Sunday, April 12, 2009

An Introduction To Harper's Island

7 years ago, 6 people were murdered by John Wakefield.

They were the first murders in the history of the island…

…They will not be the last.

So begins Harper’s Island, CBS’s new “event” murder mystery. Likened to a cross between Lost, Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians and One Tree Hill, the show strikes me more like Clue meets Scream with a vicious Survivor tribal council thrown in each week.

The show was originally conceived by Ari Schlossberg, but since this was his first TV venture Jeffrey Bell (Angel) was brought on board to retool the script and Jon Turteltaub (Jericho) took the executive producer reigns and directed the pilot.

The series opens in Seattle where we’re introduced to Patricia Wellington (a brunette Katie Cassidy) and Henry Dunn (Christopher Gorham), a happily engaged couple who are ferrying their family and friends to Harper’s Island for a week of wedding festivities. Reluctant to join the party is Abby Mills (Elaine Cassidy), Henry’s best friend and the daughter of one of John Wakefield’s victims. Abby hasn’t been home since her mother’s death and she’s not sure she’s ready to return. Too bad she doesn’t listen to her gut instincts. As the boat motors up the audience is privy to its first murder as missing cousin Ben has his head chopped off by the propellor. The rest of “Whap” hits on the traditional horror movie components you’d expect: false scares and jump moments, sex and skin, bad personal histories, an anonymous figure watching from the shadows, a creepy kid with a questionable new “friend,” threatening notes, love triangles, lots and lots of secrets and poor Uncle Marty (a hammy Harry Hamlin) ends up sliced and diced in half.

In the next 13 weeks people will be killed off in every episode. There are 25 suspects, guests and locals, and the killer will be revealed in the finale. This kind of close-ended series is a brilliant idea because viewers know right off the bat they’re going to have instant gratification at the end of the season, unlike shows like Lost and Heroes where viewers often get frustrated with convoluted storytelling and little pay off and the show’s ratings suffer for it. Should Harper take off, a new stint could easily be created by changing the setting, mystery and cast, with maybe a couple survivors staying on as is often done in slasher sequels. The real fun of Harper’s Island is going to be seeing who bites it each week while you whittle away your suspect list and try to figure out whodunit.

Random impressions:

* It’s odd seeing Katie as a non-kick ass chick, but she’s got incredible chemistry with Christopher Gorham.
*I know Christopher is best known for Jake 2.0 and Ugly Betty, but I’ve never watched him before. He’s too adorable for words!
* I like that the actors were kept completely in the dark from script to script. Their character’s fate and the killer’s identity was as much a mystery to them as it is to us so there was no chance of accidentally skewing their performances with inside knowledge.
* Jim Beaver plays the island’s lone Sheriff and Abby’s estranged father. We only see him for a short time, but the scene between him and Abby in his truck, when he tries desperately to reconnect with her, is physically painful and poignant. Their words were few, but the emotional punch in that tiny scene was amazing.
* I could swear…and I’ve watched it several times…that I saw Jared on the boat. Just after Mr. Wellington tells the captain to start the engine you see a guy leaning against the railing in a green army jacket. They don’t show his face, and I may be crazy, but he sure looks familiar. The show is filmed in Vancouver and Jim has said he was going back and forth between the shows so I think it’s plausible….

Finally, CBS has a Pick the Victim game you can plays for a chance at $1000 and Harpers Globe is an online show and social network meant to give you a deeper understanding of what’s happenin’ on Harper.

What did you think? Did you like seeing SPN alum? Do you plan to stick with it?