During a recent visit to Ireland I spent some time watching British TV. At the moment, a lot if it is talk – angry, flaring-nostrils talk about Brexit and immigration policies.
The dramas are unusually talky, too; the dialogue relished by actors who savour the words and the big emotions. Some of it is ludicrously talky, mind you, and the plotting is heavy. If the viewer sticks with the windy dialogue there is sure to be a bless-my-soul plot twist coming down the road.
Safe (now streaming on Netflix) is an excellent example of a particular British genre: No-goodniks with dark secrets living in a bucolic, seemingly safe community. Except it’s an odd example, too, starring an American actor best known for two classics of premium-cable TV.
That’s Michael C. Hall, best known for HBO’s Six Feet Under and Showtime’s Dexter. Here he’s Tom, a surgeon and widower living with his two daughters in a gated community that promises protection from the nastiness out there, the stuff that emanates from the plebes who don’t live in large houses and drive large, expensive cars. But is it safe? You must be having a laugh.
Tom (Hall’s English accent is good but seems peculiarly strained) is super-protective of his daughters, particularly the teenage Jenny (Amy James-Kelly whom some will recognize from Coronation Street). She’s still grieving after the death of her mom and from the outset there’s a hint that she blames her dad for whatever happened. Jenny goes out to “visit a friend” but is really going to a party and she doesn’t come home. Tom knows she’s got a boyfriend of sorts, a guy who is 19, and dad has secretly made arrangements to monitor her texts and e-mails with the guy.
Dad’s best pal Pete (played by the great Marc Warren from State of Play and The Vice) tells him he’s “crossing a red line” by secretly monitoring her communications, but as it happens, almost everybody in the tight-knit community is doing something secretly – or so it seems. Safe unveils its secrets and twists with an unerring eye on keeping the viewer gripped, without going very deep into the characters. They talk a lot, to give the impression that there’s a lot of depth to come.
The local teenage girl who threw the party has parents, the Marshalls, who engage in loud banter ’til the cows come home. Anybody who chunters on loudly has something to hide. And they do. There’s a dead body in the freezer in the extra-large garage, and it isn’t Jenny. Meanwhile the parents of the boy who was seeing Jenny have their own troubles. The kind of trouble that attracts the attention of the tabloid press: The missus is a French teacher and accused of having a lurid affair with one of her teen pupils.
This entanglement attracts the attention of the cops. And, by Jove, it turns out that Tom is secretly having a fling with the local police chief Sophie (Amanda Abbington), who has a husband but they’re separated in a sort-of way – he’s an angry Irishman living in a trailer on the back lawn and mostly legless from drinking a lot of beer. Heavens above, there are a lot of men with problems in this drama.
This is not to condemn Safe (story by American crime writer Harlan Coben and adapted by Danny Brocklehurst.) It’s really rather good, and both Hall and Abbington are superb to watch, fine actors adding texture to the wildly twisted plotting and the gusty dialogue that would make many actors knackered. The entire production, eight episodes long, is not top-notch drama, nor was it meant to be. It lacks deep nuance, but Safe is simply a safe bet for a satisfying binge-watch, as you savour the dark twists with the same relish the actors apply to the squalls of talk.