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TV Series Review

There's not a bride-to-be on the planet who dreams of having a Harper's Island style wedding.

Here's why: Trish Wellington isn't settling for a fabulous wedding day. She's planning a whole week for her and her soft-spoken beau, Henry Dunn, to celebrate their nearing nuptials. The festivities take place on Harper's Island, a cloudy-yet-picturesque vacation spot somewhere off the coast of Washington. Her (rich) daddy charters a massive yacht to ferry everyone over and rents out the swank Candlewick Inn to house the rowdy guests.

Alas, the party sails into choppy water right from the get-go. Turns out, seven years earlier, some guy killed six people on the island, including the mother of one of the guests—Henry's best friend, Abby. And now it seems that someone hopes to one-up that murderer's massacre.

Henry's gregarious Uncle Marty gets sliced in half. Socialite Lucy is burned alive. Reverend Fain is beheaded and dismembered. Local girl Kelly is hung. Through the show's first five episodes, eight people have died—and the body count grows with each hour-long installment.

It takes a while for anyone to realize that guests are being systematically hunted and dispatched. Never mind the fact that animal carcasses keep showing up in bathtubs and on communion tables, or that a creepy little girl spends her free time talking with her "new (read: invisible) friends" and chants things like, "One by one, one by one." It's only when the father of the bride is shish kebabbed by a falling, blade-enhanced chandelier that anyone begins to think the wedding has bigger problems than whether they've ordered enough lobster.

More Than Murder, She Wrote
Harper's Island (on CBS) is an Agatha Christie novel gone very, very wrong. You could also think of it as a made-for-TV installment of the Friday the 13th franchise. Because while the show is not an R-rated splatterfest, it is graphic. Its makers seem determined to elicit a collective "ewww" from audiences—before each commercial break, if they can swing it.

When Cousin Bob gets smacked in the head with a boat propeller, for instance, we see the yacht trundle off in a trail of blood. When Uncle Marty gets carved up, we see the top half of him hanging from a bridge, the bottom half nowhere in sight. Disembodied limbs are pulled out of a swamp. And animal corpses are coated with blood and maggots.

But there's more to this than mere killing. Harper's Island is about breaking all 10 Commandments—not just one.

Illicit sex, I guess, secures second place. Trish's stepmother is having a sadomasochistic affair with Trish's brother-in-law. Trish prances around naked and has noisy sex with Henry. Bridesmaid Chloe teases her comic-relief boyfriend while he's taking a bath, posing for him in her underwear. The groomsmen run about the island with a blow-up doll named "Muffin." And the best man, Sully, confesses to Henry that he tried to seduce Trish—several times. Sully also tries to steal Chloe away from her main squeeze. His idea of a toast? "Here's to all of us hooking up with all of them."

He also hires a stripper for Henry's bachelor party.

As for felonies, the groomsmen and Henry commit a pretty big one when they happen upon a deserted boat filled with blood, a smelly corpse and a bagful of money. After a spirited discussion about whether they should keep the cash, one of the men takes matters into his own hands, shoots a hole in the deserted boat and takes the cash. (And the decision making arguably gets worse from there.)

Oh, and then there's the booze. Lots of it. And language. Characters spit out "d--n," "h---" and "b--ch" infrequently, but abuse God's name every other minute or so.

A Guilty Displeasure
Harper's Island is supposedly a one-and-done, 13-part murder mystery. If you don't catch it this season, you won't have a chance next—and for that, I suppose, we can all be grateful. It's being marketed as a "guilty pleasure," but this show is really all guilt and no pleasure.

Which, frankly, is a shame. Because I love a good whodunit. Mysteries—even murder mysteries—can be crafted in ways that create suspense without succumbing to sleaze and conflict without glorying in gore. But this show is less a good mystery and more a dumb, tawdry, slasher story, bled dry of any charm, wit or even clever hokum. This isn't a whodunit. It's a whothunkitandwhy.

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Paul Asay

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