Best-selling author, Harlan Coben, is back with a new story for TV starring three crime drama legends.
What’s the story?
Two well-established mystery themes collide in Safe: the concerned father on a quest to find his lost daughter (see Taken, Hardcore, sort of Get Carter), and the façade of suburban respectability being pulled aside to reveal a squirming underbelly of depravity (see Blue Velvet). Stick genre favourite Michael C. Hall in the middle of it, and you’re pretty well assured of a rollicking ride.
Shot around Liverpool, Manchester and Cheshire, Safe casts Hall as Tom Delaney, a widowed paediatric surgeon struggling to connect to his two daughters Jenny and Carrie.
Amanda Abbington (Sherlock) is Tom’s girlfriend and neighbour Sophie Mason, who happens to be a Detective Sergeant; his colleague is Dr Pete Mayfield (the reliably slimy Marc Warren), and among the cast are French firecracker Audrey Fleurot (Spiral) as teacher Zoe, Laila Rouass (Spooks, Primeval), as the mother of one of Jenny’s friends, Nigel Lindsay (Innocent, Unforgotten) as wideboy Jojo Marshall, and Hannah Arterton (younger sister of Gemma) as new cop Emma Castle.
Kicking off with the massive cliché of a family funeral might not be a reassuring start, but Safe rapidly finds its feet, as you would expect with international best-selling crime author Harlan Coben in the creator’s chair.
Tom lives in a supposedly safe little fantasy island, a gated community of happy, comfortable, integrated families. But the kids are variously sullen, uncommunicative and rebellious, so when his daughter Jenny goes missing, Tom has to delve into the secrets of his neighbours to find the truth. Fortunately, he’s planted a tracking app on Jenny’s phone, so he has something to go on.
The trail leads initially to a booze and pill-fuelled house party, but there’s more going on than that; Emma Castle is surveilling Pete, Zoe has been accused of sexual impropriety with a pupil, Jojo Marshall has a corpse in his freezer, and a mysterious school fire has killed several pupils. So clearly there’s a rottenness at the heart of the village, and Tom’s quest will bring to light a whole series of guilty secrets.
What’s good about it?
Safe is a Netflix production in cooperation with C8 France (which explains the presence of Audrey Fleurot), and is the second series crime author Harlan Coben and screenwriter Danny Brocklehurst have worked on together – they previously collaborated on Sky’s The Five.
It’s slickly done, with clever camera work and a pulsating score, and Tom’s gradual descent from the cosy certainties of his protected life to a chaotic underworld is depicted with pace and ingenuity.
Michael C. Hall is a reassuringly solid presence, playing Tom as confident on the outside, but haunted by his own demons, and just sufficiently out of touch with real life to keep the mystery going.
The supporting cast is strong and varied, and there are sufficient twists to keep you hooked. If you are inclined that way, it will tickle your paranoia, and make you ask whether any of us can ever be completely safe, or can keep our children safe – or is it even desirable to live in an over-protected cocoon?
What’s bad about it?
Though the plot is racy enough to make you overlook it, Safe is all a bit surface gloss rather than depth, as if Broadchurch had been transplanted into Footballers’ Wives. And it does occasionally talk down to its audience, with characters required to deliver reminders that they are, in fact, a police officer, or a teacher, or a doctor. It’s also slightly Americanised, with pupils doing ‘assignments’ rather than ‘homework’.
In fact, American Hall (notably the killer of serial killers in Dexter, and David Fisher in Six Feet Under) overcompensates a bit, playing his part a little too ‘cor blimey geezer, on me ‘ead son, ‘ow’s abart that then, innit’ to be convincing as a paediatric surgeon. He either needed to play it a bit posher, or if he couldn’t manage the vowels, perhaps he should have been cast as a scrap metal merchant, or a junk bond dealer. Just try to ignore the accent and you can learn to live with it.
Why it’s worth a binge…
Safe’s saving graces are its strong performances and twisty plot, which make you overlook some of its superficiality. If you want a big cast of suspects and a chance to try to work out the guilty parties, it gives you plenty to chew over. At eight 45-minute episodes, it’s an easy weekend’s viewing, and if at the end of it you haven’t learned anything much about the human condition, at least you’ll have had fun not learning it.
Safe is available now on Netflix
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