It’s fascinating that the majority of TV drama tackles subjects that most of us would deem our worst nightmares. The idea of a child going missing is surely every parent’s nightmare but it is continually the source of compelling TV drama. The sudden disappearance of a sixteen-year-old is at the centre of Netflix Original Safe which lands in its entirety on Thursday 10th May. The idea for the series, produced by Happy Valley’s Red Production Company comes from respected thriller writer Harlan Coben but the script is written by acclaimed British screenwriter Danny Brocklehurst. The trio have worked together before with Red producing Coben’s idea The Five which was written by Brocklehurst for Sky. It’s clear to see why this latest project ending up finding a home with the streaming giant as its structure of constant twists and turns seems tailored made for the binge hungry audience.
The premise here may seem familiar. The characters live in a pristine gated community. There’s wealth on display and everyone appears to get on swimmingly. The main players are recently widowed paediatric surgeon Tom (Michael C. Hall) who is struggling to raise his young daughters after the loss of his wife two years earlier. Tom’s colleague and best mate Pete (Marc Warren) and detective sergeant Sophie (Amanda Abbington) who is secretly seeing Tom and who has her ex-husband Josh (Emmett J Scanlan) living in a caravan on her driveway. Right from the off you get the sense that this seemingly perfect slice of gated suburbia isn’t all it seems. Tom’s daughter Jenny (Amy James-Kelly) holds a grudge against him over her mum’s death. In a tiny sequence shot at the funeral, we see Tom apologise to Jenny. At this stage, like so much of going on here, we’re not quite sure why but Brocklehurst drip-feeds information to keep his audience from getting too far ahead. The cast are on top form with Hall particularly shining as frantic Tom. His British accent might be jarring initially for Dexter or Six Feet Under fans but it didn’t take me long to settle into Hall’s performance.
It transpires that Tom has had spyware fitted to Jenny’s phone which sends any correspondence she has straight to him. He justifies spying on his teen daughter by telling himself he’s carrying out his late wife wishes and looking after his girls. When Jenny attends a drug-fueled party and fails to return home Tom begins a series of frantic phone calls. These are interspersed with what appear to be struggles in a swimming pool. It’s once Tom sets off to track his daughter down that the story starts to come alive.
Tom’s younger daughter alerts him to the fact that Jenny was meeting her boyfriend, an older boy named Chris. The audience meet Chris during a disastrous family dinner scene where his father tells him that they’re waiting for his sister to finish school then they’re getting divorced. It’s a tiny scene but one that I’ve feeling proves important given the fact that when Jenny meets Chris at the party he’s high on drugs and drink. When Tom visits Chris’s home his parents inform him that Chris has also failed to return home. Chris’s mum tells Tom that her son is staying with school friend Ioan (Hero Fiennes Tiffin). As Tom’s search continues Ioan tells him the party was at ‘miss popular’ Sia’s house and that she would know more.
We’d also met Sia briefly as her brash father JoJo (Nigel Lindsay) went through the settings for the house alarm. He and his wife (Laila Rouass) were leaving their butter wouldn’t melt daughter alone for the evening to celebrate their anniversary. With her father’s words “no parties” surely still ringing in her ears, Sia’s house party, which includes her offering drugs on entry gets underway. When confronted by Tom and her parents about the party Sia initially fobs everyone off with a story about going to town but when she finally confesses to the party she reveals she remembers seeing the pair during the party but that she quickly lost of them.
Meanwhile, Sophie is joined by her new partner Emma (Hannah Arterton) to investigate the inappropriate behaviour of the local French teacher (Audrey Fleurot) and a student. It’s then that Tom reaches out to Sophie for help in finding Jenny. It’s an incredibly fast-paced first episode with twists and turns that it would be unfair for me to reveal here. I’ve not liked a lot of the dramas 2018 has delivered often stopping things to check how much was left: a sure sign I’m not engaged with a show. The pace of this first episode doesn’t allow for any clock watching.
Where it falls down (judging solely on the first episode) is in some key areas I personally look for in my next big drama obsession. Although there’s plenty going on and the performances are solid the characters themselves feel very thinly drawn. There’s some really clunky dialogue especially between our two investigators and the world doesn’t feel very authentic.
It has more in common with a good holiday read than it does a brilliantly crafted TV crime drama like say The Bridge or even that stunning first series of Broadchurch. The twists might keep you interested, and the final moments of this first episode left me keen to know more. Brocklehurst’s scripts here seem tailored made for the binge market and I can see people racing to the next episode to see what happens next. I may just have to watch the second episode now actually.
Safe will be streaming on Netflix from Thursday 10th May