One Final Rant About Harper’s Island & A New Book Project for the Blog

Look, I’ve got to do this – despite my earlier rant about the television show Harper’s Island, I must confess that I did end up watching the whole thing.

My complain last time was that I was five episodes in and nobody seemed to notice or care that people were vanishing left, right and centre.

I will credit the producers – by the time they’d hid the 13th and final episode, they’d managed to kill off over 20 characters. So they weren’t kidding when they said that somebody dies in every episode.

But still, the whole thing was badly done. From now, I’m going to drop some spoilers, so either happily read on, or you can just stop right here. To make sure nobody accidentally reads something they don’t want to, I’ll put the text in white, so you’ll have to highlight to read it.

***Spoilers***

Two main problems with this show:

1. The seeming lack of care of people disappearing.This was only in the early episodes, but it sucks the suspense out of things. In fact, the only way the filmmakers could hold our interest in between killings was to stick in raunchy scenes. This does not make up for suspense, but maybe it keeps teenage boys watching. I don’t know.

2. Too many bit players and an island that was too big. The closest thing to Harper’s Island is, of course, Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, which brilliantly puts 10 people on a very small island. The point of that book is you realise very quickly on that there are only those 10 people, so as they start dying, the suspense is driven by the fact that it must be one of those 10 people. But in Harper’s Island, there are so many local townfolks wandering around the island (and probably a whole batch we never saw), that the suspects could have been almost anybody. See, there’s no sense of mystery, if the killer could potentially be a crazy man lurking out in the woods. A real whodunnit, to play fair, must have its killer be one of the main characters. And to do that, we must know that only a certain number of people could have committed the crime. But in Harper’s Island, any old person could have walked off the street and started killing people – thus the whodunnit side of things falls apart. Which brings me to:

3. The identify of the killers. Now having destroyed the suspense and the whodunnit mystery, it then proceeds to pick two killers (yes, two, which you’d know by now if you were watching) – and it picks the worst two people you could possibly have.

The first one is the Stereotypical Nicest Guy in the Show. I remember when I was a little kid, I’d watch Murder, She Wrote and I’d always pick the killer. I had no idea what the plots were about, but whenever you met someone nice for a few minutes, that person turned out to be the killer. (Actually, I think they picked that up from Scooby Doo.) So as soon as I started turning my mind to guessing who the killer was likely to be, he was the first person I chose. About halfway through, I started keeping my eye on him and sure enough – he was never around when killings took place, he was being really nice and supportive, etc.

And then – to throw me off the track – because I really thought it was a dead giveaway in Episode 7 – they do the unthinkable – the killer turns out to be a crazy man running around in the woods who everyone thought was dead seven years ago. Obviously, they hadn’t read my posts on what kills suspense in a whodunnit . . .

So then it turns out to be, in the end, the crazy man and the Nicest Guy. One is a cheater’s way of setting up a whodunnit, and the other is a Scooby Doo cliche . . . Horrendous, horrendous, horrendous.

Anyway, all of this has made me fix on a new literary project for the blog following on from War and Peace. I’ll take a month off in August, but coming in September, for anyone who wants to join me, we’re taking an interactive tour through possibly the greatest mystery story every written: Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. More details to follow soon.

Small Rant About a TV Show That Probably No One Else Reading This Blog Will Ever Watch

About three or four weeks ago, an ad came on for a show on Channel 10 called Harper’s Island that was going to run at 9.40 (after Rove). I’m not normally one to follow much TV (not on TV – on DVD, yes, if it’s got a good reputation). But the concept sucked me in. Twenty-five people go to an island, and one of them is going to be murdered every week. In the last week, we’ll find out who the murderer is.

Now, the reason this caught my attention was because this is the plot for a book that I still consider one of the greatest mystery stories of all time, Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None (which, depending on your age, you may have read under the older title Ten Little Indians and if you are really old – like the copy I first borrowed from a library in Brisbane – you may have read it under its original title Ten Little Niggers. Hmm . . . I wonder why they changed its title?)

The concept with the Christie story was quite simple. Ten people go to an island, forĀ  a variety of reasons. One thinks he’s invited to a reunion, another thinks it’s a party, another think it’s a business deal, etc. This little island, off the coast of England somewhere is a tiny rock that basically contains one large house and not much else. So it’s quite clear from the outset that there are only these 10 characters on the island.

That night, they’re all having a drink, and the butler (one of the ten) is asked to put on a record. The record announces that all of these people are criminals and committed a serious crime and that they’re all going to die for it. That said, one guy falls straight over dead with a poisoned glass.

And that, my friends, is the beginning of one of the greatest thriller romps in literary history. The characters are 2D, but who cares? As they all get killed off, one by one, the paranoia grows and grows. Because the killer must be one of these ten and there is no detective to abstract us from the tension and bring some objectivity. There’s just suspects. And even though you would think it might get easier to work out who the killer is as the numbers dwindle, it actually doesn’t. It gets harder and harder, and the denoument in the Christie book is so brilliantly over the top and unexpected (let’s just say she goes from 10 to 0) that it’s stuck in my mind for years afterwards.

So I’ve always kind of liked this model of thriller as a story. And there was a very clever spin on it with John Cusack a few years ago called Identity.

So I was all set to get into Harper’s Island. I’m still watching it, but it’s really a notch below the Christie, for the following reasons:

  • First of all, it’s a large island off the coast of Seattle, and a whole bunch of people live there. So the killer could turn out to be some nut job that I’ve never seen who lives in the hills. I’m sure it won’t, but it could – and that takes away from the tension of the whole thing.
  • The characters are stupid college types (they’re all out there for a wedding, so there’s a bunch of stereotypical groomsmen and stereotypical bridesmaids) so I don’t particularly care which one they bump off next.
  • But most irritating of all, each episode is a day (starts in the morning, ends at night) and I’ve watched four of them so far and there’s been something like half a dozen people killed so far. Of those six, at least three (I think) came over on the boat with the original party and nobody – but nobody- has stopped to ask, “Hey, I wonder where Uncle So-And-So was that came over with us on the boat? I haven’t seen him anywhere!” I mean, geez, folks, if they’re your favourite relative or your bridesmaid or your friend or whatever they are – surely you would wonder where they are, right? Right? This killer must be scratching his head, thinking to himself, “How many people have I got to chop before they even notice I’m here? This is just stupid . . .”

Anyway, I’m obviously not the only one, because after two episodes, Channel 10 shifted it to the crazy hour of 1.25 am in the morning. I think I’ll just stick to it online from now. Maybe in the 5th episode, they’ll finally notice someone is missing. If they’re not all panicked by episode 8, I really think the murderer might as well give up – clearly these people are brain dead already.