While contemplating the sad fact that the brilliant season finale of Life was probably the brilliant series finale of Life, I got to wondering again about whether short series–the kind of format the BBC uses for series like Life on Mars–are really the wave of the future. We’ve asked this question before, but CBS’ new mystery show Harper’s Island is the first series in a long while to embrace the shortened format on purpose rather than because the story is being cut short by cancellation. This “tune in for a few weeks only” format works like gangbusters in reality television, where attention spans are extra short (I freely admit I have completely lost the American Idol thread this season–are they still singing?), and it works overseas–why couldn’t it work for CBS or NBC?
Is Harper’s Island a good test case for whether this format will work well on American television? Well…maybe. It’s got a solid built-in countdown hook, with the Ten Little Indians conceit of a new murder each week. Viewers might tune in just to see who is left standing, like they do for Big Brother or Survivor on the same network. The first murder was just plain nasty–I mean that as a compliment–and there were some nicely creepy moments. I know I’m easy when it comes to scares, but they should have cut down that murder tree a long time ago. And it has Jim Beaver, who classes up any joint.
On the other hand, my very first reaction to the whole show was, “Ooh! I hope Harry Hamlin kills all the rich people!” He…won’t be. In the Interesting Character Derby, then, we are left with Plucky Tragic Heroine Whose Mother Was Killed In The First Murder Spree And Whose Name I Cannot Remember (played by Elaine Cassidy), Kinda Cute Working-Class Groom Whose Name I Cannot Remember (the always welcome Christopher Gorham), Cheeky Outsider Trying to Propose Whose Name I Cannot Remember (Adam Campbell), and Creepy Little Prescient Girl Who Tries to Fry Snails with A Magnifying Glass But Whose Name I Cannot Remember (Cassandra Sawtell, recently seen tormenting Shawn and Gus on Psych). Oh, and Jim Beaver. A cast full of interchangable pretty people is not a good sign, although I suppose it is a classic horror trope. If you’re a classic horror-suspense fan, Harper’s Island might be worth a visit. The rest of us will be hoping the drama gets pumped up beyond the body count (and that Harry Hamlin will rise out of the water weilding a chainsaw), or we’ll be sailing away. Thursday nights at 10pm Eastern and Pacific on CBS.