and a romance (repeated daily for the tourists) between a fairy-tale prince and princess, that live show already being exploited for a meta moment in the pilot.  Happyland‘s own princess is Lucy (Bianca Santos), whose entire life has been spent backstage at the park, where her single mother Elena (Camille Guaty) is the longtime performer who plays the fairy princess in front of the fans, and Lucy mostly works behind the scenes while she strives to get a life elsewhere.  The plot spins into motion with the arrival of Ian Chandler (Shane Harper), slightly dissolute younger son of Happyland’s owner James.  Ian and his more straight-arrow brother Theodore (Ryan Rottman) are putting in their time working at the family business, and sparks fly the instant that Ian and Lucy have their meet-cute, with Ian stoned under his Raccoon costume as she tries to get him on stage.  Things are rather seriously complicated, though, by Elena’s revelation at the end of the pilot that James Chandler is also Lucy’s father.

The Happyland pilot, written by Epstein and directed by Lee Toland Krieger, was modestly effective.  Santos makes a spunky lead, and Lucy’s Gilmore Girls-ish relationship with Elena plays well.  Ian, so far, isn’t much more than a generic good-looking romantic interest with a (very) slight edge of bad-boyness, but the show has time to make more of him.  The only other major characters are Lucy’s best friends, comparatively affluent Harper (Katherine McNamara) and her boyfriend Will (Cameron Moulene), who’s referred to as being like Lucy’s brother enough times to make it clear he’ll be having other than fraternal feelings for her.

Happyland has charm, and it could go either way, developing its characters satisfyingly in the way Faking It has, or proving itself an intriguing setting more than an involving story.  (The production values aren’t particularly notable, as is the norm for MTV’s scripted comedies, but the Happyland pilot had a few pretty CG long-view shots of the park.)  Its cast seems to have fair chemistry and the show has an appealing premise, and airing at 11PM, ratings expectations won’t be huge, which should help keep at least some of the pressure off.  Its short 8-episode order will prove Happyland to be a magic kingdom–or not.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."