As much as I like the idea behind “Harper’s Island” — a self-contained 13-episode “mystery event,” with a fixed July 2 end date — the execution falls well short of the “Ten Little Indians” conceit. Playing mostly like a twentysomething soap — “One Tree Hill” if they killed a character or two each week — the episodes are too scattered initially to provoke much curiosity about whodunit, and the slasher-movie flourishes (grisly as they are) will feel watered down to an audience weaned on them. Things gradually become more interesting, but by then, viewers will likely be disappearing faster than the cast.
Although bed-hopping, infidelities and long-simmering crushes add to the froth, the plot doesn’t really start to thicken (or more accurately, coagulate) until around hour No. 4. CBS helpfully sent out nine installments, doubtless recognizing that until then this is just a poor excuse for a slow-motion horror pic — one that borrows several beats from “Jaws” in the early going.
Yet as constructed by series creator Ari Schlossberg and director Jon Turteltaub, “Harper’s Island” too often indulges in slasher-movie absurdities, with a murderer who seems to be everywhere at once and genuine clues in too-short supply. This deficiency renders the 25 characters less suspects in a gradually unfolding mystery — which they ought to be — than simply shark bait.