Un-'Happy' Viewing

One can look at the success ABC has achieved through its series "Desperate Housewives" and "Lost" and forgive the network for trying to duplicate that success.

And yet, six years later, it hasn't managed to copy the winning formula for either series.

The latest attempt, "Happy Town," debuts tonight on ABC at 10 p.m. It's a mix of the two series, combining a large cast with weird events, a' la "Lost" with trying to strip away the veneer of what is supposed to be a "normal" area, a' la "DH." Throw in a little "Twin Peaks" for good measure, and you have "Happy Town."

And yet, "Happy Town" achieves none of the heights of those series. It tries to cram in so many characters and storylines in its pilot that the viewer ends up with a headache trying to keep up with it all. Seriously, ABC couldn't have printed a flow chart or something?

Set in a seemingly idyllic small town in Minnesota, the main character (I suppose) is deputy Tommy Conroy (Geoff Stults), who seemingly lives the good life with his wife (Amy Acker) and daughter. His father (M.C. Gainey) is also his boss, a sheriff in a town with seemingly no crime -- except for a serial killer dubbed "The Magic Man" who kidnaps one person from the town every seven years.

There's also the town's rich guy (Steven Weber); a mysterious stranger (Sam Neill) and other assorted townfolk.

The problem is, the producers (the same guys who gave us "October Road") have given us so much to follow that in the end, there's no one to really care about.

"Desperate Housewives," when it debuted, focused on its four lead women and rolled out their lives slowly, unifying them all with the suicide of a fifth housewife. "Lost" introduced a large cast in the pilot, but unified them all with the crash, focusing on the group's survival early on and developing the characters along the way.

"Happy Town," so far, does none of that. It tries to cram so many mysteries down the viewers' throats that it becomes too much.

ABC has tried to find the next serialized drama that could come in and be on par with its previous successes, but much like everything from "Invasion" to "FlashForward," it comes up short again.

WEDNESDAY'S BEST BETS: It's Dr. Who vs. Capt. Picard! No, this is not a sci-fi fanboy's dream debate. It's actually the latest version of "Hamlet," with David Tennant taking over as the melancholy prince and Patrick Stewart as his wicked uncle on "Great Performances" (PBS, 8-11 p.m.)

Talk about dream casting -- Fred Willard guest stars as Phil's (Ty Burrell) dad on "Modern Family" (ABC, 9 p.m.), which followed a new "The Middle" and precedes a new "Cougar Town" at 9:30 p.m.

Speaking of notable guest stars, Sharon Stone begins a multi-episode arc as a new D.A. on "Law & Order: SVU" (NBC, 10 p.m.), which follows a new "Mercy" at 9 p.m.

"American Idol" (Fox, 9 p.m.) is new, following a rerun of "Lie To Me," which returns to the schedule after a long layoff.

On cable, there's a new "In Plain Sight" (USA, 10 p.m.) My mom is a huge fan of Marshall the marshal (Frederick Weller), by the way.