Happyland (MTV) “Pilot/Price of Admission” Review: A Twisted Fairy Tale With Too Few Twists

Happyland (MTV) Series Premiere 2014 Pilot (3)

Theme parks can provide cities with thriving industries. Every time someone walks into the happiest place on Earth for a photo op with Mickey Mouse, Orlando hears dollar signs. Even as adults it is hard not to get caught up in the magic of a theme park teaming with rides, fairy tale settings and costumed princesses gliding around the place like they just popped out of cartoon land ala Amy Adams in Enchanted. The truth is those people in costumes are locals, college students or theme park lifers and every single one of them has a story that does not begin with “once upon a time” or end with “they lived happily ever after.” MTV’s latest new series focuses on one such theme park worker, Lucy, a 17-year-old with a single mom and a desire to leave Happyland behind for something more closely resembling reality.

As played by Bianca A. Santos, Lucy is a serious-minded teen who takes care of life’s day to day tasks for her dreamy, former teen mom who now attempts to pass her daughter off as her sister when she brings dates home. The carefree mom/daughter who grew up too soon combo is stock material, but it mostly works in establishing why Lucy would not want to spend one more minute in Happyland. Lucy knows hardship and the value of work, but she is also a teen with a desire to stop being her mother’s caretaker and see the world.

Her plans are spectacularly thwarted in the first episode when her mother is late for work setting off a chain of events that upends everything Lucy knows about herself. The arrival of Happyland’s CEO and his handsome two sons shakes up the working environment for everyone, but Lucy and Ian, the younger, troublemaking son who gets high and passes out onstage during his first day, have a special connection. With their combative banter and instant chemistry both onstage and off (the best scene of the premiere cuts between their romantic prince and princess dance at the park and their frantic race to Lucy’s interview with an aid work foundation), Lucy and Ian are set up to be the show’s primary couple…until Lucy’s mother reveals Ian is Lucy’s half-brother and their CEO dad, Mr. Chandler, wanted Lucy’s mother to have an abortion.

Are they star-crossed lovers? Or is Happyland a fractured family comedy? Two episodes in and it is hard to say. Lucy blurts her secret out to Ian at the end of “Price of Admission” just as they are about to kiss for a group of smiling tourists. After revealing their connection, Lucy runs away, leaving her shoe behind to the delight of the crowd. Ian is simply stunned. Given how Happyland continues to push the idea of Lucy and Ian, it is possible either Lucy or Ian will be revealed to not be the child of the cold, distant Mr. Chandler. However, a more original road to take would be having Lucy and Ian bond as siblings. Ian is an outcast in his family and Mr. Chandler never wanted his daughter. If they’re siblings then at least Happyland can begin building its world outwards, expanding beyond Lucy’s isolated existence and into the reality she craves.

Besides, while Lucy made out with her biological brother, her surrogate brother and best friend, Will, is clearly in love with her despite having a charming girlfriend. The love quadrangle is as mellow as everything else about Happyland at this point. The series’ aim is to prove life can provide enough fodder to fuel fairy tales with enough bite to take on anything in the Grimm brothers’ catalog, but so far Happyland is too mild mannered to provoke much more than vague interest. The ideas are intriguing, but so far the execution is about as graceful as Ian’s first time onstage. Happyland is a fun place to visit, but the series has a long way to go to get me to invest in a park pass.

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