harpers island
By: Aleks Chan

When I first heard CBS had picked up HARPER’S ISLAND last spring, I was intrigued: killing off attendees of a wedding party on a secluded island every week sounded like it could be Agatha Christie-style fun, especially with the decision to make it a limited series with a set end date. It had the potential — and I surmised this after seeing a few preview clips during last year’s upfront presentations – to be the sort of television event that seems such a distant idea now. Dreaming, in this case, is for suckers.

HARPER’S ISLAND doesn’t aspire to be anything but a means to repurpose old slasher films and gory teen flicks where melodramatic pretty folk get sliced up with the kind of visceral uninhibitedness that somehow dictates that all horror movie deaths must be done as grisly as possible. And in a way, it isn’t so bad: HARPER’S ISLAND isn’t the kind of suspenseful thriller you would ostensibly want it to be, but is rather the silly, preposterous train wreck that you can’t look away from.

Henry (Christopher Gorham, who somehow manages to smile in all his scenes in tonight’s premiere) and Trish (Katie Cassidy) are the bride and groom to be and have invited a small group of friends and family to the island to celebrate before the wedding. Henry and his best friend Abby (Elaine Cassidy) grew-up together on the island – him working there during the summer with his family, her as the sheriff’s daughter.

Abby’s hesitant to return – her mother was murdered years before by a man who “came to the island and started killing,” and seems to be back: every episode at least one of the 25 cast members is killed (somewhat masterfully, considering how the killer is in a lot of places at the same time). The deaths, are gruesome enough – you won’t find any of the delicacy in murder that you see in DEXTER, but they’re effective enough, providing a few genuine jumps if your willing to play along. (Tip: tune out the ONE TREE HILL-lite dialogue and you’ll be fine.)

For a 13-episode series without any intention to return (a British television model that a network like CBS would be smart to continue exploring), HARPER’S ISLAND does a decent enough job of providing admittedly cheesy thrills with characters you don’t need to care about (half of them are there be killed anyways) and a story line that isn’t at all demanding. It’s zero commitment television that can be as fun as you want it to be, especially if you have a DVR. So why not? Grade: B

HARPER’S ISLAND premieres Thursday April 9 at 10PM on CBC (GlobalTV in Canada)

Photo Credit: Chris Helcermanas-Benge/CBS

For all the latest TV news and reviews

  • Jacob

    Great review, tvaddict. I was planning on watching this anyway but it helps to know it isn’t as bad as I was expecting.

    And I definitely agree we need to adopt the British one-off standard of producing shows. Fewer episodes means less filler and less time to muck up great shows.

  • Jacob,

    Just to clarify, because sometimes it’s easy to miss the byline and I wouldn’t want to take credit for Aleks’ great review.’s TV reviewer extraordinaire Aleks Chan wrote the review! But glad you like it.

  • Ace

    I think it is NBC that should be exploring the 13 and done model, not CBS. They seem to be doing just fine with their procedurals :-P.

  • I for one am excited about this new model for television (new for the US at least). Kudos to CBS for trying something different right now, since the other networks are stuck in a stale tv rut. I’m really looking forward to the show – it will be good entertainment and not something you take too seriously.

    Also, there is an online companion series “Harper’s Globe” that reviewer forgot to mention. It’s a great supplement to the tv show and has already given us a lead on the mystery and characters. Check it out at

  • Pingback: What's on TV: April 9, 2009 | the TV addict()

  • @Ace: I agree (in fact I think all of the big five would be smart to follow this lead), but I think CBS would benefit most because it would allow it take risks it doesn’t normally take, possibly giving leeway to shows that aren’t procedurals.

  • Jessie

    I happen to love the old slasher style who-done-it movies and I was totally into Harper’s Island I loved it and I know every main charater from something else which is awesome. I am into iHarper’s Island all the way and cant wait to watch the next episode. Fun TV !!!

  • Marilyn Hansen

    Ridiculous dialogue, emaciated women, characters you couldn’t care less about, dumb, dumb, dumb. I was disappointed.

  • Claire

    Does anyone else think that Henry looks like Hitchcock’s original psycho Anthony Perkins from the movie “Psycho”?

  • I watched each and every minute of Harpers Island. I thought it was well done. SOME really grose ways to kill people, after Henry’s brother died, I guessed it was him..I didn’t want it to be him…. but having all the clues leaning toward Jimmy was a dead give away. Henry was nuts but he didn’t look it. I was glad to see Madison and her mom servive and Abby and Jimmy. If they put the series on dvd I would buy it.