Harper’s Island, the 13-episode “mystery event,” debuts tonight on CBS, where it will spin a gory yarn about a wedding gone wrong in a town with a bloody past. Fans of companion web series Harper’s Globe are already four weeks ahead of the game, having familiarized themselves with the legend of John Wakefield, the madman who terrorized Harper’s Island seven years ago with a seemingly senseless killing spree.
The Harper’s Globe site — ostensibly the newly digitized home of the local newspaper of the same name — is full of articles about the Wakefield killings and their aftermath. (Just one example of the depth of content we loved in our NTVS review.) And everything old is new again on Harper’s Island, where the danger is supposedly a thing of the past…until Abby Mills (Elaine Cassidy), the groom’s best friend, returns home for the first time since her mother’s murder. Suddenly, characters are being offed left and right.
It’s a promise straight from the show’s marketing department that at least one character will be killed in every episode. The premiere — evocatively titled “Whap” — delivers on that promise big time. And things only get darker and gorier from there. But for a show with 25 characters and a dense backstory, the pleasant surprise here is not just film-quality chills, but the amount of information that’s delivered in the first hour.
Too often, pilots ladle on exposition with a heavy-handedness that grinds all action to a halt while characters remind each other of stuff they already know. On Harper’s Island, terrifying flashbacks flit by, old flames are rekindled with a few choice words, hidden betrayals are uncovered with a glance — it’s a lot of story and character bang for the buck from a show that could have been just a by-the-numbers splatterfest. (Though the pilot does offer some delightfully squishy moments for the bloodthirsty.) Adding to the appeal is Harper’s Island’s self-contained mystery and guaranteed payoff, which might be just what the doctor ordered in a TV landscape full of viewers frustrated by mythology-heavy and resolution-light fare like Lost and Heroes.
As hinted when the EQAL-produced Harper’s Globe launched, there will be character crossovers between the broadcast show and the web series, and Globe’s just-released fourth episode features the first such appearance, when Harper’s Globe heroine Robin has a run-in with Harper’s Island‘s Ben. Ben is the cousin of Trish, the bride in the destination wedding that kicks off the TV show, and — well, we can’t tell you more, but on a show where most of the cast probably won’t survive the series, deciding whose death and whose survival to root for is probably going to be half the fun, and any extra glimpses of the characters can only enhance the experience. Ben actually figures significantly in the first 10 minutes or so of the Harper’s Island pilot, which means TV viewers coming in fresh will have no trouble following his storyline, and Harper’s Globe fans will have the fun of recognizing a familiar face.
It’s the first example of how the two shows will integrate — the next will happen in Episode 5 of Harper’s Globe, which will include fallout from some of the carnage of this week’s Harper’s Island — and so far it seems that CBS is succeeding with its attempt to spawns a new generation of web-and-broadcast show pairing, in which each series complements and expands upon the experience of the other.
As the race heats up to crack the mystery first, no doubt fans of both shows will collide, and it will be interesting to see what happens then. But for now, the premiere of Harper’s Island is not only a promising launch to a new TV show, but a promising glimpse at a world where new and oldteevee actually work together.
Web-television harmony. Seems worth a small body count.