“Happyland” is such a target-rich environment that it’s a shame the series feels so indifferently executed and cast. Built around employees of a massive amusement park — including a few who live in the company-owned town, Dazzle (sound like any kid-friendly media conglomerates you’ve heard of?) — the show saddles its mix of comedy and soap-like drama with tired, well-telegraphed twists and on-the-nose dialogue. An MTV audience might still find elements to like: foremost Bianca Santos as the ambitious girl aspiring to break away. But frankly, the few that work are put to better use on CW’s soon-to-premiere “Jane the Virgin.”
Santos’ Lucy has been raised in the theme park’s shadow by her single mom (Camille Guaty), who is young enough to play a princess and pass Lucy off as her sister when she’s busy picking up guys.
Lucy’s chance to work for a do-gooder organization, however, is threatened by mom’s immaturity — yes, we have another TV family situation where the kid is really the grown-up — as well as by Lucy’s sudden crush on Ian (Shane Harper), the handsome lad filling out that Ricky Raccoon costume, whose prince-like lineage is treated like a revelation but hardly comes as a shock.
Created by Ben Epstein, “Happyland” features a lot of knowing touches about the amusement-park biz, such as the mandate not to break character when in costume, the shenanigans that can happen backstage, and the run-down apartments in the ironically named company town. Most of that gets fumbled, though, with Lucy snapping stilted lines at her mom about “chasing boys around like a hormonal teenager,” or the not-terribly-suspenseful questions about which teen is going to wind up in a clinch with whom.
Produced by Storyline’s Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, the project was shot in part at a California amusement park called Scandia, but was clearly made on a shoestring budget (except, perhaps, whatever it cost to get Josh Groban to show up for unnecessary cameos).
The best decision was to present the show in a half-hour format — wispy as the material is — which offers the bonus of pairing it with the network’s modest hit “Awkward,” hoping to piggyback on its youthful audience.
Still, given “Happyland’s” shortcomings, there’s a long way between that potential fast-pass to success and happily ever after.