Harper’s Island


Rating 3¼

Created by Ari Schlossberg

Executive Producers: Jeffrey Bell and Jon Turteltaub

Episodes written and directed by: EP1 Whap (Ari Schlossberg / Jon Turteltaub); EP2 Crackle (Jeffrey Bell / Sanford Bookstaver); EP3 Ka-Blam (Jill E Blotevogal / Steve Boyum); EP4 Bang (Lindsay Sturman / Guy Bee); EP5 Thwack (Tyler Bensinger / Steve Gomer); EP6 Sploosh (Robert Levine / James Whitmore Jr); EP7 Thrack, Splat, Sizzle (Jeffrey Bell / Scott Peters); EP8 Gurgle (Tyler Bensinger / Rick Bota); EP9 Seep (Nichelle Tramble Spellman / Craig R Baxley); Ep10 Snap (Christine Roum / Steve Boyum); EP11 Splash (Dan Shotz / Rick Bota); EP12 Gasp (Christine Roum and Robert Levine / Seith Mann); Ep13 Sigh (Jeffrey Bell / Sanford Bookstaver)

Starring Elaine Cassidy (Abby Mills), Christopher Gorham (Henry Dunn), Katie Cassidy (Trish Wellington), Cameron Richardson (Chloe Carter), Adam Campbell (Cal Vandeusen), C J Thomason (Jimmy Mance), Jim Beaver (Sheriff Charlie Mills), Richard Burgi (Thomas Wellington), Dean Chekvala (J D Dunn), Matt Barr (Christopher ‘Sully’ Sullivan), Brandon Jay McLaren (Danny Brooks), Chris Gauthier (Malcolm Ross), Sean Rogerson (Joel Booth), Gina Holden (Shea Allen), David Lewis (Richard Allen), Cassandra Sawtell (Madison Allen), Claudette Mink (Katherine Wellington), Amber Borycki (Beth Barrington), Sarah Smyth (Lucy Daramour), Ben Cotton (Shane Pierce), Anna Mae Routledge (Kelly Seaver), Ali Liebert (Nikki Bolton), Beverly Elliott (Maggie Krell), Victor Webster (Hunter Jennings), Callum Keith Rennie (John Wakefield), Jay Brazeau (Dr Ike Campbell), Sarah-Jane Redmond (Sarah Mills), Dean Wray (Cole Harkin), and Harry Hamlin (“Uncle” Marty Dunn)

Seven years ago on Harper’s Island John Wakefield brutally murdered six people in a ritual killing spree before being shot dead by the local sheriff, Charlie Mills, whose wife was one of victims. Mills sent his daughter Abby away from the island following the killings and she has been estranged from him ever since. She comes back to the island seven years later for the wedding of her childhood friend Henry Dunn, but when the wedding guests start to die or disappear it seems as if there is a copycat killer on the loose, continuing where John Wakefield left off.


‘Harper’s Island’ is a murder mystery / thriller / drama series broadcast on the CBS network in thirteen episodes between 9 April and 11 July 2009. It differed from other American network shows because it was never intended to extend past its one and only season, which might partly explain why CBS allowed the full run to be broadcast despite an alarming drop in ratings after the opening episode. This was rather out-of-step with the usual trigger-happy response of the television networks, which are often quick to cancel anything that does not make a sustained instant impact. The first episode was watched by 10.2 million viewers. The series hit a low with episode nine, which was watched by just 3.2 million viewers. The final episode had an audience of just over 4 million viewers.

The show was created by Ari Schlossberg, who was in charge for the original short pilot presentation. However, by the time of the first episode Jeffrey Bell and Jon Turteltaub had been brought in as executive producers and Bell extensively rewrote that opening episode. Several actors cast in leading roles in the pilot had also been replaced. Jeffrey Bell’s previous credits included ‘The X-Files’ and ‘Angel’. Jon Turteltaub is a successful film director whose credits include ‘While You Were Sleeping’ and ‘National Treasure’. He was an executive producer on ‘Jericho’, a show that ran on the CBS network between 2006 and 2008.

An obvious reference point for ‘Harper’s Island’ is the famous 1939 Agatha Christie crime thriller novel ‘And Then There Were None’, which was originally titled ‘Ten Little Niggers’ and is also known as ‘Ten Little Indians’. The horror franchise ‘Scream’ has also been widely mentioned, although I would say ‘I Know What You Did Last Summer’ and, even more so, its sequel ‘I Still Know What You Did Last Summer’ would be a closer fit. The show bears similarities to numerous other sources, deliberately so. It was always intended to pay homage to a particular brand of murder mystery and horror.

I watched the opening episode three times before making the leap to the second episode. Each time I felt a sense of disappointment because I wanted to like it so much more than I did. However, once I had moved on to episode two I quickly found myself enjoying it more and more and soon became hooked, watching all thirteen episodes (on DVD) in the space of four days.

I quickly decided that it was best not to give too much thought to holes in the plot and the myriad of implausible happenings. The action takes place on an island that is not isolated or otherwise unoccupied. It has a fully established community, who remain largely invisible, other than a small handful of characters. There would, we must conclude, be any number of boats available to take people off the island and yet the destruction of one boat and the disappearance of another is seemingly enough to strand the wedding guests there. Early on various wedding guests and others seem to just disappear without anyone noticing anything in particular. We, the audience, know they have been killed, but within the story their absence is either not mentioned or it is assumed they have returned to the mainland, apparently doing so without saying goodbye and letting anyone know they were leaving. To some extent this is explained by the fact that everyone is hard at work making last-minute plans for what is clearly an elaborate and very expensive wedding, and are somewhat oblivious to what is going on around them, but when we don’t simply accept the ride for what it is there is no doubt that it all becomes rather silly.

Having said this, it is a very enjoyable piece of hokum. The cast is great, including Christopher Gorham, who will be familiar to many people from ‘Ugly Betty’, Cameron Richardson, who was in the short-lived ‘Point Pleasant’, a show I adore, and stalwarts like Richard Burgi and Jim Beaver. The lead role of Abby Mills is played by Elaine Cassidy, an Irish actress I am sure I recognise, although I cannot bring to mind anything else I might have seen her in.

The show is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination and the various red herrings are so transparent that they often serve little purpose. It takes a few episodes to really get warmed up and it does start to unravel a little bit in the final few episodes; I am still undecided about the dénouement. However, for all of these criticisms, it’s the most enjoyable American television series I have watched in quite a while, although I am not sure how well it would stand up to a second viewing.

Reviews were mixed. Twenty-two reviews are collected at Metacritic, resulting in a 61% rating. Not all critics were impressed. Matthew Gilbert, writing in the Boston Globe, called it “this enervating, vapid and obscenely over-promoted thriller,” while Daniel Carlson of the Hollywood Reporter thought it was “boring”.

Review posted 23 March 2010


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