In Safeland (an unnamed suburb outside of Manchester), a teenage girl, unflinchingly suggests that she and her parents remove a digit from the body of an acquaintance in a cover-up operation, despite having been a regular upper-middle class schoolgirl hours beforehand.
And Michael C Hall, wielding an impeccable British accent as widower Tom, asks passengers at a train station if they have seen his daughter, who he suspects of having taken a train 24 hours prior. No one, not even his best mate Pete (Marc Warren), has the decency to explain to him that that isn’t how train stations work.
It’s niggling absurdities like this – along with some much bigger ones that crop up as the plot thickens throughout episode one and two – that prevents Safe (the brainchild of prolific crime author Harlan Coben and acclaimed screenwriter Danny Brocklehurst, who previously collaborated on Sky One’s The Five) from excelling as a serious drama.
That said, there’s still quite a bit to enjoy here. If you’ve ever picked up one of Coben’s 30(!) novels, you’ll have an idea of what you’re in for. The crime mastermind is known for twisting and turning through intricate, layered puzzles, and delivering deeply satisfying – if bonkers – conclusions. Shock and awe comes far above realism in the pecking order.
As such, the first two episodes of Safe feel like a standard crime procedural on crack: revelations and fresh mysteries crop up left, right and centre. It’s a little exhausting, sure, but it’s difficult not to get carried along in its tailwind, and the urge to immediately consume the next episode is strong.
The plot goes like this: the aforementioned Tom, a paediatric surgeon, discovers that his 17-year-old daughter Jenny has inexplicably disappeared after attending a party in their upper-middle class gated community.
Uninspired by the prospect of his current squeeze, Amanda Abbington’s copper Sophie, leading the investigation, he takes matters into his own hands, and goes door to door around the neighbourhood attempting to trace his daughter’s steps. Sounds straightforward, right?
Problem is, absolutely everyone is hiding something. Pete dropped Jenny home after the party and neglected to mention it; Tom appears to have done something terrible on the evening his wife passed away – Jenny can’t stand him as a result; and Emma (Hannah Arterton), a blow-in from the city who becomes Sophie’s colleague, has arrived in town for reasons she won’t divulge.
Then there are two bit-on-the-side mysteries to consider. One sees a family (fronted by Victoria’s Nigel Lindsay and Holby City’s Laila Rouass) covering up the death of a young boy at their house party. Another, which follows a teacher under investigation for allegedly sleeping with a student, will surely prove its relevance a little further down the line.
The former, which has the feel of a dark comedy caper, is a little out-of-step tonally but it is probably as good an indication as any of how seriously we should be taking the whole thing.
Hall is quite at home playing a troubled individual in distress (see Dexter), and he displays fine chemistry with Abbington during their limited time on screen together in the first two episodes. Hopefully that relationship will get a little bit more exposure as the series progresses. For their part, Arterton and Warren stand out as ambiguous supporting players. Either could be in some way connected to Jenny’s disappearance, but the same could be said of, well, everyone.
All in all, it’s good, soapy fun. If you’re willing to suspend your disbelief, you’re likely to get swept up in its current, and once that happens, I’d wager that all eight episodes will safely disappear in a flash.
Safe season 1 arrives on Netflix UK on Thursday 10th May
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