Sorry about Wednesday's column. Bit unfocused perhaps. Big mistake arriving back late on a Monday night from Europe and writing a newspaper column next morning. Jet-lagged, blurry, cobwebbed. Yep, big mistake.
Another mistake is the heavily promoted Harper's Island (CBS, Global, 10 p.m.) a new, short-run drama in which skinny rich people attending a wedding on an island are killed, one by one. The major mistake is the assumption that anybody would care about these insufferable, appallingly trite characters.
The premise is solid enough, used with aplomb on countless occasions. Put a bunch of characters in an isolated setting, throw in a dead body to get things rolling, slowly hint that these people have reasons to hate each other, and then start killing them off. The viewer - or reader - is expected to take pleasure in figuring out who is doing the killing. Agatha Christie wrote this sort of thing in a weekend and managed to write the stage version between lunch and supper on Sunday.
Here on Harper's Island we first meet Abby Mills (Elaine Cassidy) as she returns to the island - somewhere off Seattle, but the show was made in Vancouver - for the wedding of her best friend, Henry Dunn (Christopher Gorham), and his fiancée, Trish Wellington (Katie Cassidy). Thing is, Abby hasn't been home in years, since her mother and five others were murdered by a killer named John Wakefield. Our first hint of this dark past is the glum look on Abby's face as she shows up for the boat ride to the island. Then her cab driver helpfully fills us in.
On the boat, hideously thin young people try to look perky. But as you watch, you wonder why they don't all just fall over in the wind. The groom is so skinny he looks seriously unwell. Anyway, word gets around about this murder-rampage on the island years before. One skinny hussy says of another skinny hussy, "Lucy has a thing for serial killers." And Lucy squeals "It's soooo not a thing." Then all the skinny biddies giggle.
On the island, Abby is constantly called "big city girl." When she goes to the local bar, it takes about two minutes (or 12 references to Abby as "big city girl") for a fight to break out. Yes, my friends, Harper's Island is that kind of TV drama.
By this stage, if you're like me, you're itching for somebody to die. The body tied to the bottom of the boat doesn't count. It's just some guy. In the format of these things - and Harper's Island is like one long, windy, teenagers-in-jeopardy movie - you expect the slutty young woman to be the first to go. Doesn't happen here. The thing is teeming with slutty characters anyway. First to go is a middle-aged guy who laughs a lot, likes the booze and has an eye for the ladies. Guy was old, not skinny and he laughed. Creep!
According to Global, Harper's Island, which goes until July 2, when the killer is revealed, is "an unprecedented television event." True to a point. Never have so many deeply uninteresting characters been gathered together on one show. Never have so many clichés (the camera lingers on a knife used for cutting fish!) been brandished. Rarely have I been so repelled.
And, yeah, I watched it long before I was jet-lagged. Nothing fuzzy or blurry about my response. If only they'd killed off all those awful people in the first hour. That I'd have enjoyed. Now focused.
Check local listings.
Parks and Recreation (NBC, CITY-TV, 8:30 p.m.) is the first episode of Amy Poehler's new comedy. Not available for review. Here's the gist from NBC: "Emmy Award-winning executive producers of The Office bring a new mockumentary that looks at the exciting world of local government. The documentary cameras follow Leslie Knope (Poehler), a mid-level bureaucrat in the Parks and Recreation Department of Pawnee, Indiana. In an attempt to beautify her town Leslie takes on what should be a fairly simple project: Help turn an abandoned construction pit into a community park." Stuff happens. Laughter ensues, it is suggested.
This Can Happen To You (CBC, 9:30 p.m.) is a new series featuring Rubin Hurricane Carter, who explains various cases of people being wrongly convicted - here, the case of Robert Dalton who was convicted of the murder of his wife in Gander, Nfld., in 1988. Forensic evidence, later challenged, indicated that he strangled her. Dalton said she'd had a choking fit. Convicted, Dalton was jailed for years, ignored, until a relentless lawyer took up his case. The story is told with pith - it's a 30-minute show and Carter is alive with controlled anger. He points at the camera, saying, "This could happen to you."
Southland (NBC, CTV, 10 p.m.) is a well-crafted and compelling new cop show from John Wells, executive producer of ER and The West Wing . We meet rookie cop Ben Sherman (Ben McKenzie, from The O.C .) on his first day on the beat. Everything that happens causes him to wonder if he's cut out for the job. Assigned to work with a fast-talking veteran, he is mocked (a running joke is that his quiet demeanour indicates he's Canadian). One case is a gangland killing. Another involves a girl kidnapped from her yard. The show brims with rough humour and there's nothing in the way of sentimentality. J.D.