Safe (2018 TV Series)


Mr. Coben Goes to England (Again)

Main Cast: Michael C. Hall, Amanda Abbington

Creator: Harlan Coben

In case you thought The Five, created by Harlan Coben, was just a lucky TV debut from the thriller novelist, I’m happy to assure you that he has successfully avoided the sophomore slump with Safe. I didn’t really have any doubts – The Five was as deftly handled as if Coben was a TV vet. He shows off his ability to twist a plot again in Safe, this time setting his characters in a tony English gated community (no, I don’t know why his series are filmed in the UK).

Dr. Tom Delaney (Michael C. Hall) has recently lost his wife to a battle with cancer, and is trying desperately to care for his two daughters and keep everything on the rails. He seems to be doing pretty well, despite having one very surly teenager.  Jenny (played to eye rolling perfection by Amy James-Kelly) is not terribly interested in or impressed by her father’s efforts to regain some sort of normalcy. Actually, she is on the bitchy side of surly. When she vanishes, Tom is frantic. He turns to new love interest Sophie (Amanda Abbington – she’s Mary from the Benedict Cumberbatch Sherlock), a detective with long time ties to the family. The two of them search — sometimes together, often separately—for Jenny as the circumstances of her disappearance become more and more confusing and complicated.

I’m not going to tell you any more, just have faith that nothing is what you think it is after the first couple of episodes. Coben doesn’t make anything that easy. The plot is deliciously twisty, and you need to be paying attention or you’ll miss clues (or are they red herrings? I’ll never tell). Definitely don’t try to scroll through your Twitter feed or you’ll have to rewind and start over. Don’t ask me how I know.

Let’s talk about Michael C. Hall. He is American, and he is also Dexter. You would think that the combination would make him less than believable as a distraught, grieving British father. You would be wrong. His English accent will throw you off for a little while (it’s fine, just don’t worry about it), but Hall is a good chameleon. Once upon a time, I couldn’t imagine him as any character other than David Fisher from Six Feet Under. Then he turned around and became, completely, Dexter.  We need to just face that he can be anyone. He’s solidly convincing as a British doctor doing some pretty intense amateur sleuthing.  His co-stars all pull their weight, even the teenagers hold up really well. There is just enough dark comic relief to keep the whole endeavor from being crushing – this coming mainly thanks to the performance of Nigel Lindsay as JoJo Marshall. I don’t want to tell you about his character – you’ll need to trust me.

Safe offers some interesting commentary on the phenomenon of the fear of the Other. The community is gated and affluent and protected and safe. Until it isn’t. As our world becomes more and more insistent that we must keep Others out lest they do us harm, there is a relevant but entirely un-preachy thread weaving its way through Safe – be careful what you wish for. Homogeneity doesn’t protect Jenny Delaney. Gates and walls and surveillance serve as nothing more than an elaborate illusion insisting that what the characters don’t know will hurt them and what they do know is harmless. It’s timely and subtle and I love it.

I blew through the eight episodes of Safe in two days. It’s perfectly binge-able, with its edge of your seat episode endings. The characters are well developed and interesting, the performances solidifying them into people who feel real. Highly recommended for pretty much anyone who likes a good mystery – definitely watch it if you liked The Five. Someday maybe I’ll find out why the American Coben makes British TV. Until then it will just have to be another mystery.

Safe is currently streaming on Netflix.

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