I watched every episode of the CBS mini-series Harper’s Island and I now feel like a survivor—a survivor of an attack on art and time. The show was just good enough to keep interest, but as the series rolled along, I was interested not in who the killer would turn out to be or which person was going to meet a gruesome death, but in just how many times the writers would pull plot devices out of their asses.
Harper’s Island is bit like a horror film soap opera, only tame enough for primetime television. The story revolves around the wedding of Abby Mills’ best friend (a guy by the way). Abby has come to the island for the first time in seven years after John Wakefield killed her mother and several other people. The homecoming isn’t all about dealing with her grief and terror, but also her relationship with her father and the abrupt end of her relationship with cute and rugged Jimmy Mance. In each episode, one or more the group are killed in some gruesome fashion, and of course fear and suspicion reign as they all try to figure out who is behind all the dastardly deeds.
The series has what every bad horror film and soap opera seems to need: stupid young people. Nearly every character makes brash statements and then acts most real people, even heedless youngsters, would not. Of course, sometimes these actions lead to someone’s death, but most often they just drag the story around. The side narratives (infidelity, a bag of money found near a dead man, a man trying to propose to his witless lover) do not deepen the chronicle, but are just tedious detours that help the viewer either endure or prolong the agony of the hackneyed main story.
As a mystery, I think the writer’s cheated the viewers. The flower girl, for example, after being abducted and released keeps providing the others with clues and interesting details, but only when it serves the plot. When we get to the end and find out who the bad guy is, we are not really shocked so much as we are appalled that the motivation for the killing spree seems to come out of nowhere. And any characters that are halfway interesting get killed off. I’m not proud to say that I kept hoping for the flower girl to get it.
Harper’s Island might have been fine for a two hour movie or possibly a couple weekly slots, but on the whole it was just thin and messy. Watch it at the risk of losing many hours of your life.