Michael C. Hall is back on the small screen, his Dexter Dark Passenger long gone and traded for an English accent. Joined by Sherlock alum Amanda Abbington, Netflix’s Safe is a step outside comfort zones. But the question remains: is it worth a binge watch?
Here’s the thing: you should get into this show with open eyes. Don’t go in expecting a British police drama in the vein of BBC’s The Fall. While there is a mystery, and a policewoman, the similarities end there: the tone is entirely different.
The new Netflix show Safe, created by crime author Harlan Coben, can be best described as a soap opera. The story is about finding find a teenage girl who never came home one night, and it’s also slightly ridiculous. The effort on maintaining the drama relies heavily on every single cliché element of the soap opera genre. One particularly overused gimmick is the close-up to “shady” characters, while blasting ominous music. I say overused because, three episodes in, I’ve seen this recourse used on every character with more than two lines.
Every character is shady, has an ulterior motive or a big skeleton in the closet. The story transpires within a gated suburban community, where everyone has dark secrets somewhat related to the main mystery. It’s a formula that has worked well in the past: Twin Peaks is the best example. Then again, part of what makes Twin Peaks great is how David Lynch exploited the conventions of the genre. This the point of actually including a soap opera in Twin Peaks, with all the traditional and ridiculous tropes.
Although I personally have low tolerance for soap operas, it’s obviously not bad per se that Safe is one. However, I was expecting something else entirely, and felt a tinge of discomfort at its overuse of narrative clichés. That said, for all its gimmicks, I have to hand Safe something: I’ve no idea where the story is going. Its use of a tried-and-true formula, while borderline ludicrous at times, is effective in keeping the mystery.
And, of course, there’s the two leads.
In a cast of solid performances, Hall owns the show without any issue. Six Feet Under and Dexter fans might have a few minutes of shock at the beginning due to the accent. However, unlike so many American actors in British shows, Hall’s voice doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb. In fact, he melds in beautifully, in an accent that sounds natural and at ease. And all this while providing a very solid performance, so different from his past role as Miami’s iconic serial killer. His Tom is a fairly normal guy with baggage and regrets, worried about his daughter.
What a time to be alive, seeing Michael C. Hall playing “normal.”
Abbington, on the other hand, is precise and fascinating in her role of a suburban police officer. She serves her best moments when dueling wits with her new partner, Emma (Hannah Arterton, sister to Gemma). Abbington has quite a grip on mysterious characters: she was John Watson’s spy wife in Sherlock not long ago.
Safe has all the markings of a bingeable show, with melodrama for days. It’s not my cup of tea, but I gave up on Scandal because it was getting too absurd. Those who love a good, old-fashioned and drama-filled show should feel right at ease!
Safe is streaming on Netflix now.