My theory: Had “Harper’s Island” been on cable instead of CBS, it would’ve caught fire, because despite a terrific premise, network restraints presumably prevent it from going all-out to meet that potential.
Heavily hyped as a “mystery event,” spring’s 13-episode limited series follows a wedding party on a coastal island, where happily ever after may never come, become people keep getting killed off (Harry Hamlin, NOOOOO!!!). It appears to be the work of a serial killer who terrorized the isle several years ago … but he’s supposed to be dead.
Never mind how so many people can take off a week to play, and just enjoy the horror show. For the first half, “Harper’s” works well, and gets you hooked. It’s the back half that does you in, as the more interesting characters die, leaving you with some of the more hateful ones, and the story starts to run circles around itself until the surprise conclusion … albeit one my wife called somewhere around hour three.
Although the murders are inventive for prime-time television, “Harper’s” feels like it’s holding back. A terrific half-hour making-of documentary that takes you behind the scenes of each episode suggests things could have been much grislier if allowed. Still, the experiment is just twisted enough to stay interesting, full of eye candy, and anchored by a likable performance from Elaine Cassidy as a most reluctant member of the party. It all plays better on DVD when you can watch them one right after the other, rather than waiting a week or more between installments.
The problematic casting of 25 lead characters is discussed in a 20-minute featurette, and there’s a novel bit about the producer whose job it was to tell that week’s victim that were getting the ax (or harpoon or knife or whatever). The best bonus is the collection of the “Harper’s Globe” webisodes, which tells an unrelated tale of terror on the island. Featuring a nubile young woman who works for the local paper and sticks her nose where it doesn’t belong, it’s rather well done, bodes well for Internet content, and is at times more satisfying than the show it’s supporting.