Great television murder mysteries enthral us: Twin Peaks, the “Who Shot JR?” episode of Dallas – even “Who Shot Mr Burns?” endure as shining whodunits. The newest take on the genre, Harper’s Island, is really nothing so new at all, but thankfully it kinda knows it. Set on an island “37 miles from Seattle” this is a short-run, 13 episode drama. Each week a character is extracted. By the end of the series we’ll learn who the dastardly killer is, and effectively, it will be over. In this age of commitment to serialised television at least we know what we’re in for.
This mystery revolves around guests gathered for a wedding. If memory serves me correctly, that’s the same premise of the soapie Out of the Blue at Manly Beach. But with its bigger budgets, Harper’s Island is looking to be an unabashed homage to the horror genre. This is a kind of small screen soapie version of I Know What You Did Last Summer. There are plenty of pretty 20-somethings with jealousies, bar brawls and indiscretions. Everyone is both potential victim and suspect here, harbouring dark secrets with cyber- stalking thrown in to boot (do not attempt this at home).
In principal roles are Katie Cassidy (Supernatural) who is due to marry Christopher Gorham, better known as Ugly Betty’s boyfriend, Henry. Even Harry Hamlin makes a guest appearance. There’re plenty of others who look like they’ve just walked off the set of The Bold and the Beautiful or Passions too.
The look of the series is glamorously dark, with green forests, old timber mansions and designer wardrobe. Not quite The Shining or Twin Peaks but it tries… It also doesn’t come close with its level of tension either, with melodramatic and laboured dialogue. They even use the old cliché line, “Let’s get out of here!” which would be awfully fun if the drama ramped up its sense of cheek.
That’s the main problem with the first episode – despite the fun idea it doesn’t go far enough. The two deaths this week are inventively staged. One is worthy of being downright squeamish. You can’t help but wish it got to its MA15+ murders a little faster. B-grade TV that aspires to kitsch? Almost.
Still, it’s certainly different from most of the other offerings around.
Harper’s Island premieres 9.40pm Sunday on TEN.