Harper’s Island pilot

When I first read about Harper’s Island (airing Thursdays 10/9c on CBS) in my Fango mag last month, I was really excited. Hell, a 13-episode run of a horror TV show that’s supposed to be somewhere between Agatha Christie and a slasher flick? Sounds right up my ally, yeah? The pilot aired last Thursday, April 9, and I have to say I was disappointed. True, it’s a pilot, and pilots almost always offer the audience nothing more than a big, heaping serving of exposition salad, and this pilot (inexplicably titled “Whap”) was no different. Stilted dialogue and overwrought, unlikely character commentary were the norm. But, like I said, it’s a pilot. That happens. I was mostly disappointed by the healthy dose of horror movie clichés that lurked around every corner. Hopefully the writers got them all out of their system and the following episodes will boast a bit more originality. We’ll see.

The ep opens with your typical “spooky image” montage, over which the following words are stamped, “Seven years ago, six people were murdered by John Wakefield. They were the first murders in the history of the island. They will not be the last…” Okay, so eye roll right off the beginning, yeah? But I get it, you’ve got to get your premise out of the way early on. Speaking of which, the Harper’s Island premise is suchly (from the CBS website):

HARPER’S ISLAND is about a group of family and friends who travel to a secluded island off the coast of Seattle for a destination wedding. This island is famous for a streak of unsolved murders from seven years ago. Although they’ve come to laugh and to love, what they don’t know is they’ve also come… to die. As the wedding festivities begin, friendships are tested and secrets exposed as a murderer claims victims, one by one, transforming the wedding week of fun and celebration into a terrifying struggle for survival. In every episode, someone is killed and every person is a suspect, from the wedding party to the island locals. By the end of the 13 episodes, all questions will be answered, the killer will be revealed and only a few will survive.

Okay! So the show cuts to a brightly lit boat party on a docked yacht. Everyone is good-looking and well-dressed. We meet the bride, Trish Wellington (Katie Cassidy) and her sister and matron-of-honor, Shea Allen (Gina Holden):

sisters by you.

Trish is a wealthy princess-type from Harper’s Island, and she’s marrying the poor-but-adorbs Henry Dunn (Christopher Gorham). I like him immediately, because he’s got a big smile and an easy, sympathetic way about him. Plus, Christopher Gorham is just so cute!

gorham by you.

Henry grew up spending his summers on the island, tending to the boat of Trish’s mogul dad, Thomas Wellington (Richard Burgi). As you can imagine, Trish is a daddy’s girl and Daddy’s not too pleased that she’s marrying the boat boy.

boat by you.

We meet Shea’s little daughter, the flower girl Madison (Cassandra Sawtell). Madison is predictably “creepy,” immediately scaring party guests with a bloody severed finger trick.

(CBS.com has these strange pics of their cast members in incredibly unflattering lighting with weird little epithets. Okay…)

We also meet Henry’s groomsmen, your standard mixed bag of colorful party dudes (Matt Bar as Sully, Brandom McLaren as Danny and Smallville‘s Chris Gaulthier as Malcolm, l-r):

beers by you.

A cab pulls up and a pretty but perturbed young woman (Elaine Cassidy) sits in the back, chewing her nails. The eyepatch-wearing cabbie recognizes her: “You’re Sheriff Mills’ kid. What a shame. All those people? Terrible. I never would have believed something so terrible could happen on the island.” The music swells, the girl looks increasingly anxious, and I am increasingly nauseated by the unlikely and hackneyed dialogue. This is our main protagonist Abby Mills, whose mother died when John Wakefield enjoyed his murderous heyday seven years ago. She’s the groom’s best friend, returning to the island for the first time since the tragedy so she can attend his nuptials. She’s not too happy about it.

abby 2 by you.

Next we’ve got Henry’s Uncle Marty, a fun-loving, rakish Harry Hamlin (Veronica Mars), which makes me happy because Harry Hamlin is awesome. He runs up with a mariachi band and drinks for everyone. Exposition teaches us that Marty has never been married and charmingly hits up all the pretty young things. I like this guy!

uncle marty by you.

Of course the next shot is of Uncle Marty in the bathroom, downing pills with champagne and sticking a gun down his waistband. So, you know, not everyone is who they seem, blah blah blah.

Trish and her dad exposit about Cousin Ben–where is he? He’s usually late, but he always answers his phone. Where could he be? We can’t wait forever. Well, turns out he’s tied beneath the boat, near the propellers. They give up and decide to set sail without him, and of course the propellers cut him all to pieces and we have our first death before the credits! Nice!

The credits are more of the spooky montage variety, followed by Creepy Little Madison’s voice singing “one by one…” The show’s really heavily relying on the Agatha Christie And Then There Were None concept here. Particularly when we see Madison stealing Cousin Ben’s gift bag and ripping up the tag with his name on it (even though no one has discovered Ben’s body yet), little-indian-on-the-mantle-style.

Okay, so the boat docks and Abby reluctantly disembarks, wary about returning to the island where her mother was murdered. She’s immediately accosted by her jovial ex-boyfriend Jimmy (CJ Thomason), who’s obviously still carrying a torch.

HARPER'S ISLAND by you.

We learn Abby dumped him and took off after her mother’s murder. His desperate (albeit charming) flirting would indicate that he doesn’t begrudge her for it. Abby goes for a walk, straight into the woods and to a giant tree where, flashbacks tell us, her mother was hanged along with the other victims of John Wakefield. Henry finds her and comforts her, gently chastising her for chasing such a terrible memory right off the bat, and they exit the scene, leaving us to discover that someone is hiding behind the tree holding some sort of weapon. The hand I saw appeared to be male, although I couldn’t swear on it.

Okay, so! Through the ensuing pre-wedding social events, we meet the following characters: JD (Dean Cechvala), Henry’s depressed and tatted up little brother. We learn that JD has tried to commit suicide and that “with Mom and Dad gone,” JD and Marty are the only family Henry has.

that guy by you.

Cal and Chloe, blonde couple. Chloe (Camerson Richardson) is a trampy little flirt and Cal (Adam Campbell) is a British wimp who’s desperately trying to keep up with her. He keeps trying to propose and losing his nerve or the ring. Chloe and Uncle Marty enjoy some serious eye-fucking and dirty dancing right in front of Cal, who wimpily smiles at them.

Shane (Ben Cotton), the mean-spirited and violent jackass friend to Jimmy (Abby’s ex):

Shane’s ex with whom JD emo-flirts at a bar, the equally depressed and tatted up Kelly (Anna Mae Routledge), who seems like she will be important later:

Abby’s old friend, the tough-edged bartender with a heart of gold, Nikki Bolton (Ali Liebert):

and Maggie (Beverley Elliot), the kindly wedding planner (hah! as if there’s such a thing) who seems to have known Henry, Trish and Abby for their whole lives:

Intrigue and conflict are instantly pervasive. Trish seems to be accepting of Henry and Abby’s allegedly platonic friendship, but as they’re obviously incredibly close and touchy-feely, she’s already started sending a few angsty eyes their way. As she should, because there definitely seem to be some sparks between them. However, she’s got her own old flame to worry about:

Someone by the name of Hunter Jennings keeps calling Trish’s cell, and she finally meets him outside the party, where he immediately plants one on her—a kiss she doesn’t instantly reject. She eventually pushes him away and reminds him that she’s getting married and she loves Henry, but she mixed-signally tells him she’ll meet him in the morning. Hunter quickly reports this news to Trish’s dad Thomas, who seems to have brought Hunter here for nefarious reasons of his own. Uncle Marty witnesses Hunter and Thomas’s tête-à-tête and broods menacingly about it. Trish’s sister, Shea, urges her to tell Henry that Hunter is bothering her, but Trish doesn’t want to spoil the mood, so she keeps that little tidbit to herself.

Abby and her father, Sheriff Mills, obviously have some major issues to hash out. Abby tries to avoid him but of course can’t help but run into him on the tiny island. Sheriff Mills appears to be a nice guy tentatively trying to make amends with his daughter, but Abby is having none of it, and we don’t know why.

(That’s right, Sheriff “The Sheriff” Mills.)

Everyone is impressed with the princess/pauper fairy tale aspect of Henry and Trish’s relationship, but many people seem to secretly resent it, as well. Someone is already harassing Abby: calling her (while she’s walking around her room in black lace panties and bra, like, this is supposed to be the GOOD GIRL, show, don’t you know we’re not supposed to see her in panties until later?!) with messages of Schubert’s Ave Maria and leaving a clipping about her mother’s murder on her mirror. A brief glimpse at the yellowed newspaper photo shows Smallville‘s Sarah Jane Redmond (Nasty Nell!) as her mother, so I’m assuming we’ll meet her in flashbacks. Abby is wigging.

Also, even beyond Madison’s prescience in tearing up Cousin Ben’s gift bag tag, there’s something going on with that little girl that is supposed to be scary but is decidedly more groan-worthy. Trish’s sister Shea and her husband Richard (whom we’ve barely met)…

…are sleeping when Madison creeps up next to their bed, smiling grossly. When Shea wakes up and asks her daughter what’s wrong, Madison whispers, “People died on this island. A lot of people. My new friend told me.” So, whatever that’s about. This kid is not scary. She’s just kind of odd.

Finally, there’s one more pretty spectacular kill before the end credits—someone we just met and, I have to say, one of the last people I was expecting to be offed before the second ep. So kudos for surprising me there, and for all the dangly entrails and whatnot. That was pretty cool.

I really didn’t like this episode the first time I saw it, but the second time lead me to believe that the show has some definite potential. Harper’s Island is a great Stephen King-type setting, with the foggy isle village, the lighthouses and fishing boats. It’s gorgeously shot and everything looks pale and spooky. It makes sense, as series co-producer Craig R. Baxley (along with Jon Turtletaub and Ari Schlossberg) is a frequent television collaborator with Mr. King. The kills were good, although nothing was particularly scary, but the ep was so jam-packed with information that there wasn’t much room for atmosphere, so that could come later. The real question is whether they can make me care about these characters, whether they live or die. The relationships are complex and dynamic, but so far only Henry, Abby, Jimmy and Abby’s dad Sheriff “The Sheriff” have got me even a little emotionally invested in their fates. So we’ll see how everything develops in the next ep or two—I’ll give it until probably the fourth episode before ultimately deciding if I’m going to tune in until the end. I’m pretty curious, though, and that’s a good sign.

I didn’t really spoil anything, so if you’d like to be your own judge, you can watch the pilot here. Check out Episode 2 this Thursday night on CBS, 10/9c.

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4 Responses to “Harper’s Island pilot”

  1. I also wasn’t a huge fan of the pilot. The concept is really cool and has a lot of potential but I just don’t know. I thought it was pretty bad. I’ll give it a few episodes but unless they show me something, I’m done.

  2. Isn’t that funny that his character on Ugly Betty is ALSO named Henry? I guess he just looks like a Henry. Did they not find the chopped up body? Do you think Harry Hamlin will be the secret killer once more?

  3. I thought that, too, that Christopher Gorham is such a Henry. They have not found the chopped up body yet, or the surprise-entraily body, so the wedding guests are still feeling pretty happy-go-lucky. I have reason to believe Harry Hamlin is not the secret killer.

  4. i cannot BELIEVE you managed to keep track of all of these characters!! GAH!! although i guess they kind of need a lot of people to kill over time. but still!

    in spite of the allure of christopher gorham, i will NOT be tuning into this show. cos i am a weenie.

    although i do like the idea of an agatha christie version of gossip girl. now THAT i would watch.

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