In Alex Pina’s White Lines, four teenagers from Manchester jet out to Ibiza and quickly establish themselves as some of the hottest DJ talent on the island, living an extravagant and hedonistic lifestyle that would make anybody’s jaw drop. But ultimately, the meteoric highs give way to a hollow feeling of dissatisfaction that only leaves them craving more.
You get a similar sensation while watching this series. There are moments of brilliance that are utterly thrilling, but they always seem to dissipate prematurely, leaving something that never quite hits the mark.
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White Lines opens in the present day, when the body of once-prominent DJ Axel Collins is discovered in the Spanish desert region of Almeria, more than 20 years since he went missing. His sister, Zoe Walker (Laura Haddock) flies out to identify the body and stays to investigate further when she discovers there will be no criminal case into his death. From there, the narrative is split between Axel’s drug-fuelled heydays in the mid-’90s and the quest for answers into his ultimate fate, which are slowly revealed over the course of the 10-episode season.
The series, from the creator of Money Heist, certainly has a strong hook, bursting out from the starting blocks with an intriguing mystery, stunning setting and some big personalities. Zoe is an effective point-of-view character, entering into a mad world of clubs, vendettas and drug dealing from her relatively quiet life as a university librarian. It’s hard not to admire the sheer determination on display as she battles to get closure on a tragic chapter of her life, although this is dampened slightly by some of her morally questionable actions.
What separates White Lines from your typical crime drama are the absurdly comedic scenes interspersed between the heavier moments. Along with the many beautiful locations, they really help to give the series a distinctive identity of its own and are genuinely amusing to boot. One early example follows hapless DJ/drug dealer Marcus (Daniel Mays) as he woefully attempts to stash a beach inflatable filled with cocaine in his shed. The whole sequence is so disastrous that it borders on farcical comedy, yet manages not to feel tonally jarring within this particularly chaotic depiction of Ibiza.
As the series progresses, it doesn’t lose its sense of humour entirely, but it is scaled back as the focus shifts towards Zoe’s personal journey of self-discovery. It’s here that problems start arising. Where the darkly comic crime drama of the opening episodes is unmistakably novel and fresh, the story of an inhibited person learning to live on the edge feels like well-trodden ground by comparison. It isn’t helped by a script that doesn’t explore this theme very gracefully.
Nowhere is that more obvious than in the painfully contrived video calls between Zoe and her therapist, a character that exists only to be a plot device and disappears when she is no longer needed. Haddock does the best she can with these scenes, which are monologues to camera occasionally interrupted when the therapist chimes in with something inane, but they feel completely unnatural regardless. It would have been just as easy to follow Zoe’s emotional journey without these bizarre interludes to spell out her every original thought to the audience.
Fortunately, even when the main narrative loses some of its sheen, there are some interesting subplots led by the supporting cast. White Lines has wrangled a number of prominent Spanish actors to portray the Calafats, a powerful family who own many of the nightclubs on Ibiza. They are staggeringly dysfunctional but their strange dynamic makes for fascinating viewing, featuring strong performances from Juan Diego Botto, Marta Milans, Pedro Casablanc and Belén López.
However, the ace up the sleeve for White Lines has to be Nuno Lopes as the Calafat’s personal head of security, Boxer. It’s a brilliant turn from the Portuguese star, who delivers some great quips as resident tough guy and later displays a compelling sensitive side that arguably steals the show.
Laurence Fox, Daniel Mays and Angela Griffin portray Axel’s surviving friends in the present day, with Jonny Green, Cel Spellman and Kassius Nelson as their counterparts in the 90s flashbacks. It’s a sturdy lineup with not a single weak link, but Mays and Griffin are favourites as a once-doting couple going through a difficult divorce. Tom Rhys Harries plays the ill-fated DJ that this mystery revolves around and he’s superbly well cast. If the music itself doesn’t prove hugely memorable, you can quite easily believe that Axel built his reputation on sheer charisma.
But for all that it gets right, the narrative bringing all of the show’s elements together isn’t tight enough, meandering with half-baked revelations about personal identity that detract attention from the more interesting murder mystery. As a result, it wraps up quite abruptly, springing its final reveal on you with little setup or fanfare, almost as if the show just ran out of time, all of which means White Lines falls just short of greatness.