CBS tries to scare up new viewers through a ‘limited’ series with limited imagination

[7 April 2009]

By Neal Justin

Star Tribune (Minneapolis) (MCT)

Once upon a time, an adorable young couple decided to get married on a remote - BOOOOO!

Did I scare you? Make you spill your latte? Give you nightmares that will keep you up past Carson Daly? If so, CBS’s “Harper’s Island,” a 13-week limited series that debuts Thursday, will trigger raisin-sized goosebumps all over your trembling body. If not, you’re way too jaded to be drawn into this slasher tale that’s as humdrum as a PG-version of a horror flick. It’s “Saw” without teeth.

The premise - this time without interruption - revolves around a wedding party that heads to a remote island off of Seattle, despite the fact that it once served as the killing field for a mass murderer who everyone believes to be dead.

Before you can say bon voyage, there’s a death (the poor sap is tied underneath the boat and hacked up once the blades below start churning). The slayings get even more creative after everyone lands on the booby-trapped paradise as bodies get sliced by falling chandeliers, stuffed into incinerators and burned alive in pits. Like Freddy and Jason, this baddie gets easily bored and can’t be bothered with anything as routine as slipping poison into a margarita.

A sick creative streak isn’t the only thing “Harper’s” has in common with its big-screen counterparts. There’s the plucky girl with the haunted past (Elaine Cassidy, in the only role resembling a breakout performance), the creepy youngster who seems unfazed by adults being plucked off, comely ladies constantly stripping to their underwear, dead phone lines, a short-lived appearance by a well-known star (his name rhymes with Scary Whamlin) and an endless string of false bumps (Is that the killer in the bushes?!? Nah, just a little ol’ kitty cat).

I can’t remember the last time I saw this much blood and gore splattered across the small screen, with the exception of that very special episode of “Blossom.” The fact that it probably won’t faze most viewers says as much about network pressure to ratchet up the violence as it does about our growing tolerance for such mayhem.

Executive producer Jon Turteltaub, who directed the “National Treasure” films, is obviously hoping that audiences will pick through the carnage and try to identify the real killer in the cast, assuming he doesn’t whack everybody off before the final episode.

No lingering “Lost”-like mystery here. The network pinky swears that the murderer will be revealed on July 2, the series’ drop-dead date, faithfully following a model that has worked wonders in Europe. However, in case it’s a hit, don’t be surprised to see the fall schedule include something called “Harper’s Forest.”

The chances of any sort of spinoff is unlikely. I can’t imagine viewers will stick around to find out whodunit when they can easily flip over to something with more suspense - like “Dora the Explorer.”

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