Monday, March 31, 2014

7 Ways Harper's Island is Better Than True Detective

First off, I know ...

I know there are many ways in which HBO's critically-acclaimed series, True Detective, is better than CBS's 2008 wedding-guests-trapped-on-an-island thriller, Harper's Island. Cinematography, dialogue, music, acting. But I'm not here to talk about that. I'm here to talk about how the slightly schlocky, but compulsively watchable, Harper's Island schools True Detective in many ways.

Spoilers ahead, obviously, but mainly for True Detective. I won't give away the ending of Harper's Island.

Trish and Shea on Harper's Island

Marty and Cohle on True Detective
1. Harper's Island makes sense. This is the big one. Ari Schlossberg, who created the show, runs one tight narrative ship. Despite multiple characters, and a huge body count, it all adds up in the end, and you never look back and say, well, what about .... The same can not be said about True Detective, that, in the final analysis, does a pretty poor job of explaining itself.

2. The red herrings are explained. Both shows are rife with red herrings, but in True Detective, especially all the clues that point toward Marty's daughter being involved, they turn out to be just false leads that seem to have no purpose except to fool the viewer. In Harper's Island, the false leads are there to fool the viewer, but they are also narratively explained. There are no loose ends at the end.

Never explained ...

3. Characters die. Because it was a one-off series, Harper's Island has no problem murdering off its main characters, some of whom I expected to live. In True Detective, also a one-off, not only do the main characters live, but they miraculously survive. Which leads us to ....

4. When someone gets gutted in Harper's Island, they don't make it. There are a couple of instances of fake out deaths, but generally speaking, when the knife hits flesh in Harper's Island it means the end of that character. One of the cheesiest bits of True Detective was when Rust survived--a la Riggs from Lethal Weapon--a truly epic gutting. Which leads us to ...

5. Harper's Island knew when to end. Despite being a long series, as soon as we found out who-dun-it, Harper's Island speeds toward its conclusion, and doesn't do a lot of hokey, post-climax speechifying. In fact, none. And no one finds God.

6. The hot actresses in Harper's Island somehow feel less creepy. This one's a little subjective, but there was something off-putting about Marty's two girlfriends in True Detective, and how one-dimensional and gorgeous they were in a show that was about horrible violence against women. And it wasn't just off-putting, it was a little bit unrealistic. I think Alexandra Daddario and Lily Simmons could do better than a married, overweight cop. In Harper's Island there's plenty of eye candy on both sides of the aisle, and besides, it's supposed to be about beautiful members of a wedding party meeting up with death.

Lili Simmons makes an offer that Marty can't refuse.
Katie Cassidy tries on her wedding night underwear.
7. In the end, I felt Harper's Island was more suspenseful. A little subjective here, as well, but, as creepy as I found Carcosa to be at the end of True Detective, the underground tunnels sequence in Harper's Island had me watching through my fingers. And in the end, the fact that the killer was always in our midst gives Harper's Island the edge.

One last thing. If you do decide to watch Harper's Island (it's on Netflix), then be warned that the first few episodes are not the best of the series. Hang in there. It gets better. A lot better. Maybe even better than True Detective.

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