It Takes a Village.
The following is a spoiler-free review for the first episode of Safe – an 8-part series premiering on Netflix Thursday, May 10th.
Dexter’s Michael C. Hall ditches his Dark Passenger for a British accent, returning to TV for the pulpy, oft-preposterous event series Safe – an England-set missing child thriller penned by mystery novelist Harlan Coben. It’s a twisty, turny, soapy “whodunnit?” (or even, at first, a “whatsevenhappening?”) that features Hall as a recent widower sent into a panic after his teen daughter, Jenny (Amy James-Kelly), fails to come home from a night out.
The hook here, the theme meant to grab you and suck you in, is that everyone in Tom’s life – all his neighbors and immediates – are harboring some form of dark secret, or tethered relevance, to Jenny’s disappearance. And everyone’s shady side life seems to come to a savage head exactly one year after Tom buries a wife who’d lost a battle with cancer. Naturally, the circumstances of her death are relevant as well, and interwoven into the entire sordid mess.
The commentary here, the underlying messaging, involves a not-so-fresh take on “perfect life” hypocrisy and the illusion of small town niceties and happiness. The intro song is Barns Courtney’s “Glitter & Gold,” with lyrics suggesting a dark rage underneath shininess, while the title card logo is the word “SAFE” splashed across the gates of a walled community. Most assuredly a place with all types of debauchery and double-dealings going on within.
The trouble is…everyone is a pawn to the plot. No one’s given space to be a free-roaming character as they’re all meant immediately to be game pieces in a story where everyone has to be a liar. Safe isn’t without its ticking clock grittiness and compelling riddles but there’s also unintended comedy involved with a story where everyone somehow unwittingly contributes to someone’s dire demise. As if the victims in this story, the bodies, are somehow martyrs for the entire community’s duplicitous nature.
Sure, this can be done right, of course – see: Twin Peaks – but it can also be done in a ham-fisted manner that involves a laughably ominous music cue following the line “People are entitled to their secrets.” You want to bet that the guy who says the line, and who goes completely stone-faced when he does, is hiding some huge secret? That’s easy money.
Sherlock’s Amanda Abbington plays Tom’s neighbor and new love interest, Sophie, who also happens to be a detective investigating a case a few degrees separated from Jenny’s vanishing. With a new partner who’s just moved from the big city and is keeping a trunk load of secrets in her own right. It’s all a big unsubtle puzzle that doesn’t let one character slip through its fingers. Even the most peripheral blithering bystander is hiding a body or two here.