Saturday, April 18, 2009

My guilty pleasure

I have watched the first two episodes of the CBS Thursday night slasher-TV drama, Harper's Island. If you aren't familiar with it, Harper's Island is a mystery series that will end after 13 episodes.

There have been two episodes of Harper's Island and so far five people have been killed. The way people die in this show is why I think of it as slasher-TV. They all die in gruesome and horrible ways, just like in an R-rated slasher movie. With the popularity of the CSI franchises and all of the creative ways people die on those shows, not to mention the stomach churning scenes of corpses and autopsies, we've become more desensitized to violent death on TV. The movies have been doing it for 40 years, and now TV has caught up to the perversity of it all.

The basic premise of Harper's Island is that a whole wedding party descends on the island "37 miles off the coast of Seattle, Washington." Henry Dunn is marrying rich girl, Trish Wellington, and they invite all their friends, who so far number a couple of dozen as far as I can tell. Trish's dad is there as is her univited ex-boyfriend, Hunter.

Henry Dunn is played by Christopher Gorham, a young actor who had a big role in Ugly Betty as Betty's boyfriend, also named Henry, Henry Grubstick. (Maybe Henry changed his hairstyle, took off his glasses and changed his last name, then met Trish.) For some reason Gorham just doesn't look like a guy who would attract a rich girl, but then I don't know what those guys look like. They don't look like me, either.

The star of the series is Elaine Cassidy, a really fine young actress. She's yet another in a long, long string of people with accents who play Americans, and talk better American than us Americans. Is this a fad of some sort? To hire Australians or Brits, or in Ms. Cassidy's case, Irish, and train them how to speak American English?

Cassidy plays Abby, a girl who grew up on Harper's Island, who knew Henry when he was a working stiff (oops, maybe 'stiff' is the wrong word) on the island during summers. Her estranged dad is the police chief (or the whole police department, since so far he's the only cop we've seen). Several years before when Abby was a child her mom was killed in grisly fashion by serial killer John Wakefield and in turn Abby's dad killed him. But now that the wedding party is on the island the killings have started again.

The fishmarket isn't the only place on Harper's Island where I pick up a piscatorial odor. There are enough red herrings being dragged all over the place to fill San Francisco Bay.

Anyway, even with the gory murders I have a terrible guilty pleasure, enjoying this show as entertainment. According to an article about the series, it's a mix of Scream and the novel by Agatha Christie, And Then There Were None. The killer in And Then There Were None was extremely clever in his engineering of the murders, and when I read it as a junior high student I enjoyed the hell out of the book. But that was before I fully understood how we as a species regard death as something we want to see. At least in fantasy form, that is. When it happens to real people it's a tragedy, when it happens on a TV show or a movie it didn't really happen, so we can excuse it. It's sick, but it's the way we are and have been forever. I'm sure when our stone age ancestors were sitting around a fire at night the storyteller of the group was regaling them with tales of death, how Og, Son of Fire got bashed in the head and had his brains eaten, and everyone around the campfire know, like prehistoric horror movies.

No comments: