'Safe': TV Review

It's OK to be intrigued, but it may also be 'Safe' to pass.
5/10/2018

Michael C. Hall's British accent is just one of several things that are interestingly off in Harlan Coben's new Netflix suburban suspense drama.

Do you think Michael C. Hall knows that people can actually watch Netflix? It feels like the justifiably acclaimed Six Feet Under and Dexter star is treating the streaming giant like a black box indie theater where he can check off bucket list items like "Play JFK" or "Talk With a Funny British Accent" without anybody ever seeing.

We see you, Michael C. Hall!

At least Hall's distracting turn as Kennedy was only a small piece of a single overreaching episode in the otherwise consistent second season of The Crown.

In Netflix's upcoming thriller Safe, Hall is a primary selling point, and it's impossible to listen to him say "privacy" or "uni" in a proper British accent without losing concentration for the next two or three lines of dialogue. Hall's accent, reasonably consistent and yet rarely believable, is one of many things on Safe that are askew and, the more I think about it, the more I can't tell if it's intentional if not particularly satisfying, or merely bad.

The eight-episode series, created by American novelist Harlan Coben, fits into several tried-and-true TV genres, starting with the story of a quiet suburb in which behind every carefully manicured hedge or pristinely skimmed swimming pool lurks a festering secret. In this case, it's an enclosed community and, in the opening credits, the show's title is written in the severe metal gate that offers residents the illusion of security.

Hall plays Tom, a pediatric surgeon still grieving the death of his wife and struggling to relate to his two daughters, particularly rebellious teen Jenny (Amy James-Kelly). When Jenny goes out to a raging party and never returns, Tom is forced to turn amateur gumshoe in a mystery in which everybody, including his best friend Pete (Marc Warren) and his various seemingly upstanding neighbors could be a suspect. Helping in the investigation are Tom's new girlfriend Sophie (Amanda Abbington), a local detective, and the unprepared force's newest investigator Emma (Hannah Arterton), a transfer from the big city.

Again, the conceit here is that Tom lives in an enclave built for the express purpose of safety, with cameras distributed throughout for both protection and to negate secrets, and yet everybody he comes in contact with is hiding a secret. Some of the secrets are small, like the couple avoiding telling their kids that they're getting divorce after the school year. There's also a burgeoning sex scandal at the local school, and then there's a dead body.

Coben is the series' credited creator, but the two episodes sent to critics were written by Danny Brocklehurst (Shameless) and directed by Daniel Nettheim (Dance Academy), and they all presumably recognize they're not blazing fresh ground. It's a genre that can be freshened by the extremes of the secrets, by a perceptive sociological critique of some sort, by an exaggerated satirical bent. Safe has none of those things. It's not overwhelmingly shocking, perceptive or funny. What keeps it watchable is the sense of unease or maybe inconsistency.

Hall's performance is slightly off. His British accent feels like it could almost be a sleight of hand, the distraction from the intensity of his concern and questions about what Tom was doing when it wife died. Might Tom turn out to be a Russian spy or a masquerading undercover American? Probably not. But I'm curious.

The depiction of teens is slightly off. The show feels like somebody watched a "kids out of control" news report 10 years ago and did nothing to update their behavior. The party Jenny goes to is almost out of a John Hughes movie, and the young characters' use of social media and texting is hopelessly antiquated. Are these stumbles or clues? I'm curious.

The entire tone is slightly off. Accent aside, Tom's concern is straight-forwardly serious. The threat of a teacher-student affair is treated with Lifetime-style melodrama. The aforementioned body has to be disposed of, and that subplot veers nearly into farce. Tom's investigation leads him from one character to another introduced in practical block-caps as POTENTIAL SUSPECT in a way that could almost be a mystery-genre parody, like the taut alleyway foot pursuit climaxes in the chaser and chasee sitting at a restaurant guzzling water in exhaustion. I'm perplexed, but curious.

I'm not as curious about the missing girl at the center of the story, which may be a problem.

I do think these "off" elements point to creators who are aware of the comfort viewers feel with these familiar genre tropes and are tweaking them a little in the way you can do when you have actors like Warren, Abbington and Arterton doing fine work. It could take watching the six additional episodes to know if there's a cliche-upending payoff or if Safe is just a muddle.

Cast: Michael C. Hall, Amanda Abbington, Hannah Arterton, Marc Warren, Audrey Fleurot, Nigel Lindsay
Creator: Harlan Coben
Premieres: May 10 (Netflix)