Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Underthinking Pilot Season: Happyland

Cat here. You may be thinking... what the hell is Happyland? Well, you clearly haven't been sucked into the world of half hour MTV scripted teen shows. I have. It all started with Awkward. Awkward was a really great, fun, overly dramatic show in season 1 similar to Ugly Betty. It was still a pretty good show in season 2 with some missteps but still enough of those little jokes and unexpected moments to keep things interesting. It was a pretty bad show in season 3. Now it's season 4 and I'm seriously considering giving it up but I have a problem quitting shows unless they conflict with something else on my DVR. Awkward was my gateway drug into Faking It and Finding Carter. Faking It started with a pretty good first episode and then never really found its feet. Every so often it wins me back with a solid episode but the rest of the time I'm on the verge of deleting it from my DVR schedule. Finding Carter had a good premise and never stopped being boring and terrible. I'm not sure why I watched a whole season of it. Seriously, I have a Netflix subscription. I'm not sure why I continue to watch terrible shows.

Happyland, in case that long diversion didn't clue you in, is another attempt to launch an MTV scripted show. I had really no idea what it was going to be about going into the pilot but it does feature the actor who played Austin on Awkward which was enough to get me interested in checking it out.

OK, onto my actual thoughts on the pilot. The show doesn't exactly look cheap but it's a letdown if this is supposed to be a Disney knockoff. I'm also not that impressed with the fact that the show is set in an amusement park. It's been done. But I've actually seen a few episodes at the time I'm writing this and I think they're doing a pretty good job of integrating the amusement park into the plotlines... unlike every show at a school where they're never in class. I find Shane Harper to be a decent anchor for the series as Ian Chandler but they're not really letting him build his stereotype before breaking it down. I needed more of him being an arrogant jerk before flipping that and humanizing him and showing more depth. Everything just happened too quickly and there was a bit too much of his twitchy awkwardness as his Austin character on Awkward for me to really believe him as the character they were selling. In general, everyone on the show stops short of being as extreme as they should be. It's not about restrained or subtle acting. When you're in a certain genre, you need to play to that genre. There's a certain charm and ease with which a good actor can throw himself into a lighthearted part. You play it broad but you don't feel like a caricature. It's not bad acting, but you need to bring a certain level of energy. Think of romantic comedy acting. You have to commit to that or you come across as bland and lacking in personality.

The plot in the pilot made this feel a bit like a DCOM (Disney Channel Original Movie) or a Lifetime or Hallmark movie. But it was all condensed into thirty minutes. The writing came across as a little cold, a little too removed. It was like they were too focused on getting out certain information about the characters rather than writing natural dialogue. I just felt like they didn't trust that I would keep watching and so they crammed a ton of plot into the pilot that it couldn't handle. I kept getting the sense that scenes had been cut out. The main character, Lucy, felt particularly inconsistent because she had to jump through so many emotional hurdles in such a short period of time. It's very obvious what kind of character they wanted her to be. But they contradicted that character by making her have all these emotional outbursts and not allowing her to be competent. As with the Ian character, you have to establish the character type fully before you break it down.

Final Conclusion: I'm interested in seeing where this goes so I'll stick with it. I worry about the quality of the acting though. Everyone is very bland so far.