Once upon a time, CBS made a show that was trying new things and being really interesting, and it flopped like a rock. This is a story we hear time and time again. Sometimes, it’s deserving…and sometimes it’s not.
This show is the latter case.
This month on Stay Tuned!, I’m going to be talking all about a little known murder-mystery gore-fest entitled Harper’s Island.
Harper’s Island is about a wedding which is going to be taking place on a small island off of Seattle, called Harper’s Island. However, the island holds haunting memories for several of the native guests. Several years before, a man named John Wakefield came to the island and murdered five people. Once the joyful wedding party arrives to the island, party start dying, and fast. Someone is out to make the “happiest day of my life” the biggest nightmare for all these people. What occurs over the next 13 episodes is one of the most brutal serial killing streaks ever to be allowed on television, and will have you guessing who the killer(s) is/are until the very end.
I have to be as spoiler free as I can with this review, because the whole fun of the show is all the weird little twists and turns the plots and characters take. If this you are inspired to watch this show, you’ll thank me. (It’s on Netflix Instant)
The main protagonist is Abby Mills, a girl whose mother was killed in the Wakefield rampage, and who seems to be the center of the new murders. Abby has a lot of emotional baggage from her mother’s death and her father shipping her out to the mainland. She knows pretty early on something’s wrong, but doesn’t know how she fits in to the murders right away.
But there’s a huge cast of characters, each one with their own important parts to play.
No one is safe in this show. The minute you think one character is in the clear, they are dead. And this isn’t a show that uses off-screen deaths. Oh, no, the rule as follows: the gorier, the better. Someone in this show gets harpooned. Right the Hell out of nowhere! And a whole dock gets blown to smithereens!
And if you think there’s a ton of survivors at the end, to preserve fan-favorites, you’re wrong. Out of 33 characters who are present at one point or another on this show, even the most minor of acting parts, only 4 people live. The show even tells us that only a handful of the natives on the island survive at the end of the show. In fact, just to prove that this show had some major balls, the creators MADE IT A POINT to murder the most prolific actor in the first episode. And there quite a few notables in the cast, so take that as you will.
What makes this show great is not the plot but rather the characters. They are so well written and thought-out, the dialogue feels like naturally flowing conversation, and you wind up really feeling for these people. I think the creators of the show knew that a psycho-killer on a rampage had been done to death, so to offset the cliché of the scenario, they put a lot of time and love into building these characters and it pays off. A lot of the balance and humor comes from characters interaction, so it gives a lot of breathing room to recover from the action.
By doing so, they create a strong reliability to the characters, and most people develop several favorites throughout the show. They only failed really with one character, and that’s Beth, who we get to know very little about, though she had the makings of being a great character.
According to the behind-the-scene feature on the DVD box set, it is revealed that none of the actors, other than the killers (yes, there are more than one), knew who was going to die or who the killers were before the week of their character’s death. The producer called in the actor whose characters that were set to die on the first day of the shooting the episode. That way, none of the acting could be affected by knowing any spoilers beforehand, which really adds to the realism of the show.
But all shows have their flaws, a very big one’s name is Madison. I have watched the entire show 4 times over in its entirety, and this little girl never gets any less annoying. I don’t why they even put her in – to appeal to the mothers? There probably aren’t many eight year olds watching this show…or at least I hope not. I feel she might have just made for convenient plot points and getting information to the characters, but she serves no other purpose. They also tried to make her kind of creepy, but they failed miserably and stopped trying on that front mid-series.
Tonally, sometimes the show doesn’t know if it wants to be scary, thrilling, action filled, or light heartedly violent. The tone doesn’t jump around crazily, so it’s not jarring but it can a little strange. Otherwise, it transitions well between comedy, tragedy, and horror when it knows what it’s aiming for.
The cinematography is pretty standard for TV, so no CGI or computer alternations. The gore is a little fake looking at time, but it’s also because it’s done by make-up and camera tricks. It’s never fake enough to pull you out of the experience, so as long as you understand this show was working on a budget
The director did make amazing use of the island they used, making it feel like a huge maze, and combining lots of indoor activity with outdoor terror. It’s not often that a show can pull something like that off successfully, especially with a lower-budget action show.
Now, let’s briefly touch on the reveal of what’s going on. Again, no spoilers! I swear, I’m not even going to say if it’s one or multiple killers. But I will say it comes a little out of left field the first time you watch. No one who I have spoken to who’s seen the show even expected it. But the clues are there when you watch it again, and honestly you realize it could never be any other person/people BUT them. Unfortunately, that’s also why the end was so strange – there was no little recap to show you just why they had to have been the one(s). That would have been a huge improvement for the ending to such a small series, which will never get a sequel (which is good!)
I should also note that there was a web series running parallel to the show called Harper’s Globe but I feel that was a decision CBS made, not the writers. As a result, it was rushed, sloppy, confusing, and just not worth watching. No other show has been doing this and with good reason – there’s no need to, the story was sufficient enough to hold our attention, there was no need for the extra content.
Harper’s Island is a great, concrete show which is really more about having fun rather than treating it like the more serious thing in the world. If you want to watch a show where you’ll be on the edge of your seat, screaming with your friends, and having a good time with a murder mystery, then this is the ideal show for that. I genuinely believe this is a great show, and it’s sad how poor the ratings were for it.
Tune in next month, when I recap and review the juggernaut itself, the one and only, Doctor Who. Until then, dear readers, Stay Tuned!