I was told by Stepfather that I should watch Harper’s Island. He didn’t tell me that very emphatically, and he probably isn’t watching it himself, but we’d been talking about Lost and how he stopped watching it this season, and because I don’t watch any of his shows (American Idol and Survivor spring to mind) and because so many of my shows are off the air, right now (Ugly Betty) and probably for good (Kyle XY, Battlestar Galactica, Life, Sarah Connor), and because I am a huge fan of the “maxi-series,” or deliberately short seasoned of planned programs, I figured why not? Besides, blogging about TV brings in what few ratings I have, and I bet not that many people are bothering to analyze the program, so it might give me an edge. It will all be over by Independence Day, so why not? Plus there’s a certain satisfaction in overthinking, and this is a show that allows me to overthink it without having to expend a lot of effort. Look at how easily I’ve overjustified this blog post! The words flow through me like a river through a drain conduit during the rainy season.
So I watched the first episode from my kitchen, on my laptop, like I’ve seen so many programs in the past. I picked it up at CBS.com, which is a pretty good website for keeping lots of episodes around for its programs although it is not so good at putting lots of programs online for people to watch in the first place. The first thing that struck me was at how short the show was–that’s a very big clue. Now that the networks are putting up old programs online for people to wax nostalgic over, you can see just how flagrantly content has been supplanted by commercials. A typical hour-long show is usually about 42 minutes; Harper’s Island is only 40. (Buffy the Vampire Slayer used to be about 48 minutes long. 8 minutes is a lot of story!) That’s clue #1 that the network doesn’t really think this show is very important. Clue #2 is that the online version was totally plugging an iPhone App where you could keep up with other viewers and make predictions as a group about which characters were going to be offed next. Ha ha! If I had an iPhone, and if the App was free, and if I had some sort of usage package that didn’t charge me by the megabyte or however they do it, I would totally participate! There is a lot one can forgive bad TV for if one has a group to bag on it with. I’ve said many times in the past few years how we are in a golden age of television, and the programming has been startlingly good (despite all the reality TV), but I think what makes it golden is that the Internet has really made it possible for everyone to get together and talk about the damn thing. We’re all living our own Mystery Science Theater 3000! The content provided by the industry is really only part of the entertainment. I’m sure I’m not the only one who gets antsy when I have to view a show later than broadcast, not because I care what’s in it but because I care so much about what everyone is SAYING about it. I want to chime in, too, but I don’t want to be left out of inside jokes. I wouldn’t be watching Dollhouse if people that I talked Sarah Connor with online weren’t also watching Dollhouse and chatting it up. It doesn’t look like any of those people are going to be watching Harper’s, though, so I’ll do that bold thing where I build it to see if anyone comes.
I am a little too lazy, however, to constantly keep checking IMDb for everyone’s names. I know the episode’s name only because I could look at the CBS website in a tab already open so I could link to it above. I’ll be as descriptive as I can and use names if I can remember them. Try to keep up… and let’s get started!
All my episode write-ups will contain spoilers. You’ve been warned.
There’s just not a lot to the pilot episode except establishing characters’ relationships to each other, and establishing some characters. I don’t get the feeling character is going to be explored too deeply in this show, and it probably doesn’t matter. The clothes and hairstyles pretty much indicate which stock stereotype each person is, and if you are having trouble keeping some of the rich blonds apart it probably doesn’t matter. They’ll get picked off soon enough–they always do. My favorite stock characters so far are the fun-loving buddies and the creepy kid. They do a girl creepy kid this time, which is something sort of unusual, and they actually show her hurting an animal with a brain: She’s torching snails with a magnifying glass. That’s not quite as hardcore as Caprica 6 snapping a baby’s neck, but this is CBS and not a high-decade cable channel. So it suffices, and I wasn’t expecting it. Props.
Whaddya know? I got a character name! One less ambiguity for me to deal with later. \o/
The fun-loving buddies are redeemed from being ordinary stock characters when we learn that they travel nowhere without a cooler. I think that image is hysterical, and let my imagination riff on that for a moment, and didn’t mind too much when we didn’t see them again. I’m sure they’ll crop up, one way or the other. We know they are guaranteed to die, so they’ll get at least a few lines of dialogue before that happens. Maybe one will even go out a hero!
The island is sufficiently spooky–the default setting of any island in the Pacific Northwest is gloomy, and that’s what we get. Most of the scenes once we’re off the boat are indoors or at night, so I can’t tell how the sunshine is really going to factor in. Sometimes directors use that sort of light to highlight events, but if it’s a show set in regular daylight most of the time, they can’t. Needless to say, there was enough sun for enough time to kill a snail around dinnertime, so the weather has to be pretty bright. I’m sure the rich people who vacation there know enough about local weather patterns to pick the best time to have a wedding.
The locals, whose economy seems to be vacationer-based, are down-homey enough and touchy enough to be surly when rich people act up and dumpy when rich people’s clothes need to shine. The rich people and local people are dressed far enough apart from each other so that when BFF of the Groom, a local girl who has been living in LA for a while, shows up in a fancy dress but a denim jacket, you can tell instantly that she’s living in both worlds. She’s also the only one I remember with dark hair. Her mother died on the island, but although you think for most of the episode that the mother is a victim, there’s this weird newspaper clipping that appears on the mirror in her hotel room (she’s not staying with her family) that seemed to implicate her mother in some way as perpetrator. Maybe I read it wrong. Whatever it was, everyone knows that she knows that they know her mother died when the rampage was happening, but the placement of the note at the end of the episode has to indicate that someone she doesn’t know is letting her know he or she knows something about her mother that the visiting rich people don’t know.
I thought the grisly murders were darn good for network TV. They weren’t that bloody, which was fine with me, but they were set up well. Nobody wants to be chopped in half like Fun Uncle, although it seems a mercy he was drunk enough or drugged enough to not have it hurt terribly much (there was no screaming). The worst one was the one at the beginning. I don’t know who he was or how no one knows that there’s a corpse tied to the keel of their yacht (one of the rich blonds–maybe the bride–was trying to call him at the beginning, but he didn’t seem so important to the wedding party that he couldn’t be left behind). The really nice touch from a horror movie standpoint was having him breathing with scuba gear for a long time before the boat’s rotor chopped his face all up. You’d think that the pilots of the boat really would have noticed something, but boats have a lot of mass and people don’t, so whatever. I’ve never piloted a yacht. I’m rolling with it.
Because it’s just been one day, I am not accusing any characters of being stupid yet, except the girl who decides to go skinny dipping in the North Pacific at night. Idiot. It’s freezing at noon in the summer! No wonder she got so angry at Accent Boy’s hijincks… if they were Accent Boy’s hijincks. I’m never good at tracking people who are bobbing in and out of the water. I’ll bet that he had an engagement ring in his pants pocket, though… hence the promise to take her sailing earlier… it was going to be a very romantic proposal, but now she’s so mad at him that she’ll probably have sex with a local to punish him or be so angry she walks into a murderer’s trap. That happens a lot to characters with violent emotions. They never see the killer coming.
I guess episode 2 will take place during the morning of the next day. I’ll be interested to see if each episode is one day or if they break up the days by meals or something. 13 days would be a really long time to be having pre-wedding celebrations, although they could get stuck on the island with a broken boat after the wedding. If I have to make predictions about who’s next, I’m going to say that it’s Ocean Girl and one of the fun-loving buddies. I really wonder if CBS would kill off even a creepy she-kid like Maidson. I bet she ends up leading people to a body at some point.
How long can half a body hang from a footbridge before falling through the broken slats? How many times will wedding guests cross that footbridge while he lies beneath? The suspense just may kill you.