It’s been two years since the first series of Save Me exploded onto our screens, demonstrating (at least to those who missed his 2000 BBC Two film Storm Damage) that creator/star Lennie James is as formidable a writing talent as he is a leading man and proving that Sky could absolutely hold its own against the big boys of TV drama – if the show had aired on BBC One, you suspect it might’ve been a phenomenon of Line of Duty proportions, rather than a smaller but still sizeable hit beloved by those who saw it.
Though he’d always pitched Save Me as a returning series, James’ commitment to US series Fear the Walking Dead has led to a considerable gap before a follow-up – the punningly-titled Save Me Too – could be completed, so an opening montage which recaps the events of the first six episodes is most welcome, not only refreshing the memory as to what came before but also serving as a reminder of just how stellar the writing and the performances from a top-notch ensemble cast were.
Happily, despite the gap – on-screen too, the events of the second series take place 17 months after that of the original – the transition into this sequel is seamless, with Save Me Too replicating everything that fans responded to about the first series, right down to Nelly’s yellow puffa jacket.
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As our deeply flawed protagonist, James once again delivers a powerhouse performance – there’s a charm and unpredictability to Nelly Rowe, but also a palpable sense of buried torment. Even in the quieter scenes, there’s a thrilling danger to James’ portrayal, the feeling that Nelly might erupt at any moment, that the pain bubbling just below the surface might suddenly be let loose.
But again, Save Me is far from a one man show, James being surrounded by a company of actors who more than hold their own and bring plenty of their own pain, pathos and humanity to the table – from more established names like Suranne Jones (returning as Claire, Nelly’s ex-lover and the mother of their missing daughter Jody) and Stephen Graham (Melon, a sex offender who may or may not be entirely rehabilitated) to rising stars including Alice Feetham (Melon’s wife Bernie) and Olive Gray (returning as Grace, the young woman rescued by Nelly from a sex trafficking ring in the final episode of the first series).
Despite the absence of original director Nick Murphy, the show retains too its sense of authenticity and wonderful eye for detail: it’s not just James’ beautifully messy, utterly convincing dialogue that sells the world that Nelly and the Palm Tree regulars inhabit, but the wild and wonderful assortment of background characters who populate it. Murphy’s replacements Jim Loach (helming episodes 1-3) and Coky Giedroyc (4-6) do an admirable job of taking up the reins.
Save Me Too avoids feeling like a retread though by taking new twists that allow for elements from the first series to be expanded upon and for new ingredients to be added to the pot. Though Nelly’s search for his missing daughter still looms large, the climax to the first episode also sets us off on another path, one that brings new characters into the fold like sex trafficker’s wife Jennifer Charles (the great Lesley Manville, dependably excellent) and fleshes out established supporting characters like Nelly’s faithful friend Goz (Thomas Coombes, a terrific and vastly underrated actor).
Given the level of inventiveness and passion poured into the first series, it’s no real surprise that the team behind Save Me are far from resting on their laurels with this second chapter. Save Me Too digs deeper and takes even those familiar with series one on a journey they won’t be expecting – satisfying yet surprising, it’s sure to have its loyal audience hooked all over again.
All episodes of SaveMeToo are available on Sky Atlantic on demand and NOWTV on 1st April – check out what else is on with our TV Guide.