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Why Harper's Island Should Revolutionize Bad Television Dramas (But Won't)

So there's this show that no one cares about. It's got explosions, sex, blood, a serial plot with twists and turns, and a ridiculously attractive cast of actors and actresses, and yet I am the only one in real life and in cyberspace that seems to watch it at all, much less voraciously and with a crack addict's lack of self-control. Why and/or how could that possibly be, you ask? Let us count the ways: it's on CBS, most of the sex and violence is implied rather than shown, the twists are largely totally lame, and surprise surprise, the acting is...well you've probably already guessed.

Now this might all seem like a deal breaker to you. Especially when you hear that the basic premise of said program is that seven years after a mass murder occurs on a quaint island town off the coast of Washington and affects the lives of a group of teenagers, the now-twenty-somethings return home for one of their friend's weddings, only to relive a similar terror all over again as they get picked off...one...by...one. Wow, and you thought the phrase "if you liked Scream or I Know What You Did Last Summer..." was banned from use circa 2001, right? Wrong. (Shifty eyes.) Dead wrong. Well if you know my love for the original 1996 Kevin Williamson-penned Wes Craven-directed horror satire at all (or my cautious excitement over the recent announcement of an intended Scream 4), you might start to understand my newfound adoration of Harper's Island.

But obviously that doesn't necessarily mean it's for you. Not everyone gets excited over insipid television recreations of a mid-to-late-90s film fad aimed at teens. However, I guarantee that you, my twenty-something brethren (and sistren? sisterhood? what's the female-friendly term I should be using here?), had something near and dear to you when you were but a wee lad/lass transitioning from buzzing junior high angst to crippling high school depression that you wish came back pop culturally in a non-rebooted, non-prequeled, and non-blockbustered-for-the-new-tweens kinda way. Hell, we weren't even called tweens back then. We were called little shits. And we were proud little shits. We implicitly learned postmodernism and metajokes while getting to watch people die onscreen rather than learn nothing while watching torture porn (slam on today's generation), we got to see Will Smith punch a totally freaky alien in the face rather than watch Shia LaBoeuf punch a co-opted CGI-toy-icon-from-the-80s turned not-so-subtle-car-commercial-in-the-00s in the metal, and we got to see the "Game Over!" guy from Aliens chase effing tornadoes rather than try to comprehend why the hell a 10-year-old William Shatner replacement would be blasting "Sabotage" while evading police in Iowa.

Okay, so there was some rambling there. I don't apologize. That's right. Cuz of the proud thing. But essentially, there is one large piece of the puzzle I am missing here in my absent-minded attempt to defend my love for a crappy TV show. And it's not a panacea; I realize that. However, I can't help but think if for whatever reason the norms of the TV programming universe were somehow allowed to be broken a little more often, we might get bad television that A) was entertaining, B) harkened back to simpler times for us still infantile grown-ups who are starting to become the more familiar target demographic for primetime dramas, and C) had some minutae of eclecticism across networks. This could be done if other shows follow suit with Harper's Island: limit yourself to one, pre-planned, tightly-scripted (the dialogue itself, once again, does not have to be GOOD, just make the plot focused) season. That's right. Thirteen, fourteen episodes with a beginning, middle, and definitive end.

There are exceptions, obviously - namely shows that are legitimately good, like Lost and...(thinks) well that's it really. But otherwise, think about it. It's a win-win situation. No more Dollhouse fiascos. No more never-ending procedurals that neither stimulate the brain nor the body. And we can even let the box office continue to spend millions of dollars on recycled tripe while we sit comfortably on our couches at home and watch tripe that is recycled, yes, but free and devoid of name recognition. Yes, even lead actress Elaine Cassidy looks like Jennifer Love Hewitt with a permanent Neve-Campbell-nervous-face, but at least Harper's Island isn't trying to relive some faded glory from the mid-90s to make millions. It's just a spring/summer filler show with some hilariously awful soap operatics and hilariously awesome death scenes.

This is why, if smartly planned, V will work not as a remake of the original mini-series, but possibly as a refreshing break from the tedium of the numbers game and doctor, lawyers, and police officers everywhere on every channel. It'll hopefully remind me of the joys of watching Independence Day while remaining its own dumb thing. Same goes for that storm mini-series on ABC, whatever it's called. Too bad that's not a full season. I probably wouldn't have watched Harper's Island if it were only two or three chunks of programming, but thirteen episodes is just enough to get me hooked without thinking I'm investing myself into something that will either go on indefinitely or be canceled out from under me just as I was getting into it.

A similar logic could be argued for reforming network comedic programming, using Weeds as the template example. Except this would be in favor of making shows that are truly good, and I don't think the big four are ready for that. It would involve imbuing sitcoms with character relationships that are as touching as they are hilarious, storylines that meander throughout a multiple-episode arc rather than get solved within 26 minutes, so and so forth. And when a show's actually good, it can go on for a good 4-6 seasons before I want it to end. Thus why they should start caring less about making crappy shows that go on forever (because they rarely, if ever, do) and concentrate on making more entertaining shows that last a year (maybe two if they got something really gangbusters up their sleeves). Too bad the numbers game will probably keep this kind of transformation from ever happening.

In sum, watch episodes of Harper's Island for free at CBS.com and catch up before the exciting season/series finale on July 18th. Each one's title is an onomatoepeia that matches with how the character dies in that episode (examples: "Gurgle", "Thwack", "Ka-Blam", etc.). It's beautiful.

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  1. Blogger DoktorPeace | 4:41 AM |  

    I watched one ep of this with my sister, and liked it enough. I lol-ed with her about the stupid characters and their stupid decisions and the stupid series of events, all which made watching horror movies with friends so fun back in the day (before I got totally bored with them). And of course, in secret, I actually care deeply about finding out who the murderer is, even though it could arbitrarily be anyone.

    Plus, Cameron Richardson is in my top 3 hotties, despite this mouth picture.

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