Did They Deserve Better: Harper’s Island (2009)

Harper’s Island debuted on April 9, 2009, on CBS. It would later be canceled on July 14, 2009, airing for one season for a total of 13 episodes. Harper’s Island starred an ensemble cast featuring Elaine Cassidy, Christopher Gorham, and Katie Cassidy. Harper’s Island was marketed as a whodunnit mystery in the vein of Agatha Christie. The show centered around the titular Harper’s Island, where guests arrived on the island to celebrate the wedding of Henry and Trish. The island is haunted by the murders of six people who were killed by serial killer John Wakefield before being killed by the island sheriff, Charlie Mills. The sheriff’s daughter and the groom’s best friend, Abby is returning to the island for her best friend Henry’s wedding. But the killings starts again and the idea of a copycat killer makes every guest a suspect.

My Overview Thoughts: I had never heard of Harper’s Island previous to researching for a blog post. Reading the plot synopsis of the show I was intrigued and once I got the idea of covering shows that were cancelled I knew I would want to cover Harper’s Island. What may surprise you at first most about Harper’s Island is that it sorta begins as soap opera more than a mystery-thriller. I was taken aback by this, but in hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have. The central event that kickstarts this entire plot is a wedding. Melodramatic storylines are bound to happen and that’s essentially what the first four episodes are. I am not necessarily complaining about the soap opera-like storylines, a lot of my favorite shows you could argue are soap operas. Not the conventional types, but soap operas nonetheless. I like melodramatic television shows, but that was not what I was expecting when I signed up to watch Harper’s Island and that’s what I’m betting viewers who were watching the show in real-time thought as well. That’s possibly why they tuned out, but we’ll get to that later. Unlike those viewers, I persisted through the first four episodes and luckily I got rewarded for it. I am not spoiling anything about the show, because I do think if you’re interested in the synopsis you should check it out. But once a Final Destination-like moment happens in episode five, Harper’s Island is off to the races. Consider the first four episodes to be a lot of build-up and drama that creates motives for each character and although I didn’t care too much about the first four episodes they do indeed do a good job at making every cast member feel like a plausible suspect. This helps a lot throughout the rest of the show when guessing who the killer is. That’s what makes the show a lot of fun to watch once it gets going. The set-up at the beginning of the series allows the rest of the series to be the new Agatha Christie story you were looking for. The journey the show takes you on in the next 8 episodes is at both times impressive and devastating (in a good way) once you connect the puzzle pieces of the story. I can’t speak for anyone other myself, but once it comes time for the final reveals they do feel satisfying and earned.

Does It End on A Cliffhanger: No, in fact it ends with a bow wrapped around it. That’s how nicely the show wraps up. Once you learn the idea behind the show this doesn’t come off as a surprise. The creators of the show wanted the Harper’s Island to be an anthology type of show. Each season would revolved around a different location containing the Harper name. For example, season two could have focused on a group of people staying at Harper’s Hotel when killings begin. The creators wanted to do these different mysteries each seasons with different casts. I know that doesn’t sound like a novel thing anymore, but remember this show premiered in 2009 two years before American Horror Story would debut. So it’s easy to say Harper’s Island was ahead of it’s time, because it was.

Cancellation: As I had previously mentioned, the first few episodes of Harper’s Island did not drive viewers to want to continue watching more of the show. Harper’s Island debuted with a rating of 10 million viewers and would subsequently drop viewers each week with the finale only gathering 4 million viewers. CBS ultimately cancelled the show but allowing all 13 episodes to be aired.

Did It Deserve Better: Yes, I do believe if the show had some stronger episodes out the gate then it could have maintained a stable viewership and possibly have gotten a few more seasons. And I can only think how good those seasons could have been with the creators ironing out the kinks of the first season and learning what worked and didn’t. The idea of a 13 episode mystery series with an unknown serial killer and a new person added to the body count every week is a fun gimmick. Such a fun gimmick I’m shocked that it hasn’t been used as a template for other television shows. Harper’s Island reinforced that an anthology series using that as a template can work. I would love to see another show do something similar to this with how much I enjoyed watching it be used on Harper’s Island.

I Want 8 More Seasons of This: I’m not sure how Harper’s Island would have stretched to 8 seasons, but I would have liked to see them try. Once the show worked it’s flaws out I thought Harper’s Island became a very entertaining show with twists I didn’t see coming. It’s only too bad that by the time it did fix those flaws, it was already near the end of it’s run. Still I would highly recommend checking the show out. It’s only 13 episodes. I watched it over the course of two days for free on Pluto TV. If Harper’s Island at all sounds appealing to you I would give it a watch.

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