Happy Town Exclusive! Inside ABC’s weird new show

By Fred Topel

If you’ve been watching any show on ABC lately, you’ve seen the previews for the new series Happy Town. You might not know exactly what you’d be getting into when you watch, because there’s a lot going on and they’re keeping it mysterious. There’s some sort of scary stuff and a guy called The Magic Man.

To get a better idea of what “Happy Town” is about, we got to interview series stars Geoff Stults and Steven Weber yesterday morning. Bright and early at 7:45 AM, the guys were already goofy from a morning PR tour. If their riffing is any indication, Happy Town is full of dirty fart jokes. If it’s not, at least they were having fun telling us about their new show.

Weber is a bit of a TV legend, best known from the long-running classic Wings. He plays a Haplin, MN native demanding answers to the disappearance of children, including his own. Stults is a newer TV star. Fans of the short-lived October Road know him well. He gets to lead Happy Town, which premieres tonight at 10 on ABC.

Q: Hi guys, how are you this morning?

Geoff Stults: I have no pants on right now.

Steven Weber: Are you doing this from home?

Q: Yes, I’m in LA.

GS: Why don’t you drive down here and get up like we had to get up at 5:30 and do this?

Q: I was told this was a well organized PR tour and I should just wait by the phone.

GS: No, absolutely not. He’s in bed, the thing is on his lap. You actually are in bed.

SW: Skyping

Q: I promise, I’m sitting up in a chair.

GS: Okay.

Q: How much do you each get to work together on Happy Town?

SW: We actually have a lot of interaction but Geoff Stults’s character is kind of the main character, kind of the crossroads from which all the other characters intersect. He and I have a lot to do but he has to deal with all the various characters and storylines. Again, they pass through him. He’s the median point.

GS: I don’t talk much. I just stand there.

SW: He stands there like the center of a roulette wheel.

GS: That’s right.

SW: And his little ball goes around and when they land on black, that’s when he moves.

Q: Well, with ensembles this big, sometimes characters never even meet.

GS: That’s true.  I mean, there are some characters that haven’t quite met up but for me, the only person I didn’t work with up until the last day of shooting is Lauren. Lauren German plays the female lead per se. Our storylines are kind of separate but on a crash course. It is an ensemble cast. There is a lot of us. That’s part of the fun of it. Different episodes, different storylines you get a chance to play with different people a little bit but Steven and I definitely butt heads and then kind of reconcile and then butt butts.

SW: And we’ve been butting nuts.

GS: Just this morning.

Q: Steven, do you interact much with the rest of the ensemble?

SW: I mean, I have some. I have some interaction. My character is particularly ornery and kind of closed off. He’s not the most social guy and also the character that I play is not that well liked, so I don’t have that much to do.

GS: Character?

SW: Shut up. I have a lot of scenes with Frances Conroy and Geoff but as the series progresses, people’s paths cross and you begin to see the network of characters and storylines. They intersect courtesy of our amazing writers. Josh and Scott and Andre are masters at constructing a world that is both mysterious and engaging and fascinating. They do just that.

Q: Steven, how active is your character in leading the charge for answers?

SW: Well, my character is certainly obsessed with, as you say, leading the charge for answers but he’s obstructed by Geoff’s character and his father, who’s played by M.C. Gainey, the miraculous M.C. Gainey, who are trying to keep sanity in this town which is slowly coming apart from paranoia and from fear. This is a town where people never locked their doors. Everybody knew their neighbor and kids could walk to school unattended and it was a safe, happy place, Happy Town. But, for the last several years people have been freaking out and there’s been nothing to stop that. So Geoff’s character and several others on the police force have been trying desperately to turn back the tide of paranoia which has been fueled by the appearance of strange characters in town. Sam Neill plays an odd mysterious character. Lauren German comes in. There’s a kind of white trash scary family called the Stivilettos and they are turning up the heat. So it’s a really interesting show and each episode, the stakes are higher and people are getting more freaked out. Hopefully the audience will as well.

Q: At even the best times, how happy is Haplin actually?

GS: On the surface we are cute as a mouse’s pocketbook. It’s one of those places that seemingly has everything you want it to have. It’s a picture of perfect Americana and all American values. Everybody knows their neighbors, goes to town football games and all that kind of stuff but there’s secret. There’s people, like Steven said, a continued and perpetual paranoia because years ago there was these disappearances and they happened in such an unexplainable way that the townspeople have come up with this entity, this person that’s referred to as The Magic Man. You know what they say about the Magic Man, he’s someone you pass by on the streets. That is, the intimacy of a small town really plays here because you start to question the people that you know, or at least you thought you knew.

Q: What are the other big secrets in Happy Town besides the Magic Man? 

GS: Whether or not Steven’s wearing a thong. That’s one of the huge ones we’ve found online.

Q: Why aren’t they leading with that on the ads?

SW: I’m wearing a thong but not where you think I am.

GS: That’s the trick. There’s the irony.

SW: It’s a sophisticated audience.

GS: Because they’re afraid of losing the South. That’s why they’re not leading with that. Some of the other secrets, there’s a big murder we’re trying to figure out. There’s many secrets. Frances Conroy, who plays Steven’s mother, she’s kind of the matriarch that is behind the scenes pulling the strings of many people. She affects this white trash family that we talked about. She affects everybody. The secrets that are making secrets, we don’t even know what the hell is going on.

Q: What else do we need to know before the premiere?

SW: That everybody who watches gets five bucks.

GS: $5 or a Sprinkles cupcake delivered with Steven in a thong.

SW: That’s right, with a thong and again, not where you think one normally would wear a thong.

Q: You guys are having such a good time. Is there room for this humor on Happy Town?

SW: Uh, no. 

GS: Not at all actually. You’ll cry. That’s one of the things. It’s not Special Victims Unit. It’s a small town and there’s quirkiness and there’s goofiness but there is a seedy kind of dark mystery to it as well. It’s not one-note, that’s for sure. There’s something for everybody. It’s fun for the whole family.

SW: Yeah, if you’re a family of meth addicts.

GS: Let’s not judge.

Q: Well, this was fun. Thank you, gentlemen.

SW: Yeah, Fred. Go back to bed. Can you run out and get me a carton of milk, please Fred?

GS: Fred, seriously. Are you still there?

SW: We have to talk about you now. Hang up.

GS: That’s right, Fred. We need to lob insults your way because you’re laying in bed in your PJs, you liar.

SW: You loafer.

GS: You are not in a chair.

SW: Do you do the Dutch oven, Fred?

GS: Oh, that’s a bad one.

SW: Yes, this is journalism today.


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