Amid dramas about fake lesbians, reality shows following virtual love and teenage wolf thrillers, new drama “Happyland” (2014-present) seems refreshingly normal for MTV standards. “Happyland,” which premiered on MTV last week, follows Lucy Velez (Bianca A. Santos) and her teenage friends as they work at Happyland, a Disney-like theme park. Based on this premise, “Happyland” is reminiscent of quirky, indie hit “Adventureland” (2009) and could give MTV a fresh face, but viewers may not feel as happy as the title indicates.
The show starts out with control freak Lucy directing people backstage in a hectic show production when she meets new employee, heartthrob and slacker Ian Chandler (Shane Harper). The two get into a classic “bad-boy flirts with girl, then uptight girl doesn’t give him the time of day but secretly thinks he’s cute” banter that’s largely ripped off of just about every romantic comedy movie ever. Later, Ian is revealed to be the son of Happyland’s CEO in a “Gossip Girl” (2007 — 2012) worthy twist. A bad boy with a secret — revolutionary!
After work, our heroine goes home to her single mom and we discover that Lucy does most of the work around the house, paying bills, buying food and cleaning while her mom is irresponsible — a standard parent-child role reversal found in a strangely disproportionate number of television shows and movies.
Born to a teen mom who is also a long-time Happyland employee, Lucy yearns to escape. An interview for a summer job at a community service group seems to be the answer, but she miserably fails the interview, and the viewer feels embarrassed for her. Viewers should be rooting for her, but when she somehow gets an unrealistic second chance by cornering her interviewer in the parking lot to beg, spewing a sob story about her life stuck working at a theme park, Lucy becomes less and less relatable.
Despite Lucy’s initial cold attitude toward Ian, the two end up kissing — because apparently, the big kids weren’t lying when they told you in the third grade that when someone likes you, they’re just mean to you. Thanks for the relationship advice, MTV. The show concludes when Lucy’s mom explains that she called Ian’s dad … who is also apparently Lucy’s dad as well.
Incest might make for an interesting plot twist in some shows. It could even be a valid social topic to explore — yet, this concept is so disconnected from the sugary, cookie cutter show about teens in a theme park that it seems out of place and the viewer can’t take it seriously. Audiences will find themselves laughing out loud at what was supposed to be a serious ending to the pilot — never a promising sign for a successful new TV series.
Lately, MTV seems to be conjuring up strange hooks — see above for fake lesbian best friends and surprise incest — masking a trite concept with a new-looking package. The ploy may draw people in only to (re)discover the same old MTV scripted drama.
In just twenty minutes the pilot explores a wide array of concepts: budding love, love triangles, mother-daughter tension, uncovered secrets, selfless sacrifice and a girl’s quest to achieve a better life. Viewers find themselves quickly switching from scene to scene without a lot of focus. However, this scattered presentation may prove simply to be the necessary evil of a pilot episode, which must set up the conflicts to be unraveled later in the season.
On the redeeming side, “Happyland” hints at a messy love triangle when Lucy’s best friend Harper (Katherine McNamera) drunkenly admits that she’s attracted to Ian. However, Harper is already dating Will (Cameron Moulène) who seems to have a secret interest in Lucy. For those who crave juicy, tangled dramas, this plot line appears promising.
Laughably strange and poorly executed, “Happyland” is not original. The acting is sub par, everyone is conventionally attractive, the plot lines are recycled and the incest subplot does not fit. Yet these flaws aren’t unique either. The same can be said for many shows, especially MTV teen dramas, and many still watch them despite that fact. But viewers looking for something more sustaining will end up feeling like a child finding out their favorite theme park character is actually a sweaty middle-aged man wearing a costume: disappointed.