On Thursday nights, from April 9 to July 2, CBS is running Harper’s Island [10/9C], a 13-episode “mystery event.” The tagline is, “27 miles off the coast of Seattle seven years ago, six people were murdered by John Wakefield. They were the first murders in the history of the island… they won’t be the last…”
The mini-series’ premiere sets up a situation that resembles a mash-up of Agatha Christie, David Lynch, Dynasty, and the slasher movie series of your choice… There are characters that last less than ten minutes into the premiere and characters that make it to just before the closing credits – and we are promised that at least one more will die every week. Is there a connection to the Wakefield murders? If so, why?
There are stock characters – The Groom [Henry Dunn, played by Christopher Gorham], The Biker Chick [Nikki Bolton, played by Ali Liebert], Malcolm Ross [The Hustler, played by Chris Gauthier], and Madison Allen [The Flower Girl, or The Spooky Girl, played by Cassandra Sawtelli], among others; and a complicated set of relationships that connect them all. One of the most important is that Henry worked on the island for the wealthy Wellington family – and his bride, Trish [Katie Cassidy], is the youngest daughter of that clan. Part of the fun will be seeing how the stock characters are fleshed out, and what ways they begin to diverge from the usual stereotypes [or whether they’ll last long enough to diverge…].
The murders that get the series going utilize different methods, so we know that the killer isn’t locked into a pattern, which makes him more dangerous and unpredictable. One thing that both murders have in common is that the victims are aware of their deaths – no rendering unconscious – which makes the killer more than just dangerous. He/she/ot is a deliberate, sadistic, creative person.
Harper’s Island underwent some casting changes following the release of a sizzle reel to critics, last fall. As a result, the tone has changed a bit. This version doesn’t seem quite as subtly creepy and vacillates between light and frothy and deeply dark and creepy.
Despite a solid cast of quality TV character players [Cassidy, Gorham, Harry Hamlin, Victor Webster, Jim Beaver and Richard Burgi, among others], the premiere is not as effective as the sizzle reel, but it’s still intriguing. I suspect that Harper’s Island will be a love or hate it series. Despite its flaws, I’m loving it – and suspect that, as the series progresses, the tone will settle in.
Final Grade: B