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'Happyland' series premiere recap: Happy or not, here we come

Season 1 | Episode 1 | “Welcome to Happyland” | Aired Sept 30, 2014

Everyone has been talking quite a bit about the last few minutes of MTV’s newest scripted show, Happyland (including me, I’ll confess), but the headline is not the are-they-or-aren’t-they issue of incest, but the balance of the edgy humor with just the right tones of melodrama. Lord knows I love a good melodrama, and I devoted many summer nights to ABC Family’s weekly lineup, so it seems that Happyland—despite getting a bit of heat for the pilot’s twist—is trying to make a name for itself among teens who are growing weary of shows that are all pecs and no heart.

Screen Shot 2014-09-30 at 12.27.26 PMDon’t get me wrong: This show has plenty of pecs, and one of our first glimpses of Shane Harper (Awkward) is a stunning visual of chiseled abs and rock-hard arms, but there’s a little more to it than that. The show is set behind the scenes at an amusement park similar in theme and values to Disneyland, but we quickly see that the beautiful princess welcoming parkgoers isn’t the real story here. In the very first sequence, we meet Lucy, played by The Fosters’ Bianca Santos, who is in charge of the “Ricky Show,” and immediately we get a sniff at the park’s seedy underbelly.

We get a quick review of anonymous sex, drug use, and mild physical violence while we are introduced the Screen Shot 2014-09-30 at 12.27.38 PMvery attractive teenagers that populate Happyland. When Bianca is responsible for a “Ricky tumble” from the new guy, we figure out she is the über-responsible type A, while the downed new guy is a free-spirited slacker who will turn out to be the new owner’s son, possible love interest, and could-be brother.

A predictable chemistry ensues between Lucy and Ian (the new guy) when he is promoted from a costumed character, Ricky the Racoon, to a “face” character, Prince Valor. She’s annoyed, he’s charming … you guys know how this goes.

Rounding out the gang are Harper (Katherine McNamara) and Will (Cameron Moulene), who are in a relationship. There is tension between Will and Bianca that she won’t admit, yet Harper notices and resents it. What’s a good teen soap without a juicy love triangle? When Harper’s parents are promoted to the corporate division of Happyland, she and her family move to Dazzle, a supernice suburb that is obviously for rich folks. In stark contrast, Lucy walks home to her (near-)slummy neighborhood and finds Dirty Dave (a superfun cameo by Josh Groban) peeing on her steps. When she walks in, we discover the beautiful princess Screen Shot 2014-09-30 at 12.30.00 PMfrom the opening scene is her mother, Elena (Camille Guaty).

Borrowing from the mother figure on another of MTV’s scripted shows, Awkward, Elena had Lucy as a teenager and has been clawing to hold onto her youth ever since. These two actresses seem almost the same age, so it’s a little weird as Elena starts mothering her irresponsible and flighty mother. Lucy has bigger dreams than her Happyland-lifer mother, and reminds her (and us) that she’s headed for college, not year after year at the park.

Lucy’s plans for the future include a spot at Relief Partners, a nonprofit organization responsible for providing clean water. She blows the interview, but scores another spot with her charm and pluck. Her mildly jaded monologue reveals Lucy’s desire to get out of the “happily-ever-after” fantasy the park peddles to not only its guest, but to its employees too.

At the swanky corporate party, the Chandler family announces its Happyland takeover. That’s when we officially meet Ian Chandler, the ne’er-do-well new guy from the Ricky costume in the first scenes. Elena gets weird when she runs into the older Chandler, and even tries to discourage Lucy from hanging out with Ian. Lucky for us, Lucy doesn’t listen, and Ian gets a chance to attempt to separate both Lucy and Harper from their panties with a beautiful view and a gleaming smile. Harper, embarrassingly enough, throws herself at Ian, but he only has eyes for Lucy, who is being a bit of a buzzkill.

Elena continues her overprotective mom bit, and Lucy doesn’t respond very well. Lucy says some pretty Screen Shot 2014-09-30 at 12.30.23 PMmean things to her mother, including quite a bit of slut-shaming, and Elena gets her feelings hurt. Lucy is sorry, but it’s too late, and Elena gives her a healthy and much-deserved dose of mom-guilt.

In a mildly surprising twist of events, Elena doesn’t show for her princess shift and Lucy volunteers to fill in. Will moons over her in her princess costume, and Ian oozes charisma. Their chemistry crackles as they do their silly dance, and Ian helps save the day by rushing Lucy to her makeup interview with Relief Partners. She doesn’t make it, and we get a sense of the hopelessness of Lucy’s situation.

Screen Shot 2014-09-30 at 12.27.51 PMLucy spirals into a pout, and that’s when the big kiss happens. It’s not overly sexual or risqué like a lot of MTV shows can get, but the fact that Lucy and Ian are possibly siblings certainly taints the whole moment. Elena confesses to Lucy that she and Ian share a father and the screen goes dark.

So here we are with the mother of all dramatic news, and we have until next week to see how Lucy handles this bombshell.

What do you think she should do? Keep it a secret, or run straight to Ian and confess? Are we angry at Elena for keeping it a secret?

What are y’all’s first impressions of this show?

Happyland airs Tuesdays at 11/10C on MTV.