First Watch: Happyland: “Pilot” (Season 1, Episode 1)

In case you hadn’t heard, MTV joined the scripted television series business a few years ago—because you can only script reality shows for so long before people lose their ability to suspend their disbelief. It started with a loose adaptation of a movie about a werewolf playing basketball and it seems that their original series have taken the next step in that logical progression to tackling the riveting drama that surrounds teenagers who work behind the scenes at Disneyland generic amusement parks. 

Let’s talk about MTV’s Happyland.

Like the fairy tale of Prince Valor and Princess Adriana that Happyland (the amusement park) is centered around, Happyland (the show) is pretty much the story of a boy and a girl in young love. Lucy Velez (Bianca Santos) is a smart, young woman who seems to be struggling to find herself due to having to support her single mother along the way. Her mother (Camille Guaty) was a teen mom and it becomes painfully obvious throughout the first episode that she never really grew up after she had Lucy. Lucy has spent her entire life surrounded by Happyland: Lucy works as a low-level manager at Happyland; her mother works at Happyland as Princess Adriana; her best friends live in the Happyland-owned neighborhood, Dazzle, and Lucy will undoubtedly find her personal Prince Valor in Happyland.

The problem with that, however, is figuring out which boy is playing the part of the prince.

For the sake of moving this conversation along, I am going to completely ignore the dark horse candidate, Dirty Dave, even if he is played by Josh Groban.

The first contestant is the most obvious one, Ian Chandler (Shane Harper). Ian is the pothead son of Happyland’s new president and, coincidentally, the new Prince Valor. The pilot is pretty heavy-handed with setting up the Ian-Lucy pairing as it manages to cover a lot of relationship cliches in the twenty-something minute air time. Ian and Lucy are just too perfect for each other. Ian is a slacker who knows how to take things easy and Lucy is a hard-worker who never gives herself a chance to enjoy life—you know the characters were designed to help the other become a better, more complete human being.

Then, we find out that Ian Chandler is actually her half-brother.

The second contestant is offered in the pilot, but isn’t really explored due to the whole half-brother twist thing being set-up. Either way, it looks like it is Will’s (Cameron Moulène) turn to step up to the plate. Will, one of Lucy’s best friends, has a more obvious roadblock than Ian because he is already in a relationship with Lucy’s other best friend, Harper (Katherine McNamara). That probably won’t be a problem for very long, however, as Harper already thinks that Will is in love with Lucy and has been throwing herself at anything that moves throughout the episode. She’ll probably get involved with Ian Chandler and leave an opening for Lucy to get with Will.

With only one real prospect, I think we might have to reconsider our homeless hero, Dirty Dave.

While Happyland wasn’t terrible (I liked it more than The Cosmopolitans), it is clear that I am not part of the show’s target demographic. MTV seems to be content following in the footsteps of networks like ABC Family and The CW in focusing on comedies that center around the lives of teenage boys and girls and the drama that ensues from the crazy love triangles they undoubtedly forge along the way. That’s fine, MTV. You can go on to become CW-Lite, but with that strategy I think you’ll only ever be a brief stepping stone for children too old to watch the Disney Channel and too young for AMC.

Bianca Santos scored big enough on The Fosters to go from nobody to leading role in only a year and I can see why. She is the clearly the star of Happyland and she managed to actually make me care for twenty minutes about her character and her desire to break free from the faux fantasy world of Happyland and actually do something important with her life in the real world.

  • Rating: Better than The Cosmopolitans, but I’d rather watch Selfie.
  • Comment: Happyland is a decent comedy that really only shows glimmers of hope when focusing on Bianca Santos’ Lucy. All of the other characters feel like objects in Lucy’s path rather than real people with their own stories to tell.
  • You might like Happyland if you like: The Fosters, Twisted, programming on The CW, ABC Family or MTV’s other shows.

Happyland airs Tuesday nights at 11:00 PM PST on MTV.

About Daniel

I'm a guy who spends way too much time playing board games and watching television with his friends. View all posts by Daniel

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