As great and singular as Netflix's library of seemingly infinite originals can be, the sheer number of shows can sometimes make finding a new obsession as hard as bobbing for apples in the ocean. Which is probably why Michael C. Hall's new U.K.-thriller Safe hasn't been as rabidly discussed and as widely championed as it deserves to be. And that's a television blight that needs to be fixed ASAP, since Safe is smart, barbed and fast-paced storytelling that can only be elevated by popcorn and binge-viewing. Let's run down what makes Safe such a wild and enjoyable ride.
It was created by Harlan Coben. While it doesn't make for exact science, it does stand to reason that a prolific and super-talented crime thriller author would be perfect for crafting a TV show in the same genre. With Safe, Coben put forth a skillfully plotted missing child mystery that, more than just about any other TV show out there right now, fits the full definition of a "page-turner." And what's more, Safe comes in at a lean eight episodes (thanks in part to a co-production with France's Canal+) and thus doesn't suffer from the bloat that some of Netflix's originals do.
In Safe, Tom Delaney (Michael C. Hall) is a surgeon and widow whose grief and guilt over his wife's death (a year previous) have affected his abilities to be a fully present father to his daughters. And when one of those daughters, Amy James-Kelly's feisty 16-year-old Jenny Delaney, goes missing under mysterious circumstances, his ongoing trek to discover what happened uncovers the dark underpinnings of his community and its many residents. True to Harlan Coben's written works, he and his creative team pile on the suspenseful sequences and suspicious suspects, giving viewers just as much information to suss through as the characters.
Safe doesn't hit TV's usual "missing person" stereotypes. Admittedly, Safe gets familiar with more than a few genre tropes throughout the season, as Harlan Coben wasn't trying to shift away from everything he's familiar with, but it still bucks expectations in winning ways. For instance, Safe's effective emotional beats aren't as frequent or as pummeling as they are on a show like Broadchurch, while the show's more intense chases and action sequences aren't mindlessly gigantic as broadcast TV shows tend to embrace. And at no point does Michael C. Hall worried father Tom reach John McClane's superhero status, and he's surprisingly often the least capable character in any given scene, with impulses overriding his shortcomings.
So Safe functions as an emotional character portrait of sorts, a missing child thriller, a police-driven procedural, a murder mystery -- yes, one character is found dead the same night Jenny goes missing -- and more, with the various genre formulas mixing and mingling as the story drives forward. Perhaps the strangest storytelling addition comes in the form of the Marshall family. Daughter Sia (Amy-Leigh Hickman) throws the doomed house party that kicks off various plot threads, with her parents getting caught up in the mix, and the performances given by Hickman, and Nigel Lindsay as father JoJo (opposite the stressed Laila Rouass as Lauren Marshall), enter the realm of full-on black comedy. There are quite a few naughty scenes throughout Safe that inspire hushed giggles, but JoJo is on a whole other wavelength. (That might put some viewers off, but I loved the bizarreness of it all.)
The ensemble cast makes it all click. There are plenty of moments in Safe where the story and its twists threaten to derail the tightly wound mayhem, but the cast saves it from ever tipping over. Michael C. Hall, whose accent takes multiple episodes to latch onto, is nothing like his Dexter or Six Feet Under characters here, but is similarly flawed and seeks ways to atone for such flaws. Pete Mayfield, played expertly by Marc Warren, is Tom's longtime best friend and fellow surgeon, with whom he shared a stint in the military. Pete is the alpha male in the friendship, and is just as invested in trying to find Jenny as Tom is. The same goes for Sherlock vet Amanda Abbington's Sophie Mason, a Detective Sergeant dealing with a non-routine home life (complete with an alcoholic ex-husband living in a caravan in the driveway) and a complicated burgeoning romance with Tom.
Let's go down the list of all the other characters clamoring for viewers' suspicions, even on top of everyone that's already been discussed. There's Sophie's boozing ex Josh (Emmett J. Scanlan) and their antsy son Henry (Louis Greatorex). There's Zoé Chahal (Audrey Fleurot), a teacher who gets embroiled in a scandal after being accused of sleeping with a student; her husband Neil (Joplin Sibtain), a hulking man who doesn't smile much; and their son Chris, who also happens to be Jenny's boyfriend. There's Hannah Arterton's new-to-town Detective Constable Emma Castle, whose troubled past brought her to town under hidden circumstances. Add to that Milo Twomey's intimidating club owner Bobby, Karen Bryson's dulled-eyed neighbor Helen and Hero Fiennes-Tiffin's secret-harboring student Ioan, and you've got a suspect pool that never seems to slack off.
Telling a story that doesn't seem capable of expanding into additional seasons, Safe is far from the most safe kind of programming for Netflix subscribers to take a chance on. But here, the rewards for trying something new become prevalent very early on, especially once the streak of gallows humor starts creeping up through the hyper-dramatic narrative. Now how about giving Harlan Coben another show, Netflix?