When trying to craft a binge-worthy series, what better source material could there be than an acclaimed best-selling novel? Countless page-turners have been adapted into successful small-screen thrillers in recent years, and so Netflix undoubtedly has high hopes that new drama Behind Her Eyes will be the latest to make the triumphant jump from page to screen. Regrettably, however, it falls short: over six episodes, the series flits from the bland to the bizarre without ever managing to be particularly convincing or compelling.
The contrivance that sets the story in motion is a chance encounter between single mother Louise (Simona Brown) and married psychiatrist David (Tom Bateman). After an accidental collision on a night out leads to Louise spilling her drink, the pair instantly bond, spending a pleasant evening flirting and chatting together before sealing the night with a kiss.
It all seems to be going well until David suddenly mutters to himself that “he can’t do this”, making his exit and leaving a dejected Louise to wonder what went wrong. Her answer comes soon enough: when she heads into work one morning she finds that none other than David himself is starting as her new boss, and the sight of his wife Adele (Eve Hewson) alongside him is enough to explain his sudden departure on the night of their brief dalliance.
And so emerges a love triangle between David, Louise and Adele, with suggestions from the get-go that not everything is as it seems. Meanwhile, a steady stream of flashbacks tease at Adele’s troubled past, while also introducing a fourth major character, Rob, played by Robert Aramayo. As set-ups go, it’s hardly the most original, and indeed the opening episodes of the series are characterised by a certain blandness, with a lack of real chemistry between the major players and little to mark the series out from any number of banal relationship dramas.
It’s not until the middle of the series that it begins to pick up any degree of momentum, and when it does so it veers into increasingly ludicrous territory, relying entirely on a bizarre narrative contrivance which is exceedingly difficult to buy into (we won’t give away the nature of this twist here, but rest assured it is very far out). And so as the series races towards its admittedly unpredictable conclusion, the twists and turns along the way begin to appear more ridiculous than genuinely gripping.
Netflix can undoubtedly do trashy thrillers exceptionally well, as in the case of the wonderfully preposterous You – a series that works so well in large part because it fully leans into its inherent trashiness. The problem with Behind Her Eyes is that – in the opening sections at least – it seems to take itself too seriously, aspiring to more lofty ambitions as a serious drama and lacking the degree of knowingness that helped make You such a hit.
The series is also the latest to adopt the increasingly homogenised ‘Netflix aesthetic’ whereby everything is very neat and glossy but nothing feels remotely lived in or real, which can make the whole thing look rather uninspiring and artificial. This visual flatness is occasionally interrupted by the more dynamic experience of Louise’s frequent nightmares and then, as the series progresses, by occasional dream sequences which have the look and feel of a slightly off-kilter yoghurt advert.
The performances on show vary wildly, with Simona Brown the standout, but none of the actors are helped by the presence of some pretty diabolical dialogue, which ranges from the slightly clunky to the majorly cringeworthy. That said, even the best dialogue in the world couldn’t save some of the extremely distracting accents, with Bateman and Aramayo becoming the latest actors to fail to master a convincing or consistent Scottish accent. One scene in episode four, in which David yells “of course I didn’t bloody hit her” is unfortunately reminiscent of a similar scene in Tommy Wiseau’s The Room, while Hewson is also prone to a degree of overacting.
It seems likely that Behind Her Eyes will find an audience – a six-part Netflix series based on a page-turning novel certainly sounds like an intriguing prospect. Unfortunately, though, the poor pacing and uneven tone prevent it from being anything more than a serviceable thriller with a wacky twist that doesn’t quite land.